Last night on The Tonight Show, Springsteen trotted out the familiar anecdote while promoting The Ties That Bind, a box set dedicated to outtakes and alternate versions of The River. “I saw the Ramones in Asbury Park,” he told Fallon, “and we were talking for a while and I was like, ‘Man I’ve got to write the Ramones a song.’ So I went home and I sat at my table and I wrote it in about the time it took me to sing it. I brought it in and we went to make a demo for it or I played it for [Jon Landau, his manager], and he said, ‘Nah, you better keep that one.’ He was right about that. It did pretty well.”
I’ve always been something of a “Hungry Heart” truther, though. While Springsteen is clearly mining from the same vein that The Ramones were working in (particularly girl groups like The Ronettes) in the song, if it was written for the band it’s all wrong—the cadence isn’t right for Joey and it only works slow. The Roots proved that last night when they sped the song up. Springsteen didn’t like it because it isn’t a Ramones song.
Correction: An earlier version of this post said Springsteen played the song for Johnny Ramone, not Jon Landau. It’s not entirely clear from the recording, but the latter seems more likely.