Few fans and critics of popular music could have guessed at the start of 1973 which band or artist would be the one to surpass Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones as the then-kings of arena rock. Singer-songwriters like Cat Stevens and James Taylor were starting to bring some resurgence to the folk-based genre as the decade took a softer turn with the downfall of The Beatles and their British Invasion just a few years prior.
On January 5th, 1973, however, two relatively unknown rock acts—Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith—would both release their debut albums on Columbia Records, and American music would never be the same.
Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and Aerosmith’s self-titled debut may have arrived in record stores on the same day, but neither album would go on to make either band a household name overnight. Both acts were signed to Columbia by well-known recording industry executive, Clive Davis, although he would be famously fired from the label a short time later for allegedly using company money to fund his son’s bar mitzvah. Oops.
Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. cemented Springsteen’s early reputation as a standout songwriter from the Garden State, thanks in part to its trademark cover art. Late rock critic Lester Bangs praised Springsteen upon its release, saying, “Some of [his words] can mean something socially or otherwise, but there’s plenty of ’em that don’t even pretend to, reveling in the joy of utter crass showoff talent run amuck and totally out of control”. The album initially confused his label, as they thought Bruce would be putting together a mix of solo acoustic songs rather than the full-band recordings he presented them with. Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. ended up with no charting singles, although a cover of “Blinded by the Light” by British prog-rock group Manfred Mann’s Earth Band would go on to be a Billboard chart-topping hit in the U.S. a few years later.
Bruce Springsteen – Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.
Aerosmith was in the same boat in terms of their own debut album’s commercial success (or lack thereof). According to Aerosmith’s 1997 autobiography, the band felt their album didn’t perform as well in terms of reviews and sales because Columbia may have put a bigger marketing push behind Springsteen’s release. Aerosmith was signed by Davis in the hopes that they would translate their incredible live energy onto a record like an American version of The Rolling Stones. The album does have some punchy bluesy-rock originals like “One Way Street”, “Somebody” and “Mama Kin”, but the album overall failed to truly translate the collaborative power between guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. Singer Steven Tyler even changed the tone of his natural singing voice on the album. It would be a few more years before the album’s lone ballad, “Dream On”, would be recognized as Tyler’s melancholy masterpiece.
Aerosmith – Aerosmith
It’s safe to say that the careers of both Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith have been pretty successful in the decades since, but it is fun to look back on album anniversaries like today and think about what it must have been like to hear critics and fans exchange “meh’s” about these two then-new albums and bands. Debut albums are a tough nut to crack, especially in today’s market where a collection of songs as a whole doesn’t seem to have much emotional or monetary value (if any at all). So while rock continues its identity crisis and streaming continues the process of removing the concept of “albums” from the vocabulary of younger fans, we recommend spending today taking it easy and playing these two fantastic studio efforts to hear what folks may have missed when they were initially released back in January ’73.
[Originally published 1/5/19]