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Racing In The Street by Bruce Springsteen

Album: Darkness On The Edge Of TownReleased: 1978
  • Springsteen wrote this about a small-time drag racer who dreams of a better life somewhere else. Like Steve Earle's "Someday," it describes that very American desire of the young man to leave his town and see what is out in the big world - to avoid that soul killing life they see around them. (thanks, Dan - Saint Paul, MN)
  • This is one of many early Springsteen songs featuring cars - in this case a Chevy. Some others were "Thunder Road," "Backstreets," and "Pink Cadillac."

    Bruce explained to Rolling Stone in 2010: "When you pick a song title like 'Racing In The Street,' that's a hard song to write. But that was sort of the local culture of Asbury in the '70s, which was still deeply enmeshed in car culture. If you went to the Stone Pony, it was a constant circle of souped-up muscle cars on Saturday and Sunday. Once again, I sort of stood outside of it, I was hitchhiking, I didn't have a car! But I wanted one real bad."
  • Springsteen wrote in his book Songs: "I wanted my street racers to carry the years between the car songs of the '60s and 1978 America."
  • This song is filled with technical details about remodeling cars. Although he did love cars, Springsteen had to ask for advice and was careful to be correct in his language. However, after the song was released, a mechanic friend exclaimed that you couldn't put fuelie heads on a '69 Chevy and proceeded to prove his point. (thanks, Jesse - Roanoke, VA)
  • The last line in the song is a takeoff on Martha And The Vandella's "Dancing in the Street." Springsteen sings: "Summer's here and the time is right for racing in the street."
  • This was included on Springsteen's box set Live 1975-1985.
  • Emmylou Harris and Queen's Roger Taylor have both covered this song. Harris cites Springsteen as inspiration for her songwriting and influence on her 1985 album The Ballad of Sally Rose. Springsteen's 1982 Nebraska album, in particular, was a big influence. "I was so inspired by the bravery of that record and the emotion of that record that I said, 'I've really got to just do this project,'" Harris said in our 2014 interview.
  • On April 17, 2008, E Street Band keyboard player Danny Federici died of melanoma at the age of 58. This song is an example of his organ work that helped frame Springsteen's sound. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
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Comments: 34

Let me begin by saying this: "Racing in the Street" stands on its own. It's a song I think is great, but from the first time I heard it, I realized that Bruce got the technical part wrong. it's simple.... fuelie heads were specific to the Corvette (and infamous Black Widow 1957 Chevy). The heads came on engines of two displacements, 283 and 327, and both had Rochedter Fuel Injection, hence the fuelie name. I could go into the valve sizes and what the valve lash settings were, but that would be overkill.... Fuelie heads were never offered on the 265 or 350, and you could as soon bolt a set of Ford (perish the thought!) heads on a 396. In short, one simply can't put small block heads on a big (348, 396, 409, 427, you name it) block. None of this in ANY way diminishes this song.....Norman - Atlantic City, Nj
I think we all race in the streets !
Living at the junction of rt 4 and interstate 95
We see a lot of wrinkles in the passenger seat
and just around the eyes.

