When the young Bruce Springsteen went to the offices of John Hammond - Columbia Records executive - with his manager Mike Appel in tow, the two had very different ideas about coming away with a record deal under their belts. Appel wanted to go for the jugular - citing Hammond’s signing of Bob Dylan and telling him that if he thought that was music he had another thing coming - these were tactics that weren’t going to fly with Hammond. Bruce on the other hand just wanted to play, and once Appel had talked himself off his high-horse and let Bruce do so the lyrics, in the two-hour session Bruce ended up playing for Hammond, spoke for themselves. Hammond was hooked.
Bruce was signed and his debut record was under way.
Coming in at 35 minutes in length, songs such as, ‘Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?’ and ‘It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City’ are lyric heavy and laden with characters from the New Jersey shore. Bruce lived and breathed Asbury Park and its surroundings so when it came to his 1973 debut, the artwork choice seemed obvious to him.
What he didn’t know at the time was that all - all - of Columbia’s newly signed stars debuts featured full-length snaps of the artist. This was to ensure that the music buying public would latch on to the image of the artist when the singles started hitting the airwaves. But Bruce had other plans in mind. Taking a picture postcard he had picked up along the Asbury Park pier to meet Appel, Bruce told him he thought both the simple design and message were perfect for the album’s cover and title.
When Appel saw the idea he thought it disastrous, but allowed Bruce to take it with him to a meeting they had with Columbia’s chief art designer, John Berg. Appel - thinking that the idea would be shot down instantly – was in for a surprise. For when Bruce pulled the postcard from his pocket to show Berg, he unknowingly tapped into Berg’s love for postcard art. Pulling his very own wad of vintage postcards from a drawer for Bruce to croon over, Berg mulled over the idea of allowing this new artist - who was completely unknown to the vast majority of the music buying public - to deviate from Columbia policy.
Bruce won out. The album cover became the colourful, simple design of the words, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., with pictures of the pier, beach and waters of the city enclosed within its letters. For Bruce, using the postcard was his way of inviting the audience into his world - of introducing his life and the characters within it to the masses. But the realities of life for the characters in the songs Bruce had written weren’t as glossy as the postcard conceit was making out.
The debut was deemed a critical success but sales were slow – with the album only managing to shift 25,000 copies. It may not be the album that Springsteen fans would put on top but for the fact that a new artist managed to sway so many high-profile men at the top of the Columbia ladder into disregarding a policy they had stuck by with much more bankable stars, the artwork for, ‘Greetings…’ has to be up there amongst the most iconic.
It’s also interesting to note that the next four Bruce records would carry a portrait of the man himself, perhaps conceding that the public did, after all, need something more than a picture postcard.