This October, HBO will be premiering the new documentary The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, which looks at the creation of Bruce Springsteen’s turning-point-of-an-album Darkness on the Edge of Town. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Thom Zimny, who won a Grammy for Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run and an Emmy for Springsteen’s “Live in New York City”, the film will include never before seen footage of studio sessions and previously unreleased music by the band, as well as interviews with Springsteen, members of the E Street Band, manager Jon Landau, former-manager Mike Appel, and others closely involved with the project.
Although it is was not as popular as Born to Run, Springsteen’s hit 1975 breakout album, Darkness was considered a turning point in his music. Gone were the raw, rapid-fire lyrics, outsized characters and long, multi-part musical compositions of the first two albums; now the songs were leaner and more carefully drawn and began to reflect Springsteen's growing political awareness. "'Darkness' was my 'samurai' record," Springsteen writes, "stripped to the frame and ready to rumble...But the music that got left behind was substantial."
This “stripping” was an integral part of both the songs on Darkness and the album itself. As compared to Born to Run, which nine songs were written for and eight were finally selected, Darkness had over seventy songs to choose from, of which ten were eventually selected to be released. The contrast marked a difference in Springsteen’s approach to the album. As band members would claim, to get one song for Darkness, he’d write five, sitting down after recording sessions to skim through his notebook and bounce around ideas. “There was a lot of multi-versions of all kinds of things,” Springsteen says in the documentary. “We were always pulling things apart. I had like a big junkyard of stuff as the year went by. If something wasn’t complete, I just pulled out the parts I liked, like pulling the parts you need from one car and putting ‘em in the other car so that car runs.”
What came from this process were some of Springsteen’s most poignant tracks, including “Badlands,” “The Promised Land”, “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, and “Racing in the Street”. It’s not to say that he didn’t write songs that were more feel-good and optimistic while working in the studio, it was that these didn’t fit in to his overall goal with the album. He comments in Promise, “Ideas that I was interested in concentrating on would have been diluted at that moment if I made more of a miscellaneous grab bag of music, no matter how sort of entertaining it was at the time.” The result was an album that was hailed by Rolling Stone in 2003 as one of the top 500 of all time (#161) and later by VH1 as the 68th greatest album of all time.
THE PROMISE: THE MAKING OF DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN premieres Thursday, October 7th on HBO.
Collaborations are always a big deal in the music industry. The Grammys are notorious for their pairings—Elton and Eminem, for example, or Jay-Z, Linkin Park and Paul McCartney. Robert Plant teamed up with Alison Krauss a few years ago and released a critically acclaimed album. Jack White and Loretta Lynn did the same thing. If you went back over the past sixty years of music, this trend would be apparent throughout it. Great musicians breed great music, thus the desire to collaborate with other great musicians and possibly create more great music is only natural. As the title of the late Ray Charles’ duet album implies, genius loves company. So why not grant it that?
Elton John and Leon Russell certainly agree. The two legendary artists are releasing an album in October (19th in the US and 25th in the UK) titled The Union, their first joint effort in over forty years. Recorded live in the studio, it will feature John and Russell on dueling pianos performing songs from a wide range of genres, including R&B, gospel, soul, country, pop and rock. Icons Neil Young and Brian Wilson lend their vocals; John also taps the prowess of steel guitar virtuoso Robert Randolph and legendary organist Booker T. Jones.
Despite John’s incredible successes it’s he, not Russell that sounds starstruck about the collaboration. “In the late ’60s and early ‘70s, the one piano player and vocalist who influenced me more than anybody else was Leon Russell,” he said. “He was my idol.” The two met in 1970, when Russell attended John’s first ever show in the U.S. at the legendary Troubadour Theater in Los Angeles. They became quick friends and toured together in New York shortly thereafter.
But throughout their careers they have fallen out of touch, until last summer, when John was listening to Russell while on safari in Africa and realized he needed to reconnect with his idol. “Elton called to ask if I would do a duet album with him,’” Russell said. “I’m very happy that he chose me to do this.” As he should be. John is one of the most decorated artists of the past century. In thirty years of performing, he has sold over 250 million albums worldwide, penning 35 gold and 25 platinum records that combined earned him 5 Grammies and the coveted Grammy Legend Award.
Russell can hold his own, though. He has played his southern gospel-infused boogie piano rock, blues and country music for over 50 years now, winning Grammys and sending songs to the top of the charts. Russell also led the famous Joe Crocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” tour and performed with George Harrison and Friends at the Concert for Bangladesh. In 2006, he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Bare Bones International Film Festival.
Produced by legendary Grammy and Academy award-winning producer T Bone Burnett, Union looks to be an extraordinary work of fused talents and genius. A masterpiece of music that will only add to the monumental feats attained by Sir Elton John and Leon Russell.
THE UNION will be released on Tuesday, October 19th, 2010.