THE PROMISE

Official 1977 studio version

Johnny works in a factory and Billy works downtown
Terry works in a rock and roll band lookin' for that million-dollar sound
And I got a little job down in Darlington but some nights I don't go
Some nights I go to the drive-in or some nights I stay home
I followed that dream just like those guys do way up on the screen
And I drove a Challenger down Route 9 through the dead ends and all the bad scenes
And when the promise was broken, I cashed in a few of my own dreams

Well now I built that Challenger by myself, but I needed money and so I sold it
I lived a secret I should'a kept to myself, but I got drunk one night and I told it
All my life I fought this fight, the fight that no man can ever win
Every day it just gets harder to live this dream I'm believing in
Thunder Road, oh baby you were so right
Thunder Road, there's somethin' dyin' down on the highway tonight

I won big once and I hit the coast, oh but somehow I paid the big cost
Inside I felt like I was carrying the broken spirits of all the other ones who lost
When the promise is broken you go on living, but it steals something from down in your soul
Like when the truth is spoken and it don't make no difference, somethin' in your heart turns cold
Thunder Road, for the lost lovers and all the fixed games
Thunder Road, for the tires rushing by in the rain
Thunder Road, remember what me and Billy we'd always say
Thunder Road, we were gonna take it all then threw it all away


Page last updated: 09 Mar 2011

Intro

Music and lyrics by Bruce Springsteen, THE PROMISE is a Darkness On The Edge Of Town outtake that was re-recorded in 1999 when it was officially released for the first time.

The song was played live between 1976 and 1978 with some lyrics variations, and was also played occasionally on The Reunion Tour, The Rising Tour, and the Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour.

A 1977 studio version of THE PROMISE was released in November 2010 on The Promise, an album of previously-unreleased songs from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town recording sessions. The above lyrics are for that officially released 1977 studio version of the song. It features a string arrangement by Ken Asher.

Writing Date

THE PROMISE appeared for the first time on 03 Aug 1976 when it was performed live in concert at Monmouth Arts Center in Red Bank, NJ. The song would disappear from subsequent shows, returning in late September with rewritten lyrics (compare the live 03 Aug 1976 version and the live 29 Sep 1976 version). This leads to the conclusion that THE PROMISE was most probably written shortly before 03 Aug 1976.

However, during the first few months of the Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour, Springsteen was introducing the song by saying it was written "just after [he] wrote 'Born To Run'." In one particular show (29 May 1978 in Boston), he says, "This is the first song I wrote after uh... two years ago... right after we recorded 'Born To Run'." However it is a bit unclear if Bruce is referring to the song "Born To Run" (mid-1974) or the album "Born To Run" (mid-1975). That it might have been written in 1974 made some wonder if just maybe THE PROMISE had been recorded as an outtake during the Born To Run sessions. That led Backstreets magazine editor Charles R. Cross to ask Mike Appel about this very matter during a 1990 interview. Appel seemed adamant that it was not a song that Bruce had introduced to the Born To Run recording sessions, let alone recorded. This tends to support the idea that THE PROMISE was something Bruce wrote after mid-1975.

The Story Behind the Song

Despite the marvelous reception received by both Born To Run and the tour which followed, the relationship between Bruce Springsteen and his now former manager and producer Mike Appel was deteriorating. In July 1976 the storm broke; Mike Appel wrote to Springsteen saying that he would not allow Jon Landau (Springsteen's friend and co-producer of Born To Run) to produce the next album, citing a particular paragraph from their original agreement. Bruce replied on 27 Jul 1976 by firing manager Mike Appel and suing him and his management company Laurel Canyon Ltd. in Federal Court in Manhattan, claiming fraud, breach of trust, and undue influence. Appel countersued on 29 July in New York State Supreme Court, asking the court to prohibit Springsteen and Jon Landau from working together in studio. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band were slated to enter the studio that year for the recording of a new album, except that on 15 Sep 1976 the judge in the lawsuits case ruled that Springsteen was enjoined from any further recording with Columbia Records until Appel's suit was resolved. This would drag for about a year.

