The angel rides with hunch-back children
Poison oozing from his engine
Wieldin' love as a lethal weapon
On his way to hubcap heaven
Baseball cards poked in his spokes
His boots in oil he's patiently soaked
The roadside attendant nervously jokes
As the angel's tires stroke his precious pavement
Well, the interstate's choked with nomadic hordes
In Volkswagen vans with full running boards dragging great anchors
Followin' dead-end signs into the sores
The angel rides by humpin' his hunk metal whore
Madison Avenue's claim to fame
In a trainer bra with eyes like rain
She rubs against the weather-beaten frame
And asks the angel for his name
Off in the distance the marble dome
Reflects across the flatlands with a naked feel off into parts unknown
The woman strokes his polished chrome
And lies beside the angel's bones
Page last updated: 23 Apr 2013
Music and lyrics by Bruce Springsteen, THE ANGEL is the sixth track on his 1973
debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. The above lyrics are for Springsteen's
studio version of THE ANGEL as released on Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.
Composition and Recording
THE ANGEL was recorded during the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.
album recording sessions at 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, NY. The track, as well as the whole
album, was produced by Mike Appel and Jimmy Cretecos. According to Sony's database of Springsteen
recording sessions, the song was cut on 26 Jun, 27 Jun, 29 Jun, and 26 Oct 1972. It is not clear
in which of these four recording sessions the album version of THE ANGEL was cut, or if it was cut
in another session. Bruce Springsteen plays piano and sings vocals on the officially released
album version of the song, and is backed by Richard Davis on upright bass. The basic track was
recorded by Springsteen and then Richard Davis' upright bass track was overdubbed later in the
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. recording sessions.
In his 2012 book E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen
& the E Street Band, Clinton Heylin mentioned that after THE ANGEL was recorded in June
1972 at 914 Sound Studios, "it featured on all the various provisional track-listings for
A solo acoustic guitar demo of THE ANGEL was performed and recorded during
Springsteen's first formal studio audition for CBS Records on 03 May 1972. See the
03 May 1972 demo version and the "1971-1972 Auditions"
section below for more details.
The line "The interstate's choked with nomadic hordes" may have been later
reworked into the classic line "The highway's jammed with broken heroes" on
BORN TO RUN.
On 04 Nov 1971, Carl "Tinker" West, then-manager of The Bruce Springsteen Band,
drove Bruce Springsteen to New York City to introduce him to Mike Appel, a songwriter who carried
on his songwriting activities jointly with Jim Cretecos. Appel was then employed at Pocketful Of
Tunes Inc., Wes Farrell's publishing company in New York City, NY, and the meeting to place at
Pocketful Of Tunes. Springsteen performed two or three songs, some on piano and some on acoustic
guitar. Only Appel and West were present at this first meeting. Appel has stated in interview that
he was not particularly impressed by what he heard at this initial audition but did see raw
creativity in the lyrics of BABY DOLL. That performance was not recorded and the titles of the
other song(s) performed remain unclear. Appel indicated an interest in promoting them in some way
and the meeting ended with an agreement to keep in touch but
no commitments from either party.
Meanwhile Springsteen continued gigging with The Bruce Springsteen Band in New
Jersey and Virginia and visited his family in California for a few weeks around the holidays. The
next meeting between Springsteen and Appel took place on 14 Feb 1972. Springsteen performed a set
of seven songs at Appel's office at Pocketful Of Tunes. The songs were performed live solo on
acoustic guitar to an audience of three: Mike Appel, Jim Cretecos, and Bob Spitz. Unfortunately
that performance was not recorded. IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY was performed a second time
at the request of Appel who reportedly was dazzled the lyrics. After that performance Appel and
Cretecos began putting the wheels in motion to sign Springsteen to a comprehensive range of
- COWBOYS OF THE SEA
- THE ANGEL
- IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY [take #1, fast version]
- IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY [take #2, slow version]
- HOLLYWOOD KIDS
- IF I WAS THE PRIEST
- ARABIAN NIGHTS
- FOR YOU
In March 1972, it was agreed that Appel and Cretecos would promote
Springsteen's interests. For that purpose, Appel and Cretecos formed three partnerships owned
equally by the two: Laurel Canyon Management to act as Springsteen's manager, Laurel Canyon
Productions to cover his recording activities, and Sioux City Music Inc to cover his songwriting
activities. In the meantime, Springsteen entered into an "Exclusive Management Contract" with
Laurel Canyon Management and an "Exclusive Recording Contract" with Laurel Canyon Productions, but
did not sign any songwriting agreement at this time, apparently wishing to think this matter over
a bit longer. The two contracts were signed at Appel's office.