Hell
I think this guy passed me today !
Mark - Ormond, Fl
The car in fact is real. It was a 69 Chevelle SS 396. I know this because I owned it and actually rode in it with the Boss. The engine block was built by a fellow who builds Nascar motors. When I purchased it all that was needed was the intake, ignition, and exhaust (headers etc). Not sure exactly where the heads came from but they were defenitly high performance and had a special stamping on the heads as I recall. This car was wicked fast ! I love this song and know why he wrote it. For guys like me... Thanks Bruce !Ralph - Petal, Ms
Epic song. The opening piano hooks you straight away and Bruce's earnest voice keeps you hooked. Doesn't matter so much about the details, those who don't know about the flaw don't realise or care. That said, I can completely understand how something like that would bug somehow who knew about it. And no matter what mood I'm in, thing song sucks me into it.Scott - Sydney, Australia
Not to be overly critical, but I sell old Impalas and vintage GM Parts... The 1969 SS Impala came only with a 427. If you ordered a plain impala or a custom, or impala wagon you could order a number of engine choices from a straight 6 cylinder to various V8s including 307,327,350, 396 and 427 cuin's, they all fit in the impala engine compartment (full-sized car line). "SS" or Supersport Impalas were only sold with the 427cuin in 69. Fuelie heads are for small blocks...396 and 427 are Big Block engines a definate whoops!
The point is the Boss has great musical talent that lives on everytime the turntable plays his songs...(even if it is a CD)..It makes one remember when racing in the streets was what we lived for...there is nothing like a song that puts you back into those days...when we were young and lived to buy paint for a weekend paint job on our ride... or you saved up your pitiful paycheck for a new carb to get more from that engine you swore could top anything on the road...But there was always someone there to keep you trying for next weekend to compete...remember America when we did things like this??? When we worked to get to the next race or we pulled together we had neighborhood when people spoke to one another face to face? The neighbor offered you a hot dog, and you didn't hesitate? Not just communicating on a thread? I guess the Boss's songs just remind me of better times when life was purer...Probably because america once loved the cars WE and our parents made in local factories!!! What a concept! Pride in America that's what is missing. Thanks all... Matty
Matty - New Brunswick, Nj
This song isn't about the car and 386 engines. It's about what the car stands for - freedom from the narrator's life - the lines:
"Some guys they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up
And go racin' in the street"
highlight this.
The song then goes into the point of view of his lover who "hates for just being born" and how he realises, in the end, she's the person he can escape his life with, with the ambiguity of whether they commit suicide or just drive away to a new life.
Jon - London, United Kingdom
When I bought this album, the album jacket had the lyrics to the songs. In this song, the word Camaro was spelled wrong. It was spelled with an "e" which to a real Camaro fan is a slap in the face. I wrote Capitol records a letter about it. Don't know if they ever changed it or not. I would be nice if artists/movie-TV writers etc would confer with a car fanatic before publishing work.Becki - Memphis, Tn
also, the most likely chassis for a street racer in 1978 would have been a Camaro, Chevelle, or Nova body, and those are still the most popular Chevy's for racing out there, regardless of year. nobody cared that much about Impalas for street racing in the 70's, and even still today, they're more popular for cruising than racing overall. all classic Chevy's are awesome though. :)Det - Los Angeles, Ca
first of all, you can put a 396 in a riding lawnmower if you know what you're doing. and a 396 is the smallest Chevy "big block" there is, nothing special about a 396 at all, 427's & 454's weigh the same and take up the same space as a 396, while producing more torque & hp. a 396 is not "bad" it's just not as powerful as other motors. this song is about the addictive nature of street racing, especially street racing for hard cash. make $200-$1,0000+ for a few seconds of work, plus the adrenaline rush - it's like a drug, hard to quit. like any addict, the people around an addict suffer. street racing is an adrenaline rush that's hard to pack away, but he tries to change his life and "wash those sins"(dangerous, illegal racing & neglecting his woman)away by just having a "normal" night out with her. but, tonight "the highway's bright" from the headlights of other racers on the road. when he says "mister, you best keep" he's essentially saying to another streetracer "let me just roll past you and don't try to challenge me, because i will race you," something he's trying desperately hard to avoid that particular night.Det - Los Angeles, Ca
"We are gonna ride to the sea and wash these sins off our hands" - What does this mean? Also, thanks to Rick from Manchester's for his interpretation.Brian - Chicago, Il
To say that many early Springsteen songs refer to cars is a classic understatement, 9 out of 10 songs on this album contain a reference to cars or driving (all except Factory). More than half make this reference in the first couplet/stanza.Mike - Boulder, Co
Has no one ever heard the late great Townes Van Zandt cover of this song? I mean, not to take anything away from Bruce but Townes makes this song his own. Van Zandt put out an album called "Road Songs" of all cover tunes. He was quoted as saying, "I wished I'd written every single of 'em." My hats off to The Boss for penning such great lyrics.The Last Dj - Los Angeles, Ca
why is everybody thinking it was a impala. does anybody else know or heard of a ss396 chevelle because thats the car i am thinking it was. you would race a chevelle more likly. i am not putting down a big chevy i love them too but no where in the song does it say what body style it is. the song is great no matter how you slice it it starts out about racing and ends a love song.William - Mahanoy City, Pa
One of his best songs. Here, his vocal reminds me of Jackson Browne.Ken - Edmonton, Ab
This song isn't just about cars, people. If you listen to the song, the persons thoughts and love goes from cars, cars, cars, to his "baby." In short, he stops paying so much attention to cars and goes to his woman.Jordan - Fairfax, Va
ok Racing in the Street is not completely about cars its one of four songs that goes in order about realationships.

