Vinyl Special – Live/1975-85, by Bruce Springsteen

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Released November 10, 1986

3 hrs, 36 min, 13 sec

Live/1975-85 should have been the swan song for the E Street Band.

It should have been a lot of things, really. As the first real Springsteen live release, Live/1975-85 came with a lot of expectations attached to it, going into a fanbase that thrived on bootlegs of Springsteen’s famed concerts. A live album had been demanded, or on the backburner, since the 1975 Born to Run tours, but Springsteen never felt it was the right time – nor was he of the mind to do it anyway – until the conclusion of the Born in the U.S.A. tour in 1985, a tour that is now seen as the culmination of the live show Springsteen had taken with him on the road ever since he struck out as a “solo” artist in 1973.

Springsteen producer and manager Jon Landau finally goaded his client into working on the album in November 1985, sending a four-track tape of live tracks to him. The two of them worked through a ten-year backlog of shows through much of early 1986, while Springsteen simultaneously began preparing for the unusual Tunnel of Love recording sessions. Springsteen apparently put considerable weight towards the thought of breaking up the E Street Band following the Born in the U.S.A. tour, to the point of notifying them all that they were “free to take on other projects”; this likely played into his acquiescing to the creation of Live/1975-85, so that the band could have a “definitive” record of its existence.

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Springsteen and Landau approached the live set like an album of its own, structured in a way that emphasizes each of the featured tours – with Born to Run as the one-track prologue – separately, and in chronological order. On the vinyl format, the sides are specifically cut to separate the tours from one another physically. However, by the mid-1980s, CDs were significantly on the rise, meaning that, for the vast majority of listeners, the care that Springsteen put into the track list and its splits were lost in the three-CD format, which instead split for time constraints as a primary concern. This, of course, becomes even more irrelevant in the digital age, where no splits exist at all.

The end result was a forty-track retrospective spanning the years in the title, though the album essentially starts with the Darkness era, as only the opening track – a piano-driven rendition of “Thunder Road” – dates back to 1975, the only track in the collection dated before 1978. Indeed, the album is disproportionately weighted towards the Born in the U.S.A. tour, given that that tour was the most recent one, and the one Springsteen was likely most fond of at the time. This is most obvious in how many tracks each era is given – ten for Darkness, eleven for The River, and seventeen for Born in the U.S.A.. Even there, many of the tracks are taken from the tour’s final shows, in the largest stadiums Springsteen had played to at that point, emphasizing grandiosity above the more humble tours of the 1970s. Furthermore, many of the tracks saw the pre and post-song banter cut from the recordings (including Springsteen’s famous condemnation of Ronald Reagan, which I spoke about in the Born in the U.S.A. article, prior to “Badlands”), with the only ones remaining centered around stories of Springsteen himself.

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Fans were, of course, incredibly happy that the album had come out at all, but many were also frustrated with the way the tracks were weighted. The Born to Run tours, revered and looked upon fondly by many, were not represented whatsoever beyond a single track, and many were not in the mood for nearly half of the set to be dominated by Born in the U.S.A., a tour that had been concluded for just over a year at that point. Several other reviewers were frustrated with the track selection – iconic Darkness track “Prove it All Night” is nowhere to be found, while the set is also, perhaps understandably, very low on covers, which were always considered a highlight of live shows. Nonetheless, the album sold ridiculously well, selling over four million copies, partly due to its release just before the holiday season of 1986, and partly due to the incredible amount of hype surrounding the album’s release, fulfilling the long-held demand for live releases.

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Indeed, Live/1975-85 was a bit of a floodgate-opener, as Springsteen began regularly releasing documents of his live tours, most notably after the E Street Band reunited once again, though the Tunnel of Love Express Tour (as covered last week) and the 1992-1993 non-E Street Band tour lineup were also represented through live releases. Springsteen mostly eschewed further archival live releases until Born to Run’s 30th anniversary, in which the Born to Run tours were finally given proper documentation with Hammersmith Odeon London ’75, along with live releases/videos for every tour since 1999, excluding the Devils & Dust tour.

This increased focus in live releases has finally come to a head this year, with the launch of a live downloads website, featuring recordings of every show from the High Hopes branch of the Wrecking Ball World Tour alongside a promise of numerous archival releases in the future.

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Live/1975-85 is not a perfect live release. It wasn’t everything that fans were hoping for, but it was a strong, well-received first step, and it documented the E Street Band as Springsteen saw them in 1986, looking back on a decade of highly successful, highly influential touring. Live/1975-85 has become a measuring stick for artists looking to document and look back on their touring careers, and is likely to be a standard-bearer, as it has been since 1986, for years to come.

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