Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town broke new ground for The Boss in 1978. A counterpoint to the operatic elegance of Born to Run, the album was an angry, raw record that burst forth after a three-year hiatus. Because of its darker tones, some might call Darkness a difficult album, but despite this, it’s a cherished gem for many fans.
As fans, we all wish that we could own a certain precious item from Bruce Springsteen’s career. It could be a vintage concert poster from the Steel Mill era, a ticket stub from one of the legendary 1978 concerts, a rare Japanese promotional record, a mid-80’s promotional jacket distributed to selected industry people, even an original handwritten manuscript for Born to Run… And some of us are lucky enough to own such items. Below are seventeen cool collectibles from the Darkness on the Edge of Town era that will make any fan of Springsteen’s most powerful album be envious.
Peter Schöfböck and Eddy Wehbe
1. “Badlands” Sheet Music (U.S.)
Originally considered as one of several potential sleeve artwork designs for the Darkness album, this classic Eric Meola photograph eventually made it onto the cover of the sheet music for the “Badlands” single, issued by Warner Brothers Publications in August 1978. According to Meola, the photo was shot during the summer of 1977, just a few days after Elvis Presley’s death, when he and Springsteen travelled from Salt Lake City to Reno together. It shows Bruce driving down a dirt road in a 1965 Ford Galaxie convertible, with heavy storm clouds looming in the sky above; an image that arguably would have mirrored the album’s content like no other. While copies are rather hard to find these days and consequently tend to fetch steep prices, this sheet is definitely an item worth tracking down for its sheer graphic impact.
2. “The Promised Land” / “Streets Of Fire” 7-Inch Single (U.K.)
Issued exclusively in the U.K., which was the only country in the world to release not just two, but three singles off the Darkness album. Unlike most other European markets, CBS London caught up on the concept of picture sleeves rather late (in October 1980, to be precise), so this 7-inch disc still came in one of their decidedly boring plain company logo sleeves. However, packaging aside, it still ranks among one of the rarest Bruce Springsteen 45s today, simply because a large portion of the British population was either unaware of or totally indifferent to its very existence, and hence failed to buy a copy.
3. “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” 8-Track Tape Cartridge (North America)
The only worldwide release of the album which – “due to programming requirements” – contains “Candy’s Room” twice, not to mention a totally different song sequence. This is the kind of information that “Ultimate Backstreets Trivia Quiz” questions are made of!
4. 1978 Springsteen Promo Neon Sign (U.S.)
In the late 1970s, CBS Records utilized fancy neon sign displays to promote their major artists at U.S. retail stores. This cool Springsteen sign, produced as a marketing tool for the Darkness album, has now become an impossible-to-find rarity.
In recent years, only one has surfaced at an online auction of vintage rock ‘n roll memorabilia. “The neon lights were used by CBS a number of times for star acts in that era,” said Dick Wingate, the man in charge of CBS marketing for the release of the Darkness album. “They came from the sales department for support at the local retail level.”
5. “Prove It All Night” / “Factory” 7-Inch Single (Japan)
CBS/Sony Japan’s art department has always been famous for creating unique and pretty striking artwork for domestic Springsteen 7-inch releases, and in this particular case, they certainly used their “creative license” to the max. Why not take Frank Stefanko’s original front cover photo for the album, cut Bruce’s image out of it, and paste him in front of a New York City night street scenario for a more dramatic effect? That is exactly what happened; with the result being one of the oddest and most unusual picture sleeve designs ever known to the Springsteen-collecting community.
6. “Darkness on the Edge of Town Is Platinum” Columbia Records Promo Poster (U.S.)
To commemorate the event of Darkness reaching certified platinum status less than four weeks following its release, Columbia Records had this awesome promo poster printed up, which featured a great posed shot of Springsteen that again was taken by Eric Meola. The same artwork was also used for an elaborate, two-page center-spread ad that ran in Billboard magazine around the same time. “The ‘Platinum’ shot was done during a session at my studio in NYC for potential use on Darkness,” said Eric Meola. “But my good friend Frank Stefanko’s wonderfully moody rose wallpapered bedroom shot won out — and deservedly so.”
7. “Badlands” / “Streets Of Fire” 7-Inch Single (Italy)
Another case of a Springsteen single being widely ignored by the record-buying public, the Italian “Badlands” 45 – featuring a superb and totally unique color picture sleeve – has become immensely rare because it sold poorly when it was released. In fact, CBS Italy had so many unsold copies left as of October 1980 that they decided to give them away as “freebies” with the domestic magazine Music, adding special stickers to both the sleeves and A-side labels.
8. “Last American Hero From Asbury Park, N.J.” Promo LP Sampler (Japan)
A Japanese exclusive, this promotional sampler was a part of the promotion for Darkness, yet, for some reason, only contained tracks from his first three albums. The black-and-white picture sleeve is the actual inner-sleeve photograph for the Darkness LP, taken by Frank Stefanko during the album’s photo shoot sessions. Limited to probably less than 100 copies, Last American Hero is one of the rarest Springsteen items ever, and arguably the rarest in this format.