Appel wanted to sign Springsteen to Columbia Records. He could not arrange a
meeting with label head Clive Davis but was able to arrange one with CBS A&R Manager and
talent scout John Hammond. An informal private audition took place around 10:30 AM on 02 May 1972
in Hammond's office in the A&R Department at Columbia Records in New York City. John Hammond
and Mike Appel were the only two present at the audition. All songs were performed on acoustic
guitar and the performance, which lasted about 30 to 40 minutes, was not recorded but based on the
collective recollections of the attendees at least the following four songs were played:
- GROWIN' UP
- IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY
- MARY QUEEN OF ARKANSAS
- IF I WAS THE PRIEST
In a 1980 interview, Hammond mentioned he wasn't all that enamored with MARY
QUEEN OF ARKANSAS, but that he loved all the other songs that Springsteen performed that morning.
"It was a big, big day for me," Springsteen told Mark Hagen in an interview for Mojo
magazine published in January 1999. "I was twenty-two and came up on the bus with an acoustic
guitar with no case which I'd borrowed from the drummer from The Castiles. I was embarrassed
carrying it around the city. I walked into [John Hammond's] office and had the audition and I
played a couple of songs and he said, 'You've got to be on Columbia Records. But I need to see you
play. And I need to hear how you sound on tape.'"
Springsteen said that he and Mike Appel "walked all around the Village trying
to find some place that would let somebody just get up on stage and play. We went to the Bitter
End, it didn't work out. We went to another club. And finally we went to the old Gaslight on
MacDougal Street and the guy says, 'Yeah, we have an open night where you can come down and play
for half an hour'. There were about 10 people in the place and I played for about half an hour."
The performance took place at the Gaslight Au Go Go club in New York City. No recording has
emanated from this club appearance which lasted about 30 minutes and included just 4 or 5 songs.
Both Springsteen and Appel have mentioned these two tracks as having been played:
- GROWIN' UP
- IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY
John Hammond was impressed. "The kid absolutely knocked me out," he told
Newsweek in 1975. "I only hear somebody really good once every ten years, and not only
was Bruce the best, he was a lot better than Dylan when I first heard him." As Springsteen
recalled, Hammond said, "Gee, that was great. I want you to come to the Columbia Recording Studio
and make a demo tape". He invited Springsteen back to CBS to make a studio demo audition tape the
following day. Springsteen said, "A demo I made at Bill Graham's studio in San Francisco in '69
was the only other time I'd ever been in a real recording studio. Columbia was very old-fashioned:
everybody in ties and shirts; the engineer was in a white shirt and a tie and was probably 50, 55
years old, it was just him and John and Mike Appel there, and he just hits the button and gives
you your serial number, and off you go. I was excited. I felt I'd written some good songs and this
was my shot. I had nothing to lose and it was like the beginning of something."
Springsteen's first "formal" studio audition for CBS took place on 03 May 1972
at CBS Studios in New York City. The session consisted of 12 songs. Click on any of the below
links for more details.
Four of the tracks recorded during that demo session would be officially
released in 1998 on the Tracks box set. John Hammond's introduction of the audition was
kept intact at the start of
MARY QUEEN OF ARKANSAS which
opens the box set. Hammond was prepared to sign Bruce on the spot but administrative formalities
within CBS meant that it would take several weeks for that to become reality. According to Clinton
Heylin's 2012 book E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street
Band, Hammond send Clive Davis a dub of the audition and a memo saying: "Here is a copy of a
couple of the reels of Bruce Springsteen, a very talented kid who recorded these twelve songs in a
period of around two hours last Wednesday... I think we better act quickly because many people
heard the boy at The Gaslight so that his fame is beginning to spread." Davis responded the next
day, "I love Bruce Springsteen! He's an original in every respect. I'd like to meet him if you can
Springsteen told Mark Hagen, "I knew a lot about John Hammond, the work he'd
done, the people he'd discovered, his importance in music and it was very exciting to feel you
were worth his time. No matter what happened afterwards, even it was just for this one night, you
were worth his time. That meant a lot to me. He was very encouraging – simply being in that room
with him at the board was one of my greatest recording experiences."
According to Heylin, Hammond thought that Springsteen might be better off on
the Epic subsidiary, but Mike Appel intercepted: "[Hammond] decided that Bruce should be with the
younger people at Epic and not with the stodgier, older people at Columbia – and he got this in
his head. I always felt that Columbia was the classiest label on the planet. I just always saw
[Bruce's] record going round on that red label, just like Dylan's did."
About a week following the audition, Springsteen entered into an "Exclusive
Songwriting Contract" with Sioux City Music Inc and a new/revised "Exclusive Management Contract"
with Laurel Canyon Management. The two contracts were signed at the office of New York attorney
Jules Kurz, a sole practitioner specializing in music and entertainment law who was then handling
Appel and Cretecos' business affairs. This new management agreement replaced the one from March
and made changes in remuneration and compensation rates between the parties; it was a better deal
for Springsteen than the previous one.
