The Debate Over A Famous Bruce Springsteen Lyric Has Finally Ended

A decades-long controversy over a specific Bruce Springsteen lyric has come to an end at last. "Thunder Road" is one of Springsteen's most-iconic songs despite never being released as a single; it's the opening track on his 1975 breakthrough album "Born To Run." Rolling Stone ranked it the third-best tune of all time in their list of 100-best Springsteen tracks, and The Boss himself explained his decision to open the "Born To Run" album with it rather than the title track: "It just set the scene. There is something about the melody of 'Thunder Road' that just suggests a new day, it suggests morning, it suggests something opening up." It's become a tradition for Springsteen to perform the song live and in 2016, fan Phil Whitehead made a supercut featuring 41 years of the singer and his E Street Band in concert. Whitehead told Billboard "I wanted to explore how a song like Thunder Road has changed, not only in the way Springsteen performs it, but also how its meaning evolves with an older person singing."

One question that remained unanswered for decades concerned some of the lyrics to "Thunder Road." As reported by The New Yorker, according to the lyrics included with the 1975 "Born To Run" album as well as Springsteen's songbook and official website, the opening line is "A screen door slams, Mary's dress waves." When New York Times writer Maggie Haberman recently tweeted "A screen door slams, Mary's dress sways" over a photo of an empty stage to be used for the newly reopened show "Springsteen On Broadway," the response was immediate and passionate.

Did Mary's dress sway or wave? Now we know.

As it is wont to do, Twitter hosted a series of impassioned responses from some people arguing that the line was actually "waves" while others insisted that Haberman was right and it was "sways." As it turns out, the answer has varied even when it comes from Springsteen. As reported by The New Yorker, it's "waves" in more than one official source, but in his memoir, "Born To Run," Springsteen wrote the line with "sways," just as he did in some handwritten lyrics that were auctioned off by Sotheby's auction house years ago. 

As he wrote up the conundrum, New Yorker writer David Remnick decided to get as close to the source as possible and wrote to longtime Springsteen collaborator Jon Landau for the real scoop, noting "Short of Springsteen himself, no one could answer the question more definitively than Landau." Much to the presumed delight of Maggie Haberman and all Twitter denizens who agreed with her, Landau wrote back "The word is 'sways.'" Landau went on to elaborate: "That's the way he wrote it in his original notebooks, that's the way he sang it on 'Born to Run,' in 1975, that's the way he has always sung it at thousands of shows, and that's the way he sings it right now on Broadway. Any typos in official Bruce material will be corrected. And, by the way, 'dresses' do not know how to 'wave.'" Great point.