WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY

Album version


A-one, two, three, four

The machinist climbs his Ferris wheel like a brave
And the fire eater's lyin' in a pool of sweat, victim of the heat wave
Behind the tent, the hired hand tightens his legs on the sword swallower's blade
And circus town's on the shortwave

Well, the runway lies ahead like a great false dawn
Whoa, Fat Lady, Big Mama, Missy Bimbo sits in her chair and yawns
And the man-beast lies in his cage sniffing popcorn
Yeah, the midget licks his fingers and suffers Missy Bimbo's scorn
The circus town's been born

Whoa, and a press roll, drummer go, ballerina to-and-fro
Cartwheelin' up on that tightrope with a cannon blast, lightin' flash
Movin' fast, through the tent, Mars bent, he's gonna miss his fall
Oh, God save the human cannonball
And the flying Zambinis watch Margarita do her neck twist
And the ringmaster gets the crowd to count along: "Ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven"
A ragged suitcase in his hand, he steals silently away from the circus grounds
And the highway's haunted by the carnival sounds
They dance like a great greasepaint ghost on the wind
A man in baggy pants, a lonely face, a crazy grin
Runnin' home to some small Ohio town
Jesus, send some good women to save all your clowns

And circus boy dances like a monkey on barbed wire
And the barker romances with a junkie, she's got a flat tire
And now the elephants dance real funky, and the band play like a jungle fire
Circus town's on the live wire
And the strong man, Sampson, lifts the midget, little Tiny Tim, way up on his shoulders, way up
And carries him on down the midway
Past the kids, past the sailors, to his dimly lit trailer
And the Ferris wheel turns and turns like it ain't ever gonna stop
And the circus boss leans over, whispers in the little boy's ear, "Hey son, you wanna try the big top?"
All aboard, Nebraska's our next stop


Info

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY is a song written by Bruce Springsteen and released on his 1973 album The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle. The above lyrics are for Springsteen's album version of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY as released in 1973.

The song was known under the title "Circus Song" before it's release on The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle.

Composition and Recording

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was inspired by the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus that visited Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, NJ, every summer. The song was written in mid-1972 as CIRCUS SONG, and according to Brucebase, it was recorded for the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. album, but that version has never surfaced. It was recorded again for The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle album under a new title, WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY.

The band line-up on this track is unknown, but as far as one can tell, Bruce Springsteen sings vocals and handles acoustic guitar, Danni Federici plays accordion, and Garry Tallent plays tuba which simulates an elephant trumpet. The track also has drums and harmonica, and possibly mandolin. The track, as well as the whole album, was recorded at Sound Studios in Blauvelt, NY and produced by Mike Appel and Jimmy Cretecos.

CIRCUS TOWN is a rumoured song from the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. period (April 1972 to February 1973). It is is probably an early draft of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY, or possibly just an alternate title for it. The song may also be related to WILD BILLY'S LULLABY.

Lyrics Variations

The song always had the same melody, but the title change reflects modest changes in the lyrics, especially in the third and last verses.

"Circus Song", verse 1:...Behind the tent, the leather boy tightens...
"Wild Billy's Circus Story", verse 1:...Behind the tent, the hired hand tightens...

"Circus Song", verse 2:[no variations]
"Wild Billy's Circus Story", verse 2:[no variations]

"Circus Song", verse 3:...And behind the tent, half bent, money spent, with his wet makeup drippin' on the ground
There's a half-smile, half-frown going down...
"Wild Billy's Circus Story", verse 3:...A ragged suitcase in his hand, he steals silently away from the circus grounds
And the highway's haunted by the carnival sounds
They dance like a great greasepaint ghost on the wind
A man in baggy pants, a lonely face, a crazy grin
Runnin' home to some small Ohio town...

"Circus Song", verse 4:...The strong man lifts the midget on his shoulders, up, up, up above the liar
Hear the liar
He's outside sighin'
Hear the liar
Whisperin' to the barker
Hear the liar
Checkin' out the center ring
Hear the liar
Feel his fire
Hear the liar
He's so scared of dyin'
Anybody wanna try the big top?...
"Wild Billy's Circus Story", verse 4:...And the strong man, Sampson, lifts the midget, little Tiny Tim, way up on his shoulders, way up
And carries him on down the midway
Past the kids, past the sailors, to his dimly lit trailer
And the Ferris wheel turns and turns like it ain't ever gonna stop
And the circus boss leans over, whispers in the little boy's ear, "Hey son, you wanna try the big top?"...

The above "Circus Song" lyrics are based on the live 31 Jan (early show) 1973 version, but they're almost the same in all versions up to April 1973.

