Did Bruce Springsteen Plagiarize His First Two Songs?
Before he was the boss, Bruce Springsteen was just another rebellious rock and roll wannabee. He grew up in Freehold, New Jersey, a steel mill town, and immersed himself in music during his teenage years. When he was 15, he auditioned to be a guitarist and backing vocalist in a little known garage band called the Castiles.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Springsteen was initially turned away and “told to come back after he’d learned a few more songs.” But he didn’t waste anytime. Springsteen returned the next day after learning five new songs and was promptly accepted into the band. The band performed mostly covers, but managed to secure several paid gigs. In May, 1966, a little more than a year after joining the band, Springsteen wrote and recorded his first two songs together with George Theiss, the Castiles’ founder and lead singer. As legend has it, the songs were composed in the backseat of a 1961 Mercury, on the way to a recording session. Encouraged by their modest success getting gigs, The Castiles decided to record a single in a cheap Jersey studio called Mr. Music Inc. So Springsteen and Theiss penned two tracks on the drive over, called “Baby I” and “That’s What You Get.” The band then recorded the two tracks in about an hour. But as Rolling Stone reports, the single was never actually released and the band itself dissipated the next year (though recordings have surfaced more recently.)
In a way, it may be for the best that these tracks were never released, since parts of them sound borderline plagiarized. “Baby I” combines harmonies similar to early Beatles and Beach Boys tracks with a guitar lick dangerously close to the one found in “Gloria” by Them (Van Morisson’s band). Meanwhile, the chorus in “That’s What You Get” sounds like a rock and roll ripoff of Gordon Lightfoot’s “For Loving Me.” Listen to the songs below and judge for yourself.
Putting that criticism aside, the trademark qualities of Springsteen’s later songs are mostly absent from this early work. There is no trace here of him reaching out to the hard working middle class family, or expressing an urgent desire to escape into a better life in a fast American car. And obviously, there is no big band backing him up. However, there are hints of his legendary gruff voice and raw energy if you listen closely.
After the band broke up, Springsteen bounced around for several years between other Jersey shore bands until he landed a solo record deal in 1972. Yet, as many already know, success did not come immediately and it almost didn’t come at all. His first two albums were commercial flops, and Columbia Records gave him one last chance to prove himself. So Springsteen pulled out all the stops for his third record, Born to Run.
If you’re interested to hear more from the Castiles, there are some early live recordings on NPR, including covers of Donovan and Jimi Hendrix, and one other original track called “Mr. Jones.”