Not many other artists exemplify summer like Bruce Springsteen. “Spirit in the Night” doesn’t have summer in its title nor does it mention it specifically. But from the opening notes of the Big Man’s saxophone, it’s clear that Bruce is going to tell a tale where the night is hot and anything can happen.
At the beginning of his career, Springsteen was tagged as the next “Bob Dylan”. He’s too earnest and sincere for that title, but “Spirit in the Night” does contain a Dylan-esque collection of characters: Crazy Janey, the mission man, hazey Davey and killer Joe.
The studio version of “Spirit in the Night” feels kind of lazy and disconnected. Due to being one of the last song’s written for the album, the final track only has Springsteen, Clemons, and original drummer Vinnie Lopez playing. Clemon’s opening saxophone takes us to open back roads of New Jersey. You can feel the wind blowing through your hair. Springsteen’s narrative takes us through a night of drinking, casual sex, and a mud-fight. Like the best Springsteen songs, the crux of the song relies on nostalgia and how the listeners relate to it. I’m willing to bet most everyone has had a night like “Spirit in the Night”.
In contrast to the studio version, the live version from the Hammersmith Odeon 1975 CD is a monster. If the lyrics describe a night out and all of the friends adventures, then Springsteen delivers the lines like no one is going to see the next morning – instead of “all night” it’s suddenly “all damn night”. It’s been written that Springsteen was pissed/frightened that night due to the hype the British press was giving the band. This version is the sound of a band teetering on the edge, and playing with everything they go. It’s hard to tell who is pushing who – is Springsteen pushing the band, or are they pushing him to spit out his lyrics at a furious place? (I’ve heard quite a few versions of “Spirit in the Night” from the same era, and none come to matching this performance.)
This one isn’t from that performance, but it’s as close as I could get:
This one doesn’t have the entire show. But it’s worth checking out just for Springsteen’s enormous hair.