Many journalists writing about Bruce Springsteen’s current River Tour and his recent boxed set, The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, have noted that Springsteen’s 1980 The River album was his mainstream breakthrough, yielding his first Top 10 single, “Hungry Heart.”
Relatively few Boss fanatics, though, know about a turning point in Springsteen’s approach to his music that led to that hit: The day he met with Kal Rudman.
Rudman, who lives in Cherry Hill, is the founder of the music-industry trade publication, “Friday Morning Quarterback,” and is known as The Man With the Golden Ears for his ability to predict hits. Around the time of The River, Rudman was well known as a disc jockey and as a guest on TV programs such as “The Merv Griffin Show” and “The Today Show.”
The manager, publicist and journalist Danny Goldberg, in his 2008 book “Bumping Into Geniuses: Inside the Rock and Roll Business,” wrote that Springsteen once told him that Rudman was the person who made it clear to him that if he wanted to have big hits, he needed to write “songs for girls,” instead of songs “for and about guys.” (See the complete passage, below).
In a recent phone interview, Rudman remembered his conversation with Springsteen in great detail, though he couldn’t remember exactly where it took place. It took place after a show, though, Rudman said.
It was sometime between the Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River albums. Rudman said Springsteen asked him if he had any ideas why none of his singles had cracked Billboard’s Top 10 yet. (“Born to Run” had come closest, peaking at No. 23).
“I said, ‘Bruce, the most numerous of record buyers — and if you don’t know it, you damn well better learn it — are the girls. And if you’ve got the word “Cry” in your lyric, you’re halfway to a hit.’ And his eyeballs went up into his forehead,” Rudman remembers.
“I said, ‘Bruce, what do you got against girls?’
” ‘Nothin’. I love girls.’
” ‘Why aren’t they in your songs?’
” ‘I don’t know.’
” ‘Well, that’s cost you a lot of money so far, in your career.’
” ‘I think you’re right. Wait, I got something good to tell you, Mr. Rudman. I’m working towards my next album, and there’s a song I’ve been toying around with … I’m going to give you what you want. And I’m going to call it “Hungry Heart.” ‘ ”
After following Rudman’s advice, Springsteen saw the results not just in his sales figures, but at his shows.
“This was the record where women started to come to the show,” he said on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” Dec. 17. “We had a hit record (‘Hungry Heart’), and when we have a hit record, that means it’s date night. Women listen to Top 40 radio, that’s what my daughter does … and so finally people came, brought their dates, and girls came, it was a much nicer scene for us.”
Rudman, these days, spends most of his time on philanthropy, supporting various educational and public safety causes through his Kal and Lucille Rudman Foundation. Among its many projects is the Kal and Lucille Rudman Institute for Entertainment Industry Studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Rudman also sponsors a medical summer camp at Drexel, has paid tuition to send local police to Camden County Community College, has bought police dogs for Cherry Hill, and recently paid for the design and building of a memorial to a slain Cherry Hill police officer.
“I look to find vacuums and important needs that matter to me, and in the big picture of the world, and I fill those vacuums and meet those needs,” he says.
Here is the passage about Rudman and Springsteen from Danny Goldberg’s 2008 book, “Bumping Into Geniuses: Inside the Rock and Roll Business”:
In 1980, I worked with Bruce Springsteen in the context of making No Nukes, a political concert documentary that featured several live Springsteen performances. While waiting for the editors to cue up an edit one night, Bruce mused about how elusive a Top 40 hit single had been for him. … I was amazed to hear that Bruce had recently met with Kal Rudman, who ran a radio tip sheet called the Friday Morning Quarterback, filled with radio and promo hype. … Although, like Springsteen, Rudman was based in New Jersey, he was the personification of the old-school pop business hype that was the ultimate contrast to Springsteen’s intense, poetic, unpretentious rock and roll persona. (In Rudman’s tip sheet, a hit song was called a GO-rilla.) “Kal explained to me,” said Springsteen in his urgent, hoarse drawl, “that Top 40 radio is mainly listened to by girls and that my female demographic was low. And I thought about the songs on Darkness and I realized that the lyrics really were mostly for and about guys,” he concluded, shaking his head ruefully. “So on this new album I’m working on — there are some songs for girls.”
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $20, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.