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"Backstreets"
Song by Bruce Springsteen

from the album Born to Run

Released August 25, 1975
Recorded May - July 1975 at 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, New York[1]
Genre Rock
Length 6:32
Label Columbia Records
Producer Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau
Born to Run track listing
"Night"
(3)
"Backstreets"
(4)
"Born to Run"
(5)

"Backstreets" is a song by Bruce Springsteen from the album Born to Run, which was released in 1975. In the original vinyl release, it concludes side one of the record.

Contents

Structure

"Backstreets" begins with a minute-long instrumental introduction that features pianist Roy Bittan playing both piano and organ, with only occasional traces of any other instruments being heard. In his review of Born to Run for Rolling Stone, writer Greil Marcus said:

"Backstreets" ... begins with music so stately, so heartbreaking, that it might be the prelude to a rock & roll version of The Iliad.[2]

The real beauty of the song is in its consistency of content and form, meaning that the music reflects the emotional tension of the lyrics. The song opens with perhaps some of the most beautiful and captivating piano playing in any rock music, reflecting the confidence the Boy protagonist has in his relationship with Terry: he is trusting and secure in his relationship with her. But soon the guitar enters, playing a strong, contrasting melody. Even though it's different, it fits, combining perfectly with Bittan's piano. This, too, seems to be reflective of the relationship with Terry and so there seems to be a contrasting, "opposites attract" type of relationship developing that the two lovers have made work--"me and Terry became friends trying in vain to breathe the fire we was born in." Finally, still only in the introduction, enters the the organ. This is the most dissonant part of the opening, and although buried deeply in the arrangement, it provides a very different rhythm and tone to the piano and guitar playing in the foreground. The organ here seems to reflect the "other man" who has entered the love triangle and stolen Terry away from the boy protagonist: "I hated him, and I hated you, when you went away." In this way, Springsteen has utilized his musicianship in a very mature and complex way to reflect his lyrics through arrangement and instrumentation in perhaps the best song in his canon.

Themes

The song deals with the relationship between two friends: the narrator and Terry. They are forced to hide their love for each other from others and "hide on the backstreets". In the end, the relationship falls apart. Terry leaves with another man leaving the narrator alone and full of rage, love and sadness.

The gender of the character of "Terry" has long been debated among Springsteen fans. The name Terry can refer to either a male or a female. Proponents of the theory that Terry is male point out that the characters may be "hiding on the backstreets" in order to conceal their homosexuality. Or the song may merely be describing an intense male friendship with no other overtones. Those who believe that Terry is female cite Springsteen's own sexuality as well as the extended "Sad Eyes" performances of the song in which Terry is referred to as female by Springsteen himself.

It is however highly likely that Terry is a female. One can cite the original concept of the entire Born to Run album as evidence of this. Originally, the album was intended to tell the story of Mary from Thunder Road and the Boy protagonist through an entire day, beginning in the morning on the first track, and moving through late night in Jungleland. As a result, it seems that in most of the songs Springsteen intended to use simply one girl's name, namely, Mary, on the whole album. This concept still survives on the album album but not overtly, and it seems the girls' names mimic the original intention of using "Mary" throughout: Mary (Thunder Road), Cherry (Meeting Across the River), and Terry (Backstreets). The only other girl explicity mentioned on the album is the Wendy of the title track, but of course, "Born to Run" the song was written fully a year before the album itself was released and ostensibly before the day-long concept of the album was conceived. The Terry of Backstreets therefore is most likely a girl.

Live performance history and interlude

During the 1978 Darkness Tour, Springsteen would often add a semi-improvised interlude in between the final chorus and the outro. It usually involved Springsteen singing solo accompanied by the piano. The other instruments would then join in as the interlude built to a climax. It elaborated on the story of the protagonist and Terry. It differed from performance to performance but frequently involved the protagonist reminiscing about a good time he and Terry had shared, followed by an emotional condemnation of her subsequent betrayal.

This interlude has become known to Springsteen fans as the "Sad Eyes" interlude (not to be confused with the Springsteen song of the same name) due to frequently occurring lyrics stating that Terry had sad eyes or should dry her tears. It has also been referred to as the "Baby I remember you" or "Little girl don't cry" interlude. Parts of the interlude later materialized in recast form as the song "Drive All Night" on The River album in 1980. The interlude version of "Backstreets" has not been performed live since, however it can be heard on numerous fan bootlegs from that tour.

In 2007, during Springsteen and the E Street Band's Magic Tour, "Backstreets" frequently found its way into the set list, most likely as a tribute to Springsteen's longtime friend, Terry Magovern, who died earlier that year. It also opened the first show in 2008 following the death of longtime band member Danny Federici.

References

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