Bruce Springsteen revived his Springsteen on Broadway residency on Saturday night. It was his first post-pandemic public performance, and the first Broadway show of any sort since theaters were shuttered in March 2020. That meant it was a very hot ticket that attracted the likes of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, MSNBC’s Brian Williams, and even E Street Band guitarist Steve Van Zandt.
As Springsteen told fans on E Street Radio a few weeks back, this wasn’t a radical reworking of the show, even though he performed it more than 230 times between October 2017 and December 2018 and it’s available on Netflix. “It’s pretty much going to be the same show that it was,” he said. “I think it’s what people expect and that is what I have.”
He did wind up adding in new commentary about his DUI bust, the deteriorating health of his mother, and returning to the stage after the pandemic. He also dropped “Brilliant Disguise,” “Long Walk Home,” and “Born to Run” in favor of “American Skin (41 Shots),” “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” and “Fire.”
The latter song was written right after Springsteen saw Elvis Presley at Philadelphia’s Spectrum on May 28th, 1977. This was just three months before Presley died and he was in very rough physical shape. “He looked old,” Springsteen told the crowd at a Rotterdam show in 1981. “And he looked tired.”
Presley is the reason that Bruce Springsteen first picked up a guitar. And after seeing his idol in such diminished form, he decided to write him a song that might help revive his struggling career. The result was “Fire,” which he recorded one month later and even sang in an Elvis-like voice to try and coax him into doing it. But before he could even get him the demo, Presley died.
Months later, Springsteen gave the song to neo-rockabilly singer Robert Gordon and even played piano on his recording. This was the first release of the song in any form, but Springsteen wasn’t credited and Gordon was a relative unknown, so it was heard by very few people. That started to change in 1978 when Springsteen started playing the song live with the E Street Band on the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour. Here’s video of them doing it at the Summit in Houston on December 8th, 1978.
By then, the Pointer Sisters had cut their own rendition of “Fire” for their 1978 LP Energy, and the song was just two months away from hitting Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100. At this point, the most successful Springsteen single had been “Born to Run,” which peaked at Number 23. Manfred Mann took “Blinded by the Light” to Number One in 1976, and Patti Smith’s cover of “Because the Night” hit Number 13 in 1978. It was a weird time where Top 40–radio listeners were more familiar with Springsteen covers than the man’s own work.
It must have been a frustrating situation, but he remedied it in 1980 when “Hungry Heart” hit Number Five. And once Born in the U.S.A. arrived in 1984, he became more famous than the Pointer Sisters, Patti Smith, and Manfred Mann combined. But there were still probably one or two people in the audience at Springsteen on Broadway who wondered why he was covering a Pointer Sisters song.