Following the signing of the agreements, Springsteen began a series of demo
sessions for Sioux City Music Inc in May and June 1972. The session took place at two locations in
New York City: Wes Farrell's Pocketful Of Sounds Studios where Appel was then still employed, and
the apartment of Jim Cretecos. There were multiple sessions held at each location and the session
dates at the two locations may have actually intertwined. Cretecos' apartment was utilized due to
the limited availability of the studio at Pocketful Of Sounds. Cretecos was an electronics
engineer and was able to emulate a reasonable recording environment in his apartment, so much so
that it is difficult to distinguish some of the recordings Bruce made in Cretecos' apartment from
those made in a professional studio.
On 09 Jun 1972 Laurel Canyon Productions (describing itself as Laurel Canyon
Productions Inc) entered into a recording agreement with CBS Records. This meant that Springsteen
was not signed directly to CBS, but his services were subcontracted to CBS by Laurel Canyon. Under
the recording agreement, all individual recordings made by Springsteen under the CBS agreement
remained the property of Laurel Canyon Productions until such point that they were assigned and
transferred to CBS. This contract was signed by CBS at CBS Records offices and by Mike Appel at
Laurel Canyon Productions offices. Bruce Springsteen signed it too, on the hood of a car in a
dimly lit bar parking lot in New York City. Appel had him sign it as a matter of courtesy and as a
matter of endorsement – from a legal standpoint it was not necessary that Springsteen signs this
agreement as the "Exclusive Recording Agreement" between him and Laurel Canyon Productions did not
grant him the right to block or refuse this contract between Laurel Canyon Productions and CBS.
The contract was varied in August 1972 to also cover the master tapes of certain songs which had
been recorded prior to the date of the agreement.
Mike Appel and Jimmy Cretecos later decided to change their business structure
and model. They wanted to cease the partnership model and incorporate their businesses with the
two having a 50/50 split in shares of the new incorporated business entities. These matters did
not involve Springsteen – his signature or permission was not required. Laurel Canyon Productions
(the sound recordings partnership) became Laurel Canyon Limited (incorporated) on 28 Jun 1972,
Sioux City Music Inc (the songwriting partnership) became Sioux City Music Limited (incorporated)
on 05 Oct 1972, and Laurel Canyon Management (the management partnership) became Laurel Canyon
Management Limited (incorporated) on 05 Mar 1973. The three new companies were incorporated in New
York and Appel and Cretecos were appointed the first directors. Appel and Cretecos wanted to
change the name of Sioux City to Laurel Canyon in order to have name consistency among their
family of companies, so on 24 Apr 1973 Sioux City Music Limited changed its name to Laurel Canyon
Music Limited. In January 1974 Jimmy Cretecos sold his 50% shareholding in each of the Laurel
Canyon companies to Mike Appel, thus Appel becoming the sole owner of the companies.
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.
After signing the contract with CBS Records, Laurel Canyon Productions was to
receive an immediate cash advance from CBS and this money was to be used to pay for the studio
time to record Springsteen' debut album. A delay by CBS in delivering the advance money to Laurel
Canyon Productions resulted in delaying the sessions till early July 1972. During June Springsteen
had finalized the selection of the musicians that would be used for the initial sessions. The
musicians chosen, with an ok from Appel and Cretecos, constituted the entire lineup of the former
Bruce Springsteen Band: David Sancious on keyboards, Gary Tallent on bass, Vini Lopez on drums,
and Steve Van Zandt on quitar. Van Zandt ended up partaking in almost none of the 914 Sound
Studios band sessions because of a prior commitment to tour as a member of The Dovells backing
The recording sessions for Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. spanned a
period of five months, from early June to late October 1972 (the majority were in June), and they
all took place at 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, NY. The core "band" sessions were completed in
only about two weeks. No unreleased band recordings from the debut album sessions have surfaced.
Following these band sessions the various band members scattered. It should be noted that
Springsteen had not decided to form a touring band at this stage.