  • The live 09 Jan 1973 version has a slightly different fourth verse: "And Sampson lifts..." instead of "The strong man lifts..."
  • The live 24 Apr 1973 (early show) version features a unique fourth verse wherein Tiny Tim and Sampson discuss "the liars". This is the last version that uses early lyrics in the fourth verse.
  • The live 01 May 1973 version has a rewritten fourth verse, now similar to WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY. This is the last version that uses early lyrics in the third verse.
  • All remaining versions are similar to WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY, with only very minor variations.

The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle

The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle is Bruce Springsteen's second studio album. It was recorded between mid-May 1973 and mid-September 1973 at 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, NY. Studio time was slotted in during various itinerary breaks in the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Tour, but recording sessions dragged on much longer than originally anticipated and this eventually caused some gig rescheduling and cancellations during the period from July to September 1973.

The album's recording sessions can be split into distinct phases:

  • The first phase of sessions took place on 15-22 May and 17-20 June, and featured the then-touring line-up of Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, Danny Federici, Garry Tallent, and Vini Lopez. Neither David Sancious nor any other musicians were involved in these initial sessions.
  • The second phase of sessions took place on 26 June-02 July, 11-16 July, 04-12 August, and 10-25 September, and included all of the above-mentioned musicians, plus new E Street Band member David Sancious (who joined in on 22 June), as well as niche session contributions by Suki Lahav on vocals, Richard Blackwell on congas and percussion, and Albee Tellone on baritone sax.

Most of the basic ensemble recording of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle emanates from the first phase of sessions, prior to the arrival of David Sancious to the sessions on 22 Jun 1973. Sancious verified in a late seventies interview with Thunder Road magazine that most of the session songs had already been recorded (as basic tracks) by the time he joined. He then overdubbed his parts onto these recordings. THE E STREET SHUFFLE is an exception, which was written after Sancious became a member of the band. The latter phase of the sessions involved embellishing additional "frills" instrumentation, vocals, and experimenting with different mixes. No audio evidence has yet emerged that any of the basic recordings of were re-recorded from scratch with Sancious. Indeed, one of the most noteworthy aspects to the audio evidence that has emerged from the The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle recording sessions is that there is not one genuine alternate take to be found – all song recording variations are merely alternate mixes of the same basic recording.

Bruce Springsteen -- The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (album cover art)
Bruce Springsteen -- The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (album cover art)

The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle was produced by Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos and engineered by Louis Lahav. It features 7 new Springsteen compositions and clocks at 46:47. It was commercially released on 05 Nov 1973.

Other Official Releases

Other versions of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY were also officially released.

Bruce Springsteen -- Wings For Wheels: The Making Of Born To Run
The live 01 May 1973 version of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was released on the Wings For Wheels: The Making Of Born To Run home video in 2005.
Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... (Season 2)
The live 25 Sep 2009 version of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was released on the Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... (Season 2) home video in 2011.

Live History: on-tour

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY is known to have been performed at least 7 times during what is considered the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Tour (October 1972 to September 1973). Many of that period's setlists are incomplete or unknown, and therefore, the song must have been played on some more dates during the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Tour. It is also known that Springsteen often performed it during his short-lived solo period in summer 1972 and occasionally included it in his opening solo acoustic segment during the first three months of the tour. On this tour, the song was played in an acoustic version, and at least in the 1973 part, it featured Bruce Springsteen on guitar, Danny Federici on accordion, and Garry Tallent on tuba. The live 01 May 1973 version of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was released on the Wings For Wheels: The Making Of Born To Run home video in 2005.

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY is known to have been performed at least 8 times during what is considered The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle Tour (September 1973 to March 1975), all in a three-month period between late January and April 1974. Some of that period's setlists are incomplete or unknown, and therefore, the song must have been played on some more dates during The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle Tour. On this tour, the song was played in an acoustic version, with Bruce Springsteen on guitar, Danny Federici on accordion, and Garry Tallent on tuba.

  1. 26 Jan 1974 at Chrysler Hall, Norfolk, VA
  2. 25 Feb 1974 at The Main Point, Bryn Mawr, PA
  3. 03 Mar 1974 (early show) at Georgetown University, Washington, DC
  4. 03 Mar 1974 (late show) at Georgetown University, Washington, DC
  5. 09 Mar 1974 (late show) at Liberty Hall, Houston, TX
  6. 10 Mar 1974 (early show) at Liberty Hall, Houston, TX
  7. 24 Mar 1974 at Celebrity Theatre, Phoenix, AZ
  8. 19 Apr 1974 at State Theatre, New Brunswick, NJ

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was performed 3 times during The Ghost Of Tom Joad Solo Acoustic Tour (128 dates, November 1995 to May 1997), on the three November 1996 Asbury Park shows. On this tour, the song was played in an acoustic arrangement featuring Bruce Springsteen on acoustic guitar and vocals, plus guests Danny Federici on accordion and Soozie Tyrell on violin (see the live 26 Nov 1996 version).