1. Thunder Road
2. The Promise
3. Darkness on the Edge of Town
4. Racing in the Street


You guys dont know bruce
Harper - Tokio, Japan
Look you guys saying you owned this and that and this will fit and so on. If you listen or read the lyrics he says a 396 with fuelie heads. A 396ci v8 was an option correct. Fuelie heads are off a 350ci chev hence the reason for the error.
Andrew i don't see why you would bother to make fuelie heads fit a 396. Oil/coolant holes in the 396 block would not match the fuelie heads. However this can be changed so they do but why wouldn't you use the standard 396 heads.
Its an inaccuracy in the song. But really who cares its a fantastic song that really does capture what some of us do live for.
James - Wollongong, Australia
One of the best songs in the world. It has incredible feeling and touch..just can imagine tough guy ridin from town to town that old chevy with his girl frontseat..i thought it was about illegal street racing in summer nights.. guy who every girl wants to be with..piano at the beginning of the song and that whistlin organ (hammond?) sound is so emotional..and sad sounding..like missing something you can't get...the song you want to listen with beauty girl laying beside you..Carlos - Jkl, Finland
There is absolutely no problem with putting a 396 in a '69 Impala, that engine (and the 427) were both options that year. That is not the technical inaccuracy with this song, the inaccuracy has to do with the "fuelie heads". The nickname "fuelie" was for the small-block Chevy engine, the 350, and the heads for that engine would certainly not fit on the large-block 396. That is the problem with the lyric. But who cares, it is a great song. Now, it is possible to bore out a small block and make it displace 396 cubic inches, but hardly anybody ever did that to a "fuelie." Who cares, the song is great.Dickie - Denver, Co
I like the music a lot. If you take the words out, it makes a sad-sounding tune. I find it interesting how a song about racing mixes so well with such sad music. The song as a whole is good, though. I'm not saying otherwise.Bess - San Diego, Ca
powerful evocative song from bruce an absolute classicConor - Dublin, Ireland
Does anyone else have the bootleg live version on which Roy plays a 5 minute outro solo? It is the greatest version I've heard of one of his most powerful songs.Kyle - Arlington, Oh
This is an awesome song... and of course it is possible to put a 396 in a 69 chevy, i've seen big blocks in escorts.
A bloke in australia finished his 55 chev a couple of years ago, it's powered by a 27 litre v-12 merlin engine, out of a p-51 mustang.
Theres a few other springteen songs that feature cars, including born to run, and theres a pretty cool t-bird in the i'm on fire film clip
Rutty - Canberra
Ok, The Boss was ABSOLUTELY NOT wrong. Fuelie Heads were in indeed available on a 69 Chevy, 300 Hp 350s had them factory - here is why Bruce Knows what he is talking about - A 396 Does NOT to have a be a Big block. If a small block (which could in fact have fuelie heads) with a bore of 4 inches is bored to 4.20, and a 3.75 Crankshaft is used, the displacement does in fact come out to 396 Cubic inches.Chevy even made a 4.00 x 4.00 400 smallblock staring in 1970 - Some would Say a small block cannot be bored out to 4.20, however with the right aftermarket block they sure can. Who is to say the Boss was using a factory casting. Even in 1978 Gm had experimental stuff, blocks, heads, cams, ect. Small blocks can go as high as 454 Cubic inches with the right pieces. Not that blocks were available for mass market in 1978, but the technology was there. For the sake of argument, if the 396 in Bruce's 69 Chevy was indeed a big block, it could potentially have what I would consider a FUELIE head - peanut port Big block chevy heads, the same ones that are still available from GM on the FUEL INJECTED crate motors will in fact fit on a 396, which of course, was available in 69 Chevy. So either it be a big block, or a small block, the Boss didn't make a mistake, he just maybe talking about some things that are little more exotic than the shade tree mechanic knows aboutAndrew - Greeley, Co
the song came about with some conversations he had with a stranger back in the 70's in a bar bruce use to come to the bar and tow his carNeil - Philly, Pa
To be honest I think whether the car is "real" or not is pretty irrelevant. I think this song is utterly fantastic, and the song facts above don't do it justice. The ballad is typical of Springsteen, a blue-collar guy working in a dead-end job lives for street racing because life has thrown him nothing better. Till he meets a girl at the races and takes her home, but the relationship suffers as the guy spends all his nights out street racing and the girl has nothing really to live for. She gets really depressed and the guy says "for all the shutdown strangers and hot-rod angels, rumbling through this promised land" that he and the girl are gonna drive to the sea and wash the sins off their hands, I always assumed this just meant they were fleeing to find their fortune somewhere else, but my mate reckons it means their gonna top themselves... what does anyone/everyone else think??Rick - Manchester
Much of the racing imagery comes from Springsteen's memory of drag racing that actually took place in Asbury Park. There is a traffic circle at the intersectin of Kingsley Avenue and Ocean Avenue, where according to Bruce "the drivers would use up half the gasoline in the U.S."Barry - New York, Nc
you can put a 396 in a 69 chevy . everybody knows thatTim - West Chester, Pa
"Pink Cadillac" is not an early Springsteen song as stated in the songfacts above, coming out years after he first reached the charts and years after the other two songs mentioned.Victor - San Diego, Ca
Yes I knew that .396's were an upgradable option for the 69 Imapalas and Caprices. No kidding??? You can drop a .427 under that hood? It makes sense actually, since you could pretty much stuff a couch underneath that hood with all the spare room. I was told that a .405 would fit in there, but anything higher frame mods and other stuff would have to be done to the car.Darren - Chicago, Il
You guys don't know much about cars. I have a 69 Impala with a big block 396 in my garage and thats the way chevy built it. They also came 427's. In 1970 you could get a 454.Ecs Iii - Phx, Az
Untrue. 69 Impala SS has plenty of room under the hood for a larger block engine. Stock engine was a 327 but from what I can rememebr the frame can hold up to a 405. I used to own one as a teen and had a 350 installed after blowing a rod on the original 327 motor.Darren - Chicago, Il
Springsteen latter admitted that his research was flawwed. Apparantly, it is not possible to put a 396 in a 69 Chevy.
Bruce was upset about this inaccuracy in his song.
Tyler - Hamilton, Canada
Bruce also borrows the famous intro riff from the Crystals "Then He Kissed Me," produced and written by Phil Spector... at the beginning and in the middle.Steeve - Kansas City, Ks