Bruce originally recorded “This Hard Land” in 1982 during the sessions for Born in the U.S.A, but it would never see the light of day on any Springsteen studio release. However, in 1995, when Columbia was packaging Bruce’s first greatest hits release, the E Street Band returned to the studio and recorded four songs: “This Hard Land” and “Murder Inc.” (also originally from the BITUSA sessions), “Blood Brothers” and “Secret Garden”.
Also, on 1998’s Tracks box set, the original ’82 version was released.
The first “This Hard Land” I ever heard was the Greatest Hits version. It was 1995, and I was in the midst of my “lost” years job-wise: in my mid-20’s and working as co-manager of a car rental company. It was a waste of my college education, it didn’t pay well, and it didn’t challenge me. There was one thing I loved about the job, though, and that was being out on the open road with the music blaring. We rented brand new Fords, and we had to shuffle them between our offices in Scottsdale and Mesa. Windows down, crystal-clear blue sky, the Superstition Mountains in the near distance to the east… this was how I first heard “This Hard Land”.
The song was so full of joy and pain, beauty and ugliness. My heart pounded and tears welled in my eyes.
I still get the same rush every time I hear this song. The energy, the imagery of the great wide open, Bruce’s harmonica, the “Bar-M choppers sweepin’ low across the plains”. Bruce’s “come on” that ushers in the full band at 47 seconds in. The hooves twistin’ and churnin’ up the sand. Sleeping by the fields, sleeping by the rivers. The undercurrent of desolation, sparseness and struggle , and the insistence on overcoming it all….
I heard the song again this morning during my drive to work. Things sure have changed since that sunny day in 1995. I make a decent living at a job I enjoy. I met and married the girl of my dreams. I have two darling little squirts that I feel so much love for it can’t even be measured… all this good in a world that “stirs you up like it wants to blow you down”…
How do I face these hard times? How should we face these hard times?
“Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive if you can / and meet me in a dream of this hard land.”
Here’s the full band in 1995, with a rocking and spirited version virtually identical to this Greatest Hits recording. They must’ve been fresh from the studio. Does anyone know where (and for what) this was shot?