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Showing Who's Boss

Bruce Springsteen made news-hype history 20 years ago

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Hype can make or break a showbiz career, and Bruce Springsteen was no stranger to its fickleness. In 1973, when he was 23, Columbia Records had touted him as the ”New Dylan,” which backfired with a critical backlash and microscopic record sales. Two years later, Springsteen had an odder brush with hype: On Oct. 27, 1975, he appeared simultaneously on the covers of both TIME and Newsweek — the first rock & roller and probably the least-known person to do so.

Until then, the Boss (whose 13th release, The Ghost of Tom Joad, is due Nov. 21) had looked more like the Loss to Columbia. His first two albums combined had sold fewer than 100,000 copies, and the rumor was the label would be dumping him. But in May 1974 critic Jon Landau wrote in Boston’s Real Paper, ”I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen,” and Columbia promptly plastered the line across ads. Soon The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Village Voice jumped on the Bruce bandwagon, and his single ”Born to Run” was played relentlessly by influential DJs. By November, his second album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, had sold more than 150,000 copies.

Springsteen’s producer-manager Mike Appel was so besieged by the print media that he demanded covers in return for interviews, and when Bob Altshuler, VP of publicity at Columbia, pitched Springsteen first to Newsweek, then TIME, he was flabbergasted that both were interested. Press-wary Springsteen was the only reluctant party. ”Not Elvis Presley, not the Beatles, not anybody has ever done this before,” Appel told him, and Springsteen relented.

The double exposure was a windfall — the Born to Run album shot to No. 3 on the charts — but a new backlash ensued. Newsweek ran a defensive essay the following week insisting that the magazines hadn’t colluded on their stories, although each knew of the other’s. And TIME’s then managing editor, Henry Grunwald, says that the simultaneous cover was one of the greatest embarrassments of his career.

Undone by his combination of overnight fame and notoriety, Springsteen withdrew from the press for a while, but by New Year’s Eve, he could laugh at it all. At the Tower Theater outside Philadelphia he modified the lyrics to ”Rosalita” to ”Tell your daddy I ain’t no freak/’Cause I got my picture on the cover of TIME and Newsweek!”