Along with the release of Bruce Springsteen’s first memoir, Born to Run, comes a new compilation album of 18 songs chosen by The Boss himself to act as a companion to his life’s story.
The first five songs on Chapter and Verse—“Baby I,” “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” “He’s Guilty (The Judge Song),” “The Ballad of Jesse James,” and “Henry Boy”—are previously unreleased, with the first two recorded by The Castiles and featuring a teenaged Bruce on guitar and lead vocals.
In honor of Springsteen’s epic 500-page memoir—which details everything from his tumultuous relationship with his late father and his brief marriage to a young actress to his struggles with depression—and in the spirit of his never-before-heard material, here’s a deep dive into some other songs never officially released by The Boss.
Though these tunes have circulated among bootleg collectors and Springsteen nerds for decades, they’ve never been counted among his expansive repertoire. They should be.
“Visitation at Fort Horn”
Before he found his early-album voice as a narrator of West Side Story-like tales of urban angst, complete with switchblade fights and street racing, Springsteen seemed obsessed with mythologizing the Old West.
Written and recorded in July 1972, “Visitation at Fort Horn” feels like a treatment of an eerie Christopher Nolan film about a supernatural force besieging a Western military fort and taunting its haughty captain. Over a chord progression reminiscent of “Amazing Grace,” Springsteen tells of how matters worsen, even after the captain’s men capture and hang their paranormal prisoner. The theatrical climax sees the captain falling to his knees with the hanging body silhouetted on his door, a raging storm building overhead, realizing to himself: “A magician.”
The song was recorded solo and planned for inclusion on his debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., but CBS executive Clive Davis wanted more radio-ready rock songs, and so “Visitation” was scrapped and forever left on the cutting-room floor, in favor of last-minute additions “Blinded by the Light” and “Spirit in the Night.”
Springsteen first recorded “Jazz Musician” solo on piano during his fateful John Hammond 1972 demo sessions—which led to his signing—and intended to include it on his first album. But like “Visitation,” it was discarded in favor of full-band tracks that had more potential for radio play.
Just shy of 6 minutes in length, “Jazz Musician” is sprawling in its verbosity—a relic of his early period—and its lyrical content is in keeping with the street-punk dramas he so clearly favored. We meet a struggling jazz musician in the smoky Blue Light Lounge, contemplating his successes and failures; and the price of garnering even the slightest hint of fame.
Ultimately, it’s a shame this was left off the final tracklist for Greetings, as its piano-driven instrumentation strikes a similar feeling to inferior “The Angel,” which did make the cut.
“Two Hearts in True Waltz Time”
It’s really quite stunning how many great songs were cut from Springsteen’s debut record alone. “Two Hearts in True Waltz Time” was recorded multiple times over the course of 1972, during the Greetings sessions, as an acoustic guitar-and-bass Dylanesque folk ballad, but was ultimately discarded.
First recorded during his audition session with John Hammond, “Two Hearts” seemed to tell the story of an unhappily married woman and her affair with a police officer, with the “ballroom crime” of “two hearts in true waltz time” as the theme for their forbidden love. The bass lines at times invoke film noir smokiness, and Springsteen’s idiosyncratic strumming hinted at the frenetic type of songwriting seen a year later on The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle.
“Evacuation of the West”
Continuing Bruce’s early obsession with the West, this song, originally titled “There Are No Kings in Texas,” was recorded in 1973 for The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, but sounds like it would’ve been perfectly at home on Greetings. The funereal, dramatic piano backing and the gradual introduction of drums and organs is undeniably similar to first-album stunner “Lost in the Flood,” right down to the gunslinging protagonists who go to war with the law.
Although it didn’t make the cut for Bruce’s jazz-folk opus of a second album, it was considered for release in 1997 as part of the massive Tracks compilation. But no such luck.
“Song for Orphans”
If you were lucky enough to be in attendance for Springsteen’s Trenton stop on the 2005 Devils & Dust tour, you’d have heard this song in some official capacity. Otherwise, it’s been largely relegated to legend among only the geekiest fans.
Springsteen often opened shows during the Greetings album tour with this track, accompanied only by a haunting accordion, and he included it in 1974 among an early list of 10 songs he planned to include on what eventually became his third and arguably most famous album, Born to Run.
A year later, it was gone. And the legendary Born to Run went a decidedly more operatic route.
Recording during the 1983 lead-up to Born in the U.S.A., “The Klansman” was written from the perspective of a conflicted young boy witnessing the Ku Klux Klan’s seductive racism take hold in his working-class town.
“I was 10 years old when my Pa said, ‘Son, some day you will see / When you grow to wear the robes like your brother and me / When the war between the races leaves us in a fiery dream / It’ll be a Klansman who will wipe this country clean / This, son, is my dream,’” he sang over a frighteningly stark guitar-and-drum-synth track recorded solo in his L.A. home.
Thirty years later, the song seems oddly prescient as a new brand of racism, in the form of Donald Trump’s alt-right fans, creeps into our national political discourse.
“The Train Song”
Far and away the oldest song of the bunch, “Train Song” was recorded in 1970 with Springsteen’s band Steel Mill. It’s a strikingly country-folk song, likely as a way for the band to show its versatility when it had—up until then—only played swampy barroom rock ‘n’ roll.
The stompy piano-and-guitar saloon tune seemingly tells the story of a man on a long train ride, itching to get back to his “pretty little woman,” only for the floor to drop out when Springsteen reveals he’s a convict anxiously awaiting his chance to go “waltzing arm-in-arm with my darling electric chair.”
As such, the gorgeous song is an important signpost along the road to developing one of Springsteen’s key lyrical tools: the punchline.