Springsteen spent the next few weeks recording solo material. It was during
this period that differences of opinion surfaced about what material was going to dominate the
eventually released album. There were two sides in this disagreement: Mike Appel and John Hammond
wanted a solo-dominated LP while Jim Cretecos was in favor of a band-dominated one. Springsteen
was undecided at first, but soon sided with Cretecos. Appel later said that he was so impressed by
Bruce's lyrics and told him, "Who needs a band when you can write lyrics like that?" In early
August a compromise was reached and the album track selection was decided upon, featuring five
(DOES THIS BUS STOP AT 82ND STREET,
IT'S HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY,
FOR YOU, and
LOST IN THE FLOOD) and five solo recordings
MARY QUEEN OF ARKANSAS,
ARABIAN NIGHTS, and
VISITATION AT FORT HORN). On 10 Aug 1972
Laurel Canyon transferred the sound recording copyrights to these ten songs to CBS. It seemed the
album was finalized, but when then CBS president Clive Davis listened to the tracks he commented
that not only did he prefer the band tracks, but he also felt the album lacked a potential hit
single. In essence Davis was siding with Springsteen's vision of the album as being more
In August 1972 Springsteen composed two more commercial-sounding songs,
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT and
SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT. Consequently a further
"band" session was required. However both Sancious and Tallent, then-employed at Alpha Sound
Studios in Richmond, NJ, were unable to return to New York to record. Bruce wished to incorporate
saxophone in both new songs and contacted Clarence Clemons, a then-member of Norman Seldin &
The Joyful Noyze. So the studio session lineup for these two songs was Clemons, Lopez, and
Springsteen who played all other instruments, except for the piano on
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT which was handled by
Harold Wheeler. BLINDED BY THE LIGHT and
SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT were completed by early
September. These two band recordings bumped three solo recordings:
ARABIAN NIGHTS, and
VISITATION AT FORT HORN. Therefore the final
album was reduced from 10 tracks to 9, encompassing 7 band tracks and 2 solo tracks. Columbia
Records' original intention was to release the album in late November 1972, but decided the album
might get overlooked among the massive amount of pre-Christmas releases so the LP was held back
for until early January.
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. was released on Columbia Records on
05 Jan 1973. It was produced by Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos. The album received mixed but mostly
positive reviews and some critics found it under-produced, as Appel and Cretecos tried to spend as
little as possible from Columbia's $65,000 advance and recording budget. The album sold 25,000
copies only in its first year of release and did not chart until the summer of 1975 when the hype
over the BORN TO RUN single attracted buyers to
Springsteen's earlier albums.
[Click thumbnail to enlarge/reduce artwork]
The album features 9 new Springsteen compositions and clocks at 37:08.
A slightly different mix of the album version of THE ANGEL (but same recording)
was released on the briefly-legal album The Early Years (Early Records). See
PRODIGAL SON for more details.
Other Official Releases
In addition to its release on Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., the
official studio version of THE ANGEL was also released as the B-side to
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT in February 1973. This was the lead
single from the album and was only released in the U.S. -- it failed to appear on the music
charts. The disc came in a die-cut Columbia logo sleeve, but some were issued with the rare
picture sleeve. This is one of the rarest Springsteen records, mainly due to its extremely low
original sales. The catalogue number is COL 4-45805.
THE ANGEL is known to have been performed at least once during the
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Tour. Very little is known about the 1972 and 1973
shows, and therefore, the song must've been played on some more dates. Bruce Springsteen opened
for headliner Biff Rose in 1973 during a 6-night stand (between 31 January and 05 February, two
shows each night) at Max's Kansas City in New York. In the 17 Feb 1973 issue of Billboard
Magazine, Jim Melanson wrote a review on one of twelve shows Max's Kansas City mentioning
five songs performed by Springsteen, including THE ANGEL. The review could be for any of the
twelve shows in the stand, but more likely from one of the latter ones considering the late
publication of the review.
to display/hide detailed known Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Tour performances list]
- Feb 1973 at Max's Kansas City, New York City, NY
After disappearing from Springsteen's repertoire for 23 years, THE ANGEL was
performed once during the 128-date-long The Ghost Of Tom Joad Solo Acoustic Tour, on 22
Apr 1996 in London, England. See the
live 22 Apr 1996 version. On this tour, the song was played
in a solo acoustic guitar and harmonica arrangement.
to display/hide detailed The Ghost Of Tom Joad Solo Acoustic Tour performances list]
THE ANGEL was performed once during the 83-date-long Working On A Dream
Tour. The song was played in an album-style arrangement featuring Bruce on acoustic guitar,
Roy Bittan on piano, and an unidentified viola player as a guest-performer at the end of the song.
See the live 22 Nov 2009 version.
to display/hide detailed Working On A Dream Tour performances list]
As far as it's known, only two artists have recorded and released Bruce
Springsteen's THE ANGEL:
Various artists -- For You: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen
CD - Totem Records (TTM 480499 2) - Italy, 1995
This is a various artists Bruce Springsteen tribute album. THE ANGEL is performed by The
BlueBonnets. See The BlueBonnets' cover version
for more details.
Lorenzo Bertocchini -- Hearts Of Stone: Some Bruce Springsteen Songs
CD - no label (GOMB 16) - Italy - 2009
This is a Bruce Springsteen tribute album.
List of available versions of THE ANGEL on this website:
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.