  1. 24 Nov 1996 at Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ
  2. 25 Nov 1996 at Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ
  3. 26 Nov 1996 at Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, NJ

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was sound-checked prior to the 09 Dec 2002 show in Columbia, SC, (as far as it's known) but it was not performed on any of The Rising Tour's regular shows.

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was performed 7 times during the Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour (72 dates, April to November 2005). On this tour, the song was played in a solo acoustic guitar and harmonica arrangement. See the live 22 Jun 2005 version.

    [COLLAPSEGROUP=performances_devils]
    [COLLAPSE=performances_devils TITLE=List of Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour performances]
    [OL_MONOSPACED]
  1. 22 Jun 2005 at Forum København, Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. 14 Jul 2005 at Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Canada
  3. 24 Jul 2005 at Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC
  4. 26 Jul 2005 at Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC
  5. 06 Aug 2005 at Fox Theatre, St. Louis, MO
  6. 10 Aug 2005 at Rose Garden Theater Of The Clouds, Portland, OR
  7. 15 Oct 2005 at Dane County Arena At Alliant Center, Madison, WI

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was performed once during the Magic Tour (100 dates, October 2007 to August 2008). On this tour, the song was played in a full-band arrangement (see the live 27 Apr 2008 version).

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was performed once during the Working On A Dream Tour (83 dates, April to November 2009). On this tour, the song was played in a full-band arrangement (see the live 07 Nov 2009 version).

  1. 07 Nov 2009 at Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY (complete The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle album performed)

Live History: off-tour

In 1973 and 1974, Bruce Springsteen performed WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY on five radio performances. On all five occasions, and as it was the case during the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Tour and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle Tour, the song was played in an acoustic version, with Bruce Springsteen on guitar, Danny Federici on accordion, and Garry Tallent on tuba. See the individual versions below for more details.

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was performed during one of the five 2001 Asbury Park holiday shows. These concerts were billed as "Bruce Springsteen with The Max Weinberg 7 and Friends", with The Max Weinberg 7 serving as the house band, and Springsteen bringing guests on and off the stage throughout the shows. The song was played in a full-band arrangement with Springsteen backed by The Max Weinberg 7, plus Garry Tallent on tuba (see the live 04 Dec 2001 version).

[COLLAPSE=performances_2000-2003_holidayshows TITLE=List of 2000-2003 holiday shows performances]
  1. 04 Dec 2001 at Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was performed off-tour on 16 Nov 1990 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA, during the benefit shows for the Christic Institute. The song was played solo on acoustic guitar. See the live 16 Nov 1990 version for more details.

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was performed off-tour on 19 Dec 2004 at Harry's Roadhouse in Asbury Park, NJ, during the first of the two holiday jam shows that took place that day. The song was played in a solo acoustic guitar arrangement. See the live 19 Dec 2004 (early show) version for more details.

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was performed off-tour on 25 Sep 2009 at Apollo Theater in New York City, NY, during the taping of "Spectacle: Elvis Costello With Bruce Springsteen". The song was played in a unique acoustic arrangement featuring Bruce Springsteen on vocals and acoustic guitar, Nils Lofgren on acoustic guitar, and Roy Bittan on accordion. The live 25 Sep 2009 version of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY was released on the Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... (Season 2) home video in 2011.

Covers

As far as it's known, no artist has recorded and released Bruce Springsteen's WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY.

Credits / References

Thanks Jake (ol'catfishinthelake at BTX and Greasy Lake) for all the help.

Some of the above info about the studio recording and the live performances is taken from Brucebase.

Available Versions

List of available versions of WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY on this website:

WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Album version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 09 Jan 1973 version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 31 Jan 1973 (early show) version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 02 Mar 1973 version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 24 Apr 1973 (early show) version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 01 May 1973 version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 31 May 1973 (WGOE-FM) version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 02 Jun 1973 version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 03 Mar 1974 (late show) version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 09 Mar 1974 (KLOL-FM) version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 09 Apr 1974 version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 16 Nov 1990 version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 26 Nov 1996 version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 04 Dec 2001 version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 19 Dec 2004 (early show) version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 22 Jun 2005 version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 27 Apr 2008 version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 25 Sep 2009 version]
WILD BILLY'S CIRCUS STORY [Live 07 Nov 2009 version]

Page last updated: 05 Mar 2012