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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 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
[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.
- RACING IN THE STREET ('78) is an alternate take to the version found on the Darkness On
The Edge Of Town album.
- THE PROMISE is a different version from the one
found on 18 Tracks.
- CANDY'S BOY and
COME ON (LET'S GO TONIGHT) are early
versions of CANDY'S ROOM and
- BECAUSE THE NIGHT, FIRE, and TALK TO ME are songs
that Springsteen donated to other artists.
- BECAUSE THE NIGHT, RENDEZVOUS, and FIRE were
previously released by Springsteen in live versions.
- THE WAY is a hidden/bonus track and has been
circulating on bootlegs in a slightly different mix.
- GOTTA GET THAT FEELING,
SOMEDAY (WE'LL BE TOGETHER),
WRONG SIDE OF THE STREET,
AIN'T GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU, and
CITY OF NIGHT have been circulating on bootlegs in
different versions and under different titles.
- OUTSIDE LOOKING IN,
ONE WAY STREET, and
SPANISH EYES have been circulating on
bootlegs in different versions.
- THE BROKENHEARTED is known from the 1978
- SAVE MY LOVE,
IT'S A SHAME,
THE LITTLE THINGS (MY BABY DOES), and
BREAKAWAY are songs that have never circulated or been
Other Official Releases
Other versions of THE PROMISE were also officially released:
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.
to display/hide detailed known Lawsuit Tour performances list]
- 03 Aug 1976 at Monmouth Arts Center, Red Bank, NJ
- 29 Sep 1976 at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA
- 30 Sep 1976 at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA
- 09 Oct 1976 at University Of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN
- 10 Oct 1976 at Miami University, Oxford, OH
- 12 Oct 1976 at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
- 13 Oct 1976 at Kean College, Union, NJ
- 16 Oct 1976 at The College Of William And Mary, Williamsburg, VA
- 18 Oct 1976 at Georgetown University, Washington, DC
- 25 Oct 1976 at Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
- 27 Oct 1976 at Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
- 28 Oct 1976 at Palladium, New York City, NY
- 29 Oct 1976 at Palladium, New York City, NY
- 30 Oct 1976 at Palladium, New York City, NY
- 02 Nov 1976 at Palladium, New York City, NY
- 07 Feb 1977 at Palace Theatre, Albany, NY
- 08 Feb 1977 at Auditorium Theatre, Rochester, NY
- 23 Feb 1977 at Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL
- 26 Feb 1977 at Indiana Convention Center, Indianapolis, IN
- 20 Mar 1977 at Providence College, Providence, RI
- 22 Mar 1977 at Music Hall, Boston, MA
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.
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.
to display/hide detailed known Darkness On The Edge Of Town Tour performances list]
- 23 May 1978 at Shea's Buffalo Theatre, Buffalo, NY
- 24 May 1978 at Palace Theatre, Albany, NY
- 26 May 1978 at Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
- 27 May 1978 at Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
- 29 May 1978 at Music Hall, Boston, MA
- 30 May 1978 at Music Hall, Boston, MA
- 31 May 1978 at Music Hall, Boston, MA
- 03 Jun 1978 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY
- 14 Jun 1978 at Civic Auditorium Music Hall, Omaha, NE
- 16 Jun 1978 at Memorial Hall, Kansas City, KS
- 20 Jun 1978 at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO
- 24 Jun 1978 at Paramount Theatre, Portland, OR
- 25 Jun 1978 at Paramount Northwest Theatre, Seattle, WA
- 26 Jun 1978 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, Canada
- 30 Jun 1978 at Berkeley Community Theatre, Berkeley, CA
- 01 Jul 1978 at Berkeley Community Theatre, Berkeley, CA
- 05 Jul 1978 at The Forum, Inglewood, CA
- 12 Jul 1978 at Dallas Convention Center Theater, Dallas, TX
- 14 Jul 1978 at San Antonio Municipal Auditorium, San Antonio, TX
- 15 Jul 1978 at Sam Houston Coliseum, Houston, TX
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
to display/hide detailed The Reunion Tour rehearsals performances list]
- 19 Mar 1999 at Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ (public rehearsal)
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.
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.
to display/hide detailed The Rising Tour performances list]
- 20 Oct 2002 at Velodrom, Berlin, Germany
- 21 Nov 2002 at TD Waterhouse Center, Orlando, FL
THE PROMISE was performed 7 times during the Devils & Dust Solo
Acoustic Tour. The song was played solo on grand piano.
to display/hide detailed Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour performances list]
- 07 May 2005 at Colorado Convention Center Lecture Hall, Denver, CO
- 25 Jun 2005 at Hovet, Stockholm, Sweden
- 16 Jul 2005 at Pepsi Arena, Albany, NY
- 20 Jul 2005 at Arena At Harbor Yard, Bridgeport, CT
- 01 Aug 2005 at U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati, OH
- 13 Aug 2005 at Pontiac Theatre At GM Place, Vancouver, Canada
- 20 Oct 2005 at DCU Center, Worcester, MA
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.
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.
to display/hide detailed Wrecking Ball Tour rehearsals performances list]
- 12 May 2012 at Estadio Olimpico De La Cartuja, Seville, Spain (private rehearsal)
A few artists have recorded and released Bruce Springsteen's THE PROMISE,
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
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.
Native Son -- Reimagining Springsteen
Digital EP - no label (no catalogue number) - USA, 2012
This is a download-only digital Bruce Springsteen tribute EP.
Martyn Joseph -- Tires Rushing By In The Rain
CD - Pipe Records (PRCD023) - UK, 2013
This is a Bruce Springsteen tribute album.
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