THE PROMISE gained considerable reputation as Springsteen's ultimate tale of betrayal following live performances beginning in 1976 and even more so in 1977 and 1978. Fans and critics alike have speculated over whether it is about the infamous lawsuit that kept him from the recording studio. When he heard the song for the first time in South Bend, IN, (on 09 Oct 1976 at University Of Notre Dame) the Chicago Reader critic John Milward was moved to write: "The song's metaphor is 'The Challenger,' a race car that the singer has built by hand 'to carry the broken dreams of all those who have lost.' But the real twist comes during the song's bridge, when he sings the words 'thunder road' and immediately transforms his car into his rock and roll dreams. In 'The Promise,' Springsteen mythologizes himself and compares his struggle to be true to his art to the desperate struggle of the young racer. He sings in 'Thunder Road' that 'tonight's the night all the promises will be broken,' but the dream etched in 'The Promise' and put into perspective by Springsteen's own experience is clearly a romantic notion that is not easily shattered. Despite a landscape filled with losers – the singer eventually sells his car when he needs money – it's clear that in Springsteen's heart the Challenger's potential will never die."

Dave Marsh writes in his Springsteen biography Born To Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story that "when Milward refers to 'Springsteen's own experience,' he is clearly alluding to the lawsuit, but Milward is canny enough to know that the lawsuit itself is only a symbol of what Bruce had undergone since Born To Run catapulted him to fame. 'The Promise' is rather about the price everyone pays for success – and the dangers of settling for anything less."

The lawsuit began in July 1976 and Springsteen debuted the song only a week or two later at an early August show in Red Bank, NJ (see "Live History" section below). One does wonder if his decision to debut the song in concert might have been influenced by the just-unfolding litigation. Springsteen has publicly denied that THE PROMISE is about the Laurel Canyon debacle. "I don't write songs about lawsuits," Springsteen said, and the fact that people might think that THE PROMISE was concerned only with legalities kept it off his fourth album.

THE PROMISE was slated to appear on the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album, but too many reviewers of the live shows had considered it as being "about" the lawsuit with Mike Appel. Fearing that this would cause a misinterpretation of the message he meant to convey, Springsteen held it back and replaced it with RACING IN THE STREET. In the 2010 documentary The Promise: The Making Of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Springsteen said that THE PROMISE is "a song about fighting and not winning, it was just about the disappointments of the time." It could've made it on the record if they had finished recording it because it fit in the temper of the record, but Springsteen felt that he's "too close to it," as he said in the documentary. "I felt I couldn't judge it myself at the time," he added.

On 15 Nov 2010, the eve of The Promise release, Sirius XM's E Street Radio channel broadcasted a two-hour special titled "E Street Radio on the Edge of Your Town" and hosted by Dave Marsh. The show featured Bruce Springsteen live in the studio with an intimate audience of 20 contest winners. In the first hour, each had the had the chance to ask him a question in-person about the upcoming release, and in the second hour, the phone lines opened to E Street Radio callers. At one point, Marsh was talking about THE PROMISE as being "about possibility", and Springsteen answered quickly and directly: "It's also about, 'Gee, I wish I wasn't sued!'"

It is believed that this whole "debacle" at least influenced the feel and lyrics of the song – the timing and some of the topics discussed in the song make the connection pretty obvious. By 1978, Springsteen was singing the song with a rewritten final verse (see the live 23 May 1978 version for example):

Well now my daddy taught me how to walk quiet and how to make my peace with the past
I learned real good to tighten up inside and I don't say nothing unless I'm asked

Prequel

Bruce Springsteen played two benefit solo acoustic shows for DoubleTake magazine, on 19 and 20 Feb 2003 at Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA. He closed out each night with a Q&A session, taking questions from the audience. On the first night, a fan asks him "what was 'The Promise' about?" Springsteen answers that "after Born To Run, I wrote that [the Promise] for Darkness I think. And I was reflecting on sort of the flip side of 'Thunder Road' I think. I was reflecting on the responsibilities that I thought came with my fortune at that time and how it sort of fitted into my life and... that's generally what I remember it, it being about in some fashion."

THE PROMISE explicitly mentions the song THUNDER ROAD by name but reveals a far more pessimistic outlook on the narrator's life and future. Introducing the song during the 23 Oct 1999 show at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA, Springsteen said that "this is a song I wrote as a kind of a follow-up to 'Thunder Road'."

