The Best Songs: Racing In The Street – Bruce Springsteen

Racing in the Street is a ballad written by Bruce Springsteen, it was originally released on his album Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978). The song has been referred to as Springsteen’s best song by a number of commentators. I think it’s at least in the top 10 of my favourite Springsteen songs.

Darkness on the Edge of Town version:

“…And “Racing in the Streets” is still perhaps the best Springsteen song ever.”

– Rolling Stone magazine

Like so many times, before and since, the car is a symbol of freedom in Springsteen’s universe. Driving a car gives you the ultimate feeling of freedom in this world.

The song begins with two friends fixing up an old car. The story is made believable through Bruce’s attention to detail, he seems to know what he is talking about, “I got a ’69 Chevy with a 396, Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor”.  The two friends needs the car to go racing, to earn money from street racing. As the story is told, they go from town to town and win easy money. They’re like cowboys in the old west, riding where the work is, no strings attached.

Live version from The Darkness Box, 2009:

The protagonist/the racer and his friend Sonny hasn’t stopped living, even if they have ordinary day jobs. They come home from work, get cleaned up and starts living, they go racing in the streets.

The second half of the song shifts from beeing about a carefree existence into something more serious. Responsibility (or lack of it). “The Racer” wins a girl from a competitor,  he continues his dangerous racing with no regards for her dreams. His woman sits alone at home crying affraid that he might get hurt, “Baby did you make it allright”. The things she once fell for in the protagonist now seems like a boy not wanting to grow up.

Live 1978 Landover:

In the end “The Racer” leaves the girl, wash the sins off his hands and goes racing in the streets,  like a lonesome cowboy into the sunset.

When the racer sings: “Tonight my baby and me we’re gonna ride to the sea
And wash these sins off our hands”, I don’t think he talks about his woman, he talks about his car, his only real love.

 Dave Marsh says about the song:  “the line of demarcation separating casual Springsteen fans from the fanatics,” with the former considering it yet another sign of Springsteen’s car metaphor obsession taken to an extreme, while the latter consider it “maybe the best thing Springsteen has to give.”

The lyrics have not had major changes from one version to another, but there are some differences.

The beginning used to be:
One, two, three, four
I got a 32 Ford, she’s a 318

before it became:
I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396

The most significant difference in one of the existing versions is an even bleaker ending of the song:
Yes come on out now everyone and we’ll go dying in the street
Yes come on out now everyone and we’ll go dying in the street
Look at me it’s true
Baby what else can we do

…this is for me an indication that my interpretation of the song is the “correct” one.

The song also plays hommage to at least two other songs:

the lyrics “Summer’s here and the time is right / For goin’ racin’ in the street” are similar to a line from Martha And The Vandellas’ “Dancing in the street“, “Summer’s here and the time is right for dancin’ in the street”.

The other song I think of is The Beach Boys’ “Dont Worry Baby”, the instrumental break after the second verse and chorus is very much in the same vein (about 1.47 into the song), this song is also about the emotional aspects of drag racing.

The song is also in the tradition of Jan and Dean’s “Dead man’s curve” and, in my mind, Ritchie Valen’s “Tell Laura I Love Her”. My point is, it’s a song that fits into a long tradition in the rock’n roll history, racing cars, chasing women and tragic endings.

Some more facts about the song:

Official releases:

  • Darkness on the edge of town (1978)
  • Rosalita / Racing in the street – Night (12 in.,1979)
  • Born in the USA 12 SINGLES BOX (12 in.,1985)
  • Glory Days-Stand on it/Sherry Darling-Racing in the street (12 in.,1985)
  • LIVE 1975-1985 (1986)
  • The Promise (Album,2010)
  • The Darkness Box set-DVD2 (2010)
  • The Darkness Box set-DVD3 (Album,2010)

First known live performance: 19/05/1978 Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park,NJ

Perfomed 93 times on the Darkness tour
Performed 80 times during the River tour
Performed  75 times  during the Born in the U.S.A. tour
Performed 1 time during the Human Touch tour
Performed 11 times during the Ghost of Tom Joad tour (I’m a bit unsure about this)
Performed 15 times during the Reunion tour
Performed 11 times during the Rising tour (according to my sources)
Performed 1 time (i think) during the Vote For Change tour.
Performed 28 times during the Devils and Dust tour (many great versions!)
I don’t have the exact numbers for the Magic tour, but about 10 I think.
The same for  Working on a Dream tour

It has been played 5 times 6 times (so far…) on the Wrecking Ball Tour as of 13th July 2012, and I’m hoping to hear it on one of my Bruce concerts this summer!

From the Wrecking Ball Tour:

My favourite version? It’s the one on the Winterland bootleg December 1978, even if he has some trouble with the lyrics. You owe it to  yourself to seek it out.

‘… back home there’s this, there this like, uh, these two streets, Kingsley Avenue and Ocean Avenue , you couldn’t ever have been there and it’s like….. and they form this big oval, on Friday and Saturday nights… the summertime, they burn up about half the gas in the United States, I guess….but this is for everybody back home on Sixth Avenue in Asbury Park ….who, I’m sure, will hear this someday through the magic of bootlegging, alright ! Here´s ‘Racing In The Street’”

– Bruce Springsteen intro at Winterland

– Hallgeir

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