…at a benefit for The Main Point, a small club in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania (outside of early fan base Philadelphia), a favorite early haunt of Bruce and the E Street Band’s, and broadcast regionally by WMMR-FM (DJ’d by early Bruce-booster, the late Ed Sciaky).
For all of “Thunder Road”’s fame and renown, its present-day status as a rock & roll classic and one of Bruce Springsteen’s most beloved songs (often ranking higher in polls than “Born To Run”), Bruce and The E Street Band have never really played “Thunder Road” any better, live, than the very first time they played it, as “Wings For Wheels.”
Both songs’ first verses are pretty much identical, save the obvious name change from Angelina to Mary. In “Wings…,” the emphasis is on the fact that the narrator’s a drag strip driver (the “442” name-check) which gives him more of a direct line to the driver in Darkness’ “Racing in The Street” (with his “396”).
But in “Thunder Road,” Bruce makes the characters more universal (Mary and…John?) by removing most of the direct race car references, leaving all the other references as metaphors: “All the redemption I can offer is beneath this dirty hood,”“…roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair” (shared by both songs); the car as, literally, a vehicle for life, and how to live it.
For the most part, most of the later lyric changes that turned “Wings…” into “Thunder Road” were better, more tightly constructed, more honed (the result of the progression from Greetings’ Dylanesque verbiage to the more toned down Wild & Innocent lyrics to Born To Run’s stripped-down, streamlined language.)
But in “Wings…,” though, we get to the heart of the matter, in the verse that “Thunder Road” does NOT have:
“Now the season’s over and I feel it getting cold
I wish I could take you to some sandy beach where we’d never grow old
Ah but baby you know that’s just jive
But tonight’s bustin’ open and I’m alive
Baby do what you can do to make me feel like a man …”
It’s a beautiful violin-and-organ bridge, followed by Garry’s signature, scale-climbing bass notes, contrapuntal to Bruce’s yearning vocals, aching with the bittersweet knowledge that youth won’t last forever (“I wish I could take you to some sandy beach where we’d never grow old”, the Peter Pan/Wendy dynamic explored in “Thunder Road”’s sister song, “Born to Run”), looks won’t last forever, so look at each other straight between the eyes and accept life’s journey ahead (“There’s something waiting for us down that dirty road”), secure that you’ve got each other—then “Baby, do what you can to make me feel like a man,” one of the most sincerest and straightforward lines about sex ever written in rock & roll.
And in “Wings…”’s final line, Bruce doesn’t “…pull out of here to win,” he’s “…born to win.” Or was that supposed to be “…born to run”?
Video (poor quality) from Widener College, Chester, PA, the next night: /youtu.be/B9RCt4c2MTs