In the handwritten lyrics notebook that was reproduced in The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story box set, Springsteen listed THE PROMISE as "The Promise (Return to Th. Rd.)" in one place.

Studio Recording

Springsteen reached a final settlement in his yearlong litigation with Mike Appel on 28 May 1977. Effectively this meant that for the first time in a year Springsteen was able to go into a studio and record. The Darkness On The Edge Of Town recording sessions kicked off in early June 1977 at Atlantic Record Studios in New York City. Springsteen had a considerable amount of new material, but the songs were in various stages of writing completion. Consequently many of the songs were shaped over the course of numerous sessions spanning several months.

According to Dave Marsh, "the first evening [of the album's recording sessions] was spent spent laying down demos of about twenty songs Bruce had written and more or less completed during the lawsuit. They included [...] 'The Promise' [...] from the live shows of the previous year." In The Promise: The Making Of 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town' documentary, recording engineer Thom Panunzio commented that "'The Promise' was an amazing song, and we probably spent three months on [recording] that song".

THE PROMISE was recorded during the Darkness On The Edge Of Town recording sessions, and four takes of the song from those sessions are in circulation:

Because Springsteen considered that he didn't have a "fully" complete studio take of THE PROMISE, he re-recorded the song in February 1999 specifically for its inclusion on the 18 Tracks compilation album. See the official 1999 studio version for more details. Still, he later released a 1977 studio version on The Promise in 2010.

The Promise

The Promise is a Bruce Springsteen album that was released on 16 Nov 2010 as part of The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story box set, and separately as a 2-CD set. The album was also issued on a limited edition 3-LP set pressed on 180-gram vinyl.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge/reduce artwork]

The Promise is a collection of 22 previously-unreleased songs from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town recording sessions. Depending on their level of completion back in 1977-1978, some were only remastered, some were overdubbed with 2010 vocals or music, and some were completely re-recorded in 2010. The album is mixed by Bob Clearmountain.

The Promise track listing, disc 1 (2-CD format):

  1. RACING IN THE STREET ('78)
  2. GOTTA GET THAT FEELING
  3. OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
  4. SOMEDAY (WE'LL BE TOGETHER)
  5. ONE WAY STREET
  6. BECAUSE THE NIGHT
  7. WRONG SIDE OF THE STREET
  8. THE BROKENHEARTED
  9. RENDEZVOUS
  10. CANDY'S BOY

The Promise track listing, disc 2 (2-CD format):

  1. SAVE MY LOVE
  2. AIN'T GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU
  3. FIRE
  4. SPANISH EYES
  5. IT'S A SHAME
  6. COME ON (LET'S GO TONIGHT)
  7. TALK TO ME
  8. THE LITTLE THINGS (MY BABY DOES)
  9. BREAKAWAY
  10. THE PROMISE
  11. CITY OF NIGHT - THE WAY

Notes:

Other Official Releases

Other versions of THE PROMISE were also officially released:


Part of the unofficial Aug 1977 studio version of THE PROMISE was officially released on the The Promise: The Making Of Darkness On The Edge Of Town home video in 2010.

The official 1978 studio version of THE PROMISE was officially released on the Thrill Hill Vault 1976-1978 home video in 2010.

The official 1999 studio version of THE PROMISE was officially released on the 18 Tracks sampler in 1999.

The live 01 Jul 2000 version of THE PROMISE was officially released on the Live In New York City home video in 2001.

The live 07 Dec 2010 version of THE PROMISE was officially released on the The Promise: The Making Of Darkness On The Edge Of Town home video in 2011.

Live History

In 1976 and 1977, as the Born To Run Tour dragged on with Springsteen's continuing frustration with his legal situation, the shows became his only outlet. Horn sections were added, songs further arranged, more oldies pulled out, performances sometimes reached the three- or four-hour mark. New material such as the bitter THE PROMISE would appear out of nowhere, then disappear again.

THE PROMISE debuted live on 03 Aug 1976 at the Monmouth Arts Center in Red Bank, NJ, during what was later known as the "Lawsuit Tour". This live debut featured different lyrics to later versions. See the live 03 Aug 1976 version for more details. THE PROMISE would disappear from subsequent shows, returning in late September with rewritten lyrics (see the live 29 Sep 1976 version).

