1975 put the "make" in "make or break" for Bruce Springsteen. His third album, Born to Run, was the crossover success he had been chasing - an immaculate album that marked a new chapter in the American rock and roll dream. Only months after its release, the New Jersey rocker made history by becoming the first musician to make the cover of both Newsweek and TIME. At the beginning of November, the album's epic title track peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 - his first hit single.
But how did his newfound success translate to the rest of the world? The Boss finally found out on Nov. 18, 1975, when he played his first show outside of America, at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, England.
As a result of Springsteen's success in his native land, anticipation for the Hammersmith show was high. "Finally London is Ready for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band," proclaimed the marquee outside the venue. Springsteen protested the tone of that announcement, but it only got worse from there. "Once inside I am greeted by a sea of posters on every available flat surface and in every seat proclaiming me THE NEXT FUCKING BIG THING!" he wrote in his memoir Born to Run. "My business is SHOW business and that is the business of SHOWING...not TELLING." He in turn tore down as many of the posters and advertisements as he could.
Historians are divided on what exactly happened next. Springsteen himself recounted the mounting pressure he felt before, during, and after taking the stage. "On this night, my problem is that during the performance I am in and out of myself for awhile in a most unpleasant way," he wrote. "Inside, multiple personalities are fighting to take turns at the microphone while I'm struggling to reach the 'fuck it' point, that wonderful and necessary place where you set fire to your insecurities, put your head down and just go."
Yet he later found himself changing his mind once actually revisiting the show for a Born to Run anniversary box set. "You will not see anything except the band perform a tough but excellent set," he admitted. "It had been filmed quite well and was a great document of the band performing in all its disco-suited, leather-jacketed, knit-hatted midseventies glory."
The press, for their part, were relatively pleased if not meeting the exact rapture of the advertisements. "The burden of being ordered to take London by storm proved too much for his slender shoulders," concluded the British paper Sounds; NME sniffed, "it was a so-so gig, rich with unfulfilled potential but in no way a classic.” Even Monty Python actor Michael Palin, who attended the gig and later wrote about it in his diary, concluded in a comparatively warmer recollection, "We came expecting the Messiah but got Billy Graham instead."
By many accounts, it was his return to the venue less than a week later on Nov. 24, the close of his first European tour, that may have fully shown British audiences the power of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. (That night, he performed nine encores, compared to the first show's three.) Either way, the night was a memorable one for Springsteen, who was rattled enough to not return to the country for several years.
"We couldn't find any cheeseburgers!" Springsteen later quipped of the trip in the 2012 biography Bruce. "Europe in 1975 was very European. So we ran back and didn't go back for six years. That wasn't by mistake."