Spirit in the Night

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"Spirit in the Night"
Spirit in the Night label.jpg
Single by Bruce Springsteen
from the album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.
B-side"For You"
ReleasedMay 1973 (1973-05)
RecordedSeptember 11, 1972 with final dubs and mixing October 26, 1972[1]
Studio914 Sound Studios, Blauvelt, New York
Songwriter(s)Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen singles chronology
"Blinded by the Light"
"Spirit in the Night"
"Born to Run"
Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. track listing

"Spirit in the Night" is a song written and originally recorded by American singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen for his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973). It was also the second single released from the album. A cover version titled Spirits in the Night (spirit being plural), performed by Manfred Mann's Earth Band, was released on the album Nightingales and Bombers and as a Top 40 single.

Original version[edit]

The original version of "Spirit in the Night" was released on Bruce Springsteen's debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. It was one of the last songs to be written and recorded for the release. Springsteen had recorded 10 other tracks for the album, but Clive Davis, president of the record label that was releasing the album, was concerned that the recorded tracks did not have enough commercial appeal.[2][3] As a result, Springsteen quickly wrote and recorded two additional songs: "Spirit in the Night" and "Blinded by the Light".[2][3] Because these songs were added so late in the recording process, several of Springsteen's band members were unavailable to record these two songs. As a result, the recording lineup for "Spirit in the Night" was limited to Vini Lopez on drums, Clarence Clemons on saxophone, and Springsteen himself playing all other instruments.[2] Although "Spirit in the Night" was one of the last songs written for the album, it did grow out of an earlier version of the song that Springsteen had played live prior to receiving his recording contract.[4]

Although most of the songs on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. were packed with lyrics to the extent that sometimes they overwhelm the musical arrangements,[5] "Spirit in the Night" has been described as the one song on the album on which the music and narrative fit together.[6] Clemons' sax playing and Lopez' drumming match the freedom and ebullience described in the lyrics.[6] The lyrics themselves describe a group of teenagers — Wild Billy, Hazy Davy, Crazy Janey, Killer Joe, G-Man and Mission Man, who is the person in the song telling the story — going to a spot called "Greasy Lake" near "Route 88" for a night of freedom, sex, and drinking.[5][7] But although their escape to the freedom of Greasy Lake is short lived, the emphasis is on the friends' togetherness.[5]

The lyrics of the song echo the Crazy Jane poems of Irish poet William Butler Yeats.[8]

The follow-up album to Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, features a song entitled "Wild Billy's Circus Story".

Live performance[edit]

Although the release of the song as a single was unsuccessful in the U.S., "Spirit in the Night" has remained a live favorite in Springsteen concerts.[9] Live versions of the song have appeared on the live CD Live/1975–85 and on both the CD and video versions of Hammersmith Odeon London '75. A version with Springsteen playing the song solo on piano appears on the DVD Live in Barcelona. This version is memorable as Springsteen has to start the third verse over again after playing the wrong chords on piano. The studio version of the song was released on the compilation album The Essential Bruce Springsteen.

With 514 live performances as of May 2013, "Spirit in the Night" is by far the most frequently played song from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. The song live involves important crowd participation, with the audience singing the "all night" verse during the chorus while Springsteen interacts very closely with the front rows, sometimes even throwing himself into the pit.


  • Bruce Springsteen – vocals, bass, piano, congas, hand claps
  • Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez – drums, backing vocals, hand claps
  • Clarence Clemons – saxophone, backing vocals, hand claps
  • Harold Wheeler – additional piano

Manfred Mann's Earth Band version[edit]

"Spirits in the Night"
Single by Manfred Mann's Earth Band
from the album Nightingales & Bombers
B-side"As Above So Below Part 2"
ReleasedJuly 1975 (1975-07)
Format7-inch single
StudioThe Workhouse, London
GenreProgressive rock
  • 6:27 (album version)
  • 3:15 (single edit)
Songwriter(s)Bruce Springsteen
Producer(s)Manfred Mann and the Earth Band
Manfred Mann's Earth Band singles chronology
"Be Not Too Hard"
"Spirits in the Night"
"Blinded by the Light"

Manfred Mann's Earth Band covered "Spirit in the Night" for their album Nightingales and Bombers, with the title "Spirits in the Night" on the European album and single releases, but "Spirit in the Night" on the U.S. and Canadian albums and singles. The Manfred Mann version differs from Springsteen's version mostly in its arrangement, relying heavily on keyboards and using different harmonies in the chorus. The album version, featuring Mick Rogers on vocals, peaked at #97 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976. The following year, Manfred Mann's Earth Band again released the song as a single with the titles "Spirit in the Night" (U.S. and Australia) and "Spirits in the Night" (other parts of the world), this time with vocals by Chris Thompson. That version reached Billboard's Top 40, peaking at #40.[9][10] This version was released as a bonus track on the 2004 CD release of The Roaring Silence. Also available on 'blue' Roaring Silence LP in the 1970's. "Spirit in the Night" was to be the first of three songs from the Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. album that Manfred Mann would cover — the others being their #1 hit "Blinded by the Light" and "For You."[11]

Greasy Lake[edit]

Although Greasy Lake, where the action takes place, is a mythical place, drummer Vini Lopez has stated that it is actually a composite of two locations that band members used to visit. One was Lake Carasaljo, near the intersection of U.S. Route 9 and New Jersey Route 88 in Lakewood, New Jersey. The other was a swampy lake near Garden State Parkway exit 88.[6]

The Greasy Lake in the song inspired a short story named "Greasy Lake" by T.C. Boyle.[7] Like Springsteen's characters, Boyle's characters are restless and looking to party, although they have a more dangerous edge than Springsteen's.[7]


  1. ^ Heylin, Clinton (2012). Springsteen Song by Song A Critical Look. New York, New York 10014: Penguin Group (USA) Inc. p. 14. Retrieved 19 November 2019.CS1 maint: location (link)
  2. ^ a b c "BruceBase Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." Retrieved 2008-09-05.
  3. ^ a b Sawyers, J. (2006). Tougher Than the Rest. pp. 3–5. ISBN 978-0-8256-3470-3.
  4. ^ Rob Kirkpatrick (2007). The Words and Music of Bruce Springsteen. p. 11. ISBN 0-275-98938-0.
  5. ^ a b c Marsh, D. (1981). Born to Run. pp. 66–74. ISBN 0-440-10694-X.
  6. ^ a b c Rob Kirkpatrick (2007). The Words and Music of Bruce Springsteen. pp. 17–18. ISBN 0-275-98938-0.
  7. ^ a b c Sawyers, J. (2006). Tougher Than the Rest. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-0-8256-3470-3.
  8. ^ "Yeats – Crazy Jane poems (1933) | taste to waste". Tastetowaste.wordpress.com. 2011-12-22. Retrieved 2016-10-08.
  9. ^ a b Humphries, P. (1996). The Complete Guide to the Music of Bruce Springsteen. p. 6. ISBN 0-7119-5304-X.
  10. ^ "The Billboard Hot 100 Spirit in the Night June 18, 1977". Archived from the original on May 27, 2013. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
  11. ^ Humphries, P. (1996). The Complete Guide to the Music of Bruce Springsteen. pp. 4–6. ISBN 0-7119-5304-X.

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