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"The River"

UK single sleeve
Single by Bruce Springsteen
from the album The River
B-side "Independence Day", sometimes others
Released May 1981
Format 7-inch
Recorded July or August 1979 at The Power Station in New York
Genre Rock
Length 5:01
Label Columbia Records
Writer(s) Bruce Springsteen
Producer Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt
Bruce Springsteen singles chronology
"Sherry Darling" (UK)
"The River" (UK)
"Cadillac Ranch" (UK)

"The River" is a song written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen, accompanied by the E Street Band. It was the title track of his fifth album, The River, and was a hit single in most of Europe.



"The River"'s writing occurred after an earlier, one-record version of the album, tentatively called The Ties That Bind, had already been completed; following this new song, Springsteen penned others with a darker feel, delayed the album's release, and retitled it.[1] The song itself was recorded at The Power Station in New York in July or August 1979.[2]

"The River" makes use of a haunting harmonica part, and in some ways is a precursor to the style of his next album, Nebraska. The imagery of the chorus and the end of the song were inspired by lines from Hank Williams' 1950 hit, "Long Gone Lonesome Blues".[3] The song's depiction of how economic difficulties are interlaced with local culture also presaged the 1980s popularity of heartland rock:

I come from down in the valley,
Where mister when you're young —
They bring you up to do, like your daddy done
I got a job working construction, for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain't been much work, on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important —
Well mister, they vanished right into the air

Writer Robert Hilburn deemed the song "a classic outline of someone who has to re-adjust his dreams quickly [, facing] life as it is, not a world of his imagination."[1]

Throughout the song the river is viewed as a symbol for the dreams of the future. The narrator keeps his hopes alive even as they realistically begin to fail.

That sends me down to the river,
Though I know, the river is dry.
It sends me down to the river, tonight

The song was debuted in public at the Musicians United for Safe Energy concerts at Madison Square Garden in September 1979, and was featured in the subsequent 1980 film No Nukes three months before The River's release.

[The River] is a song I wrote for my brother and sister. My brother's in the construction industry, lost his job and had to struggle very hard back in the late 70s, like so many people are doing today.
Bruce Springsteen , Concert, 8th November 2009[4]

"The River" was not released as a single in the U.S., but was released as a single in May 1981 in several countries in Western Europe.[5] It placed to number 35 on the UK Singles Chart. It also reached number 24 on the Irish Singles Chart, number 10 in Sweden's singles chart,number 6 in The Danish Top 20 and had its best showing with a number 5 placement on Norway's singles chart. In the U.S., it gained considerable album oriented rock airplay and became one of Springsteen's best-known songs to fans. It was included on both his 1995 Greatest Hits and 2003 The Essential Bruce Springsteen compilations.

"The River", and a few other songs on the album, such as "Wreck on the Highway" and "Stolen Car", mark a new direction in Bruce Springsteen's songwriting: these ballads imbued with a sense of hopelessness anticipate his next album, Nebraska.[6] Bruce Springsteen himself has noted that "Wreck on the Highway" is one of the songs reflecting a shift in his songwriting style, linking The River to Nebraska. [7]

The aggregation of critics' lists at rated this song as the #25 song of 1980, as well as #239 of the 1980s and #1341 all time.[8]

Live performance history

"The River" became a centerpiece of shows on some Springsteen tours. On the Born in the U.S.A. Tour, it was often preceded by a long, intense story from Springsteen about his battles with his father growing up, that would sometimes conclude positively and sometimes not; the silence after the story would then be interrupted by the start of the harmonica part. One such story and performance was included on the 1986 Live/1975–85 set. On later tours, especially in Europe, the song's outro was extended to great length, with audiences mass singing the wordless "oooh" parts at the end. On the 1999–2000 Reunion Tour, "The River" was cast in a different arrangement featured a Clarence Clemons saxophone part; one such rendition was included on the subsequent Live in New York City album and DVD. The song has been performed about 515 times through 2008.

External links


  1. ^ a b Hilburn, Robert (1985). Springsteen. Rolling Stone Press. ISBN 0-684-18456-7.   pp. 138, 153.
  3. ^ Marsh, Dave (1987). Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-394-54668-7.   p. 30.
  4. ^ Transcribed Bruce Springsteen Quotes
  5. ^ Killing floor Bruce Springsteen discography
  6. ^ "The River". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-06-25.  
  7. ^ Graff, Gary (2005). The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen A to E to Z. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 1-57859-157-0.   p. 255
  8. ^ "Acclaimed Music Top 3000 songs". 27 May 2009.  


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