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A stunning view of the Boss's early thunder

Music fans need a score card -- and maybe an aspirin -- to keep up with the products that commemorate anniversaries for everything from Woodstock to Elvis Presley's birth. These hyped-up occasions have become an excuse to put out some pretty strange reissues, often full of outtakes that only diehards would want to hear.

The new Bruce Springsteen box, however, is a strong exception. Coming out Tuesday, it's a monumental two-DVD, one-CD set marking the 30th anniversary of his ''Born to Run" album, which was the breakthrough record of his career and helped land him on the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week.

The CD is newly remastered, but what makes the box so special is a two-hour DVD documentary about the making of the album (with new Springsteen interviews) and an extra DVD of a previously unreleased London concert in 1975 right after he completed it.

The spellbinding show not only reveals how well the ''Born to Run" material translated to the stage but is the only full-length concert film of Springsteen and his E Street Band ever released from their first 25 years.

Fans of the artist, and rock lovers in general, will be swept up by the show's nonstop energy as a young Springsteen -- looking like a Bob Marley disciple in a beard and knit cap -- overwhelms an audience at London's Hammersmith Odeon. His voice is gritty and supple, but he is far more shy between songs than he is today. He barely moves around stage, he doesn't tell stories (a staple of any modern Bruce show), and about all he says is, ''How's things going over here in England and stuff?"

The music, however, is sublime, from ''Born to Run" tracks such as ''Thunder Road" and ''Jungleland," to a roaring medley of Mitch Ryder's ''Devil With a Blue Dress On" and Little Richard's ''Good Golly Miss Molly."

Viewers will be stunned by the greatness of this show, though it may be a shock to see how primitive some of the filming is. By today's standards, it's like garage-rock cinema. The lighting is minimal and dark. The crowd is almost never shown, eliminating any interactive element. There are no props, no video screens, no bells and whistles of any kind. But there are constant close-ups of Springsteen, whose urgency never wavers. And there's the lively sight of saxophonist Clarence Clemons in a sparkling white tuxedo, driving the band with his signature solos.

The documentary is likewise powerful. Never-before-released archival footage of the ''Born to Run" sessions (taped in black and white) is interwoven with color film of a current Springsteen driving around and pointing out New Jersey landmarks, sharing insights (as do the various band members), and commenting on playbacks of the songs (and unused takes) in a studio with his manager, Jon Landau. The two are totally frank about their thoughts, and Springsteen, benefiting from hindsight, even calls the album ''sacramental."

''For me," he says, ''the primary questions that I'd be writing about for the rest of my work life first took form in the songs on 'Born to Run' -- like what do you do when your dreams come true? What do you do when they don't? 'Born to Run' was the album when I left behind my adolescent definitions of love and freedom. It was the dividing line."

Springsteen was under great pressure to deliver a hit album -- his two previous records had been critics' favorites but not mainstream blockbusters -- hence he put in outrageous hours to make ''Born to Run" a smash. He says he wrote up to 50 pages of lyrics for just one song before whittling it down. And it was not uncommon for him to push his band in the studio from 9 a.m. to 8 a.m. the next day. ''We had a lot of fun when we weren't suffering," he says.

They utilized a Phil Spector-like wall-of-sound production that featured layered guitars and embellishments from a glockenspiel to a harpsichord and Fender Rhodes electric piano. ''Something about the density that we stacked up, along with the tautness of the rhythm section, ended up creating a certain sort of dark tension in the music," Springsteen says. The songs often had long and winding introductions as well. ''It was a threatrical way of writing that I really only did on that record," he explains.

Perhaps the secret behind the album's mini-epics could best be summed up when Springsteen says, ''It was the feeling of one endless summer night. That's what the whole record feels like."

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