Frank Stefanko’s photo is titled “Among the Cabbage Roses”
The sampler contains an insert with Japanese song lyric translations and the disc has special white “Sample” labels.
9. December 1978 Winterland San Francisco Concert Poster (US)
Original art designed by Randy Tuten. Winterland 1978. ’nuff said.
10. Dylan/Springsteen (shared) CBS Promo Ad (West Germany)
A full-page ad promoting both Darkness and Bob Dylan’s “Street Legal” LP that ran in German music magazines in the summer of 1978. What makes it so special is the Springsteen-related text, which is nothing short of hilarious; from the boasting headline (“One Of Them Already Is A Myth. The Other Will Become One. You Bet!”) to the almost surreal description of the album itself, stating that it sounds “like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan had fathered a son together,” and raving about the “congruent octaves” in Bruce’s singing voice, which at times is “satirizing David Bowie’s theatrics,” while on other occasions “seems to drag behind the aggressive saxophone gallop on Jesus sandals” (we kid you not)
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. Granted, CBS’ German marketing department was never known for holding back on the kind of over-the-top Springsteen hype that would even make former Springsteen manager Mike Appel blush, but they certainly outdid themselves here.
11. Darkness on the Edge of Town Promo Picture Disc LP (U.S.)
If there ever was something like a “classic” Bruce Springsteen vinyl collectible (apart from the legendary “script cover” promo version of the Born To Run LP), this is probably it. The full album in the form of a high-quality, excellent-sounding picture disc, released to radio stations and music journalists only, and never made available commercially.
According to Dick Wingate, who served as CBS’ product manager for the “Darkness” album release, no more than 1,000 of these were pressed, although you can easily find still-sealed ones on eBay every other week. Unfortunately for collectors, counterfeits have been in circulation for quite some time, which can only be distinguished from genuine copies by actually dropping the needle on them (the counterfeited version has much poorer sound), while a more recent (2008) fake Darkness picture disc LP is a lot easier to detect by both its notably different graphic design and the absence of the original white die-cut display sleeve and lyric sheet.
12. “Prove It All Night” (Live Version) 12-Inch Acetate (U.S.)
In the summer of 1978, Columbia Records had planned to release a promotion-only 12-inch single of two live cuts, “Prove It All Night” and the instrumental “Paradise By The Sea”, (as it was still called back then) from Springsteen’s July 1 show at the Community Auditorium in Berkeley, Calif., for radio station airplay; with Darkness sound engineer Jimmy Iovine being on hand to professionally record and mix the material. Unfortunately, the project never got any further than this super-rare, one-sided acetate pressing, although both tracks eventually were distributed to radio DJ’s in tape form. The recording contains a powerfully raw and dynamic performance of “Prove It All Night” complete with its famous extended piano/triangle/guitar intro. The fact that it was not included on the “Live/1975-85″ box set – or at least issued as a single B-side – remains something of a mystery to this day. Our picture shows one of the sleeve stickers produced for the acetate.
13. September 1978 Passaic Capitol Theatre Marquee (U.S.)
When Bruce Springsteen played the Capitol Theatre in September 1978, the promoter and owner of the Theater, Join Scher had a theatre marquee specially created for these three homecoming shows. Literally “highlighting” Bruce’s legendary three-night stand at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey from September 19 to 21, 1978 (the first show of which was broadcast and subsequently bootlegged as “Pièce De Résistance”), the awesome marquee designed by artist/fan Arlen Schumer now is almost as famous as the concerts themselves.
At the conclusion of the shows, Scher kept one side for himself and had the other side custom built into a functional frame to include lighting, and presented it to Springsteen. The marquee remained in Springsteen’s Holmdel NJ home until it was removed by then tour manager Bob Chirmside. The marquee was then sold by Chirmside to Billy Smith in June 1986 and was a prominent display item in the Asbury Park Rock and Roll Museum during it’s period of operation through the summer of 1988 at The Palace Arcade. In November 1991, Springsteen collector, Marty Venturo, purchased the marquee from Billy Smith.
The “other” side was auctioned off a few years ago and was purchased by the owner Paul Epstein of record store Twist and Shout, in Denver, Colorado.
It should be noted that one prominent design note related to the Marquee is that it features the name BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and then the other band members by name without specifically identifying or saying E STREET BAND which is extremely rare and noteworthy.
Several cool photos taken outside the Capitol at the time the shows took place (as well as Arlen’s original artwork) can be viewed online at his official website, www.arlenschumer.com.