THE PROMISE is known to have been performed at least 21 times during the Lawsuit Tour: 15 times during the 1st leg (29 known dates, between August and November 1976) and 6 times during the 2nd leg (33 known dates, between February and March 1977). Some of that period's setlists are incomplete or unknown, and therefore, the song may have been played on some more dates during the Lawsuit Tour.

[Click here to display/hide detailed known Lawsuit Tour performances list]

In preparation for the Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour, THE PROMISE was practiced on 19 May 1978 at Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, NJ, during the only known/confirmed private rehearsal prior to the tour's start. The song was played in the full E Street Band arrangement, only played that way on the opening night of the Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour, and not used again until 2010. In 1978, Springsteen was singing the song with a rewritten final verse. See the live 19 May 1978 version.

[Click here to display/hide detailed Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour rehearsals performances list]

THE PROMISE is known to have been performed at least 20 times during the 111-date-long Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour, all of them in the tour's first three months. A few setlists from that period are incomplete or unknown, and therefore, the song may have been played on some more dates during the Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour. On the tour's opening night the song was played in the full E Street Band arrangement that would not be used again until 2010 (see the live 23 May 1978 version), while on the remaining dates it was played in a solo piano arrangement.

[Click here to display/hide detailed known Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour performances list]

In preparation for The Reunion Tour, THE PROMISE was performed during one of the tour's two public warm-up rehearsal shows that took place in March 1999 in Asbury Park.

[Click here to display/hide detailed The Reunion Tour rehearsals performances list]

THE PROMISE was performed 3 times during The Reunion Tour. The song was played solo on grand piano. The 01 Jul 2000 performance of THE PROMISE was officially released in 2001 on the Live In New York City home video. See the live 01 Jul 2000 version for more details.

[Click here to display/hide detailed The Reunion Tour performances list]

THE PROMISE was performed twice during The Rising Tour. The song was played solo on grand piano.

[Click here to display/hide detailed The Rising Tour performances list]

THE PROMISE was performed 7 times during the Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour. The song was played solo on grand piano.

[Click here to display/hide detailed Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour performances list]

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed THE PROMISE on 07 Dec 2010 during a gig in front of a small crowd at Carousel House in Asbury Park, NJ. The gig was videotaped for a future webcast and was officially released on The Promise: The Making Of Darkness On The Edge Of Town DVD in 2011. See the live 07 Dec 2010 version for more details.

[Click here to display/hide detailed 2010 live performances list]

In preparation for the Wrecking Ball Tour, THE PROMISE is known to have been practiced during the private rehearsal that took place on 12 May 2012 in Seville, Spain prior to the tour's European leg.

[Click here to display/hide detailed Wrecking Ball Tour rehearsals performances list]

Covers

Very few artists have recorded and released Bruce Springsteen's THE PROMISE, most of which on Bruce Springsteen tribute albums:


Various artists -- Light Of Day: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen

3-CD - Good Sounds (DM 797-02) - Spain, 2003
2-CD - Good Sounds (DM 797E-02) - Spain, 2003
2-CD - Schoolhouse Records (SHR0022-2) - USA, 2003
2-CD - Sony (MHCP-928/9) - Japan, 2005
2-CD - Revolver (REVXD 244) - UK, 2005

This is a various artists Bruce Springsteen tribute album. THE PROMISE is performed by Graziano Romani. See Graziano Romani's cover version for more details.

Saffer -- Worksheet 05/06

CD EP - unknown label (unknown catalogue number) - Germany, 2005

4-track EP containing two Bruce Springsteen cover songs.

Andrew Nicholson -- Lost Highway: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen

CD - no label (no catalogue number) - UK, 2008

This is a Bruce Springsteen tribute album.

Mark Wright -- Real World: The Bruce Springsteen Project

CD - Revolver (REV XD 271) - UK, 2008

This is a Bruce Springsteen tribute album.

Martyn Joseph -- Tires Rushing By In The Rain

CD - Pipe Records (unknown catalogue number) - UK, 2013

This is a Bruce Springsteen tribute album.

Available Versions

List of available versions of THE PROMISE on this website:

Credits / References

Thanks Neil (Five Stubbs) for the lyrics help.

Some of the above info about the studio sessions and the live performances is taken from Brucebase. Info about some of the above THE PROMISE cover releases is taken from the Nebraska website.