Being led into this world by a baby piano, Bruce Springsteen steadies himself to take you on a ride of the highest magnitude on “Incident on 57th Street” from his 1973 album “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle”. A guitar peeks through at 11 seconds in and the rest of the band joins in about 20 seconds into the proceedings.
The song is so lyrically dense it’s hard to know where to start. Our main character apparently is Johnny who drove in from the underworld last night. He meets his, I assume, love interest Jane and is soon torn between his wanting to be with her and his ties to organized crime. It’s like a Scorsese film set to music in a sense.
This song is packed with so much goodness, it’s like a pocket symphony. I love the chorus that begins about the 2:15 mark. It’s made for singing in concert and has such lovely innocence that will soon be sullied by the ugly world Johnny inhabits.
As the song progresses we know that ugliness will soon rear it’s ugly head, but he can’t let go of this perfect moment with Jane. With some kind of mystic poetry Springsteen keeps your interest until we get to the real payoff when the organ comes in at the 5:10 mark and the tune ramps up to set off into the stratosphere. Slowing elevating it’s pace from then on it builds up to a crescendo where the tension is finally released by the “good night, it’s all right Jane!” and leads into a scorching, cathartic guitar solo that rides the song out until he can bookend the entire thing with the baby piano that started it all off.
In college I bought this album on CD from one of those bargain bins they had at Barnes & Noble (around 1996) and just loved this song so much and made it a staple on my radio show at 90.3 WORB. It’s gratifying that it still more than holds up.