14. Darkness on the Edge of Town CBS/Sony Promo Ad (Japan)
Featured in popular Japanese pop/rock magazines such as Music Life, this handsome little ad depicted a particularly cool 1978-era Lynn Goldsmith “personality” shot of Bruce not widely published elsewhere, though CBS/Sony Japan did use the original color version of this same photo for their mega-scarce Darkness promo poster.
15. “Badlands” Original Mock-Up Album Sleeve Art (U.S.)
The photographs were taken by Eric Meola in 1977 and were considered for the Darkness on the Edge of Town album’s front and back cover art. The Bruce photograph was shot at Meola’s studio in NYC for potential use on the album cover art, but the eye-patched Clarence Clemons photo, which oddly ended up here, was shot for Clarence personally.
[Part #1: The prototype and its title]
These vintage cover paste-ups come from the Columbia Records art department and are a very early concept design dating from October 1977. At this stage, the album’s proposed title was “Badlands”, but Springsteen would later change it to Darkness on the Edge of Town reportedly because Bill Chinnock released an album titled Badlands in early 1978.
The early album track list included “Independence Day” (later released on “The River”) and “Don’t Look Back,” which was replaced at the last minute for the title track and remained unreleased until 1998 when it was included on the Tracks box set. “Candy’s Room” was still under the work-in-progress title “Candy’s Boy.” “Adam Raised A Cain,” “Something In The Night,” “Factory,” and even “Darkness On The edge Of Town” were not on the album track list at that stage.
[Part #2: Other alternate covers]
There have been other alternate covers as well, including the Meola photo used for the above-mentioned “Badlands” music sheet, and others that are similar to what was eventually released. A print proof with the title “Racing in the Street” and standard Frank Stefanko cover shot has also surfaced.
“Badlands” is also the title of a 1973 Terrence Malick’s film that later inspired Springsteen’s Nebraska, but that’s not all there is to the story. After the release of Born to Run, Jon Landau introduced Springsteen to classic movies. To find a title for the new album, the two jokingly went through Andrew Sarris’s book “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968.” Springsteen picked “American Madness,” a 1932 Frank Capra film, while Landau selected “History Is Made at Night,” a 1937 Frank Borzage film. As far as it’s known, no artwork utilizing either of these two titles was ever produced.
16. Darkness on the Edge of Town Reel-To-Reel Tape (U.S.)
One of only four Springsteen albums officially released in this format, this vintage 7-inch, 4-track reel playing at 3 ¾ inches per second and housed in a nifty cardboard picture box is still very popular with collectors even in our hi-tech times of digital media.
17. “Badlands” / “Candy’s Room” 7-Inch Single (Holland/France)
It’s “Bruce Springsteen, guitar semi-god” on the picture sleeve for this outrageously elusive 45 single, which was a Dutch export pressing made for exclusive distribution in France and marks the only worldwide appearance of “Candy’s Room” on a single of any format. Don’t expect to get back much change from your $1,000 or thereabouts if you manage to locate a copy.
Peter Schöfböck and Eddy Wehbe
December 12, 2013
I became a Bruce fan in early 1987, after listening to the Roxy 1975 live version of “Thunder Road” from the “Live/1975-85” box set (a copy I borrowed from my sister-in-law out of pure curiosity what all the hype surrounding it was about). Didn’t care much about Springsteen before that. I started to get seriously into collecting in the early 1990s; mainly inspired by Chris Hunt’s “Bruce Files” in the “Blinded By The Light” book. Originally I bought stuff through small ads in “Goldmine” and “Record Collector” magazines as well as at local record fairs. Many items also were purchased from “Badlands” in the U.K. I created the Lost In The Flood collectors’ website together with my partner-in-crime Alf Weber in October 2001. In early 2013, after 20+ years of collecting, I decided to quit that little “hobby” and sell my collection.
Fave song on “Darkness”: “Something In The Night”
Fave Springsteen show of all time: Winterland 12/15/78, though I personally do believe that Bruce’s first solo acoustic tour for The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995-97) was just as important a tour in his career as the 1978 one.
Darkness on the Edge of Town was released long before my parents had even met, which explains why I’ve been a Springsteen fan for only twelve years, and a collector of his releases for less than eight. It all starts with a good-looking picture sleeve or two before the obsession takes over and you feel the need of owning every variant of every release Springsteen has put out. Much credit goes to Peter Schöfböck’s Lost In The Flood website which has played a major role in this story. Because Darkness is the dearest to my heart, some of the most treasured items in my collection come from that era: the above-mentioned “Last American Hero” promo LP and the “Badlands” mock-up album sleeve to name a few. Now, when will I have the Passaic Capitol Theater marquee hanging on my bedroom’s wall?
Eddy Wehbe – Springsteen Lyrics web site: Springsteenlyrics.com
Special thanks to: Steen Andersson, Alessandro Cattaneo, Dan French, Eric Meola, Yosuke Ono, Mike Simpson, Jyrki Virta, and Dick Wingate
Limited Edition Bruce Springsteen book, The Light in Darkness.
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