"The Promise" as written by and Liz Story....
Johnny works in a factory
Billy works downtown
Terry works in a rock and roll band
Looking for that million dollar sound

I got a job down in Darlington
Some nights I don't go
Some nights I go to the drive-in
Some nights I stay home

I followed that dream
Just like those guys do way up on the screen
Drove my Challenger down Route 9
Through the dead ends and all the bad scenes
The promise was broken
Cashed in a few of my dreams

Well I built that Challenger by myself
But I needed money and so I sold it
Lived a secret I should've kept to myself
But I got drunk one night and I told it

All my life, I fought that fight
The fight that you can't win
Every day it just gets harder to live
The dream you're believing in

Thunder Road, baby, you were so right
Thunder Road, something dying down on the highway tonight

Well I won big once and I hit the coast
Yeah, but I paid the cost
Inside I felt like I was carrying the broken spirits
Of all the other ones who lost

The promise is broken, you go on living
It steals something from down in your soul
When the truth is spoken, it don't make no difference
Something in your heart goes cold

I followed that dream through the southwestern tracks
That dead ends in the two-bit bars
The promise was broken, I was far away from home
Sleeping in the back seat of a borrowed car

Thunder Road is for the lost lovers and all the fixed games
Thunder Road is for the tires rushing by in the rain
Thunder Road me and Billy we'd always sing
Thunder Road, take it all and throw it all away


Lyrics submitted by oofus

"The Promise" as written by Liz Story

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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The Promise song meanings
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14 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentThis is probably the best song I've ever heard.

    As desquire1962 says, for Bruce, the song is about that time after Born to Run, when it looked like all his dreams were coming crashing down because of a broken promise. For the rest of us, it's about all those other promises that get broken by you or someone else. The promises we make with a guy/girl, the promises we make with our families and friends and the promises we make with ourselves.

    "Like when the truth is spoken and it don't make no difference
    Something in your heart goes cold"

    These lines kill me. Ever told someone you love them, expecting it to change everything but they don't love you back? Ever told your friends/family about the hard time your having and they can't do anything to help you out of the mess you've gotten yourself in? Ever faced up to something about yourself that's been coming at you ever since you were born, only to find you can't do a damn thing to change it? It turns something cold inside and you don't know if you're toughening up or giving up.

    I guess for me what this song means is, you can spend your whole life making promises, chasing dreams and trying to do what's you. You can tell yourself when you're a kid that you're the hardest thing in the world - nothing is going to beat you, you're going to win everything and just throw it away in some wild and triumphant expression of freedom. But life has got its chains and not everyone breaks free from them. Hearts get broken, dreams get swept away and second chances don't always come around. As Bruce sings in Atlantic City "Down here it's just winners and losers and don't get caught on the wrong side of that line."

    To end on a positive note, from This Hard Land: "If you can't make it stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive - if you can."
    Nikko86on December 26, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThere's a great studio take of this that's been available as a bootleg. It should have been on Tracks.
    ***on December 10, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis song is a great example of Bruce's talent as a lyricist. it can take on different meanings depending on who's listening. i always interpreted it as a song about a man who made a promise to himself but has broken it and is now trying to recover from that.
    glorydayz81on March 21, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"When the promise is broken you go on living
    But it steals something from down in your soul
    Like when the truth is spoken and it don't make no difference
    Something in your heart goes cold"


    so devastating...
    ghoststorieson January 27, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis song is a mysteri to me... I love it but it has yet to touch my heart, and to do so I need to understand what the promise is. But I reckon that, as every other Springsteen song that is special for me, when the time is right I'll understand.

    However, I reckon the original reckording is much, much better than the new reckorded version that's on 18 tracks.
    badland_darknesson August 26, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Commentbadland_darkness: It's a continuation of the storyline that was laid out in the song Thunder Road. At the end of TR he closes "So baby climb in, it's a town full of losers and I'm pulling out here to win." While TR ended on a high note, full of hope and the dreams of success, The Promise tells the real story of what happened to the protagonist and presumably Mary.

    And I think the 18 Tracks version is the only version. There is a version with the band on YouTube, I think. Truthfully, Bruce's stark voice and the piano is all that's needed. The lyrics are simply too powerful and poetic for a full arrangement.
    Tobsteriuson September 06, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI just stumpled upon this song a few days ago and I can't help but listen to it and just feel what hes conveying.. Man nothing compares to bruces work, how the hell can you not feel emotion off this?
    bearfan34on September 23, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThere's also a live performance on the Live In New York DVD. and let me say he performs it beautifully
    Something706on December 24, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe studio version on 18 tracks as an amazing vocal. Put the headphones on and listen to the tone of his voice when he trails off on "...I got a little job down in Darlington, but some nights I don't go". What am amazing talent.
    tsma120on December 18, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI actually heard Springsteen talk about the basis for The Promise. He said that he intended "The Promise" as reflecting the legal battle he fought with Appel between BTR and Darkness. He also said that a good song should mean different things to different people, and The Promise certainly fits there. Once I heard Springsteen talk about his inspiration for the song it was easy to see where the lyrics spoke of hitting it big (BTR), to nothing, and being unable to record music, only able to play in two bit bars. I would think that after BTR, the lawsuit scared the band into thinking that they were going to be a one hit wonder, albeit it was one great album not just one great tune.
    desquire1962on August 09, 2011   Link

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