Before getting into the differences between the original version and the final version of the song, I must say that the original version of "Stolen Car" is one of my all-time favorite Springsteen tracks. I even included it on my "Bruce For Beginners" playlist. I don't feel like I am alone here, as it was easier to find this version of "Stolen Car" on Youtube than to find the version from The River.
The original version of "Stolen Car" was written for a pre-River album called The Ties That Bind. Numerous tracks from that were either reworked for The River or came out later in The Promise. This version, while telling the same sad story, has a much pop-ier inflection, with a catchier piano riff and additional lyrics that recall happy memories and inspire hope.
While previous versions of the First Drafts series
has argued in favor of Bruce's reworkings of his early efforts, here I have to disagree. The final version of "Stolen Car" is incredibly different, as the song is slower, quieter, and sadder. It does fit into the theme of The River moreso than the original version, but I always found it a difficult song to listen to. In the process of writing this article, I've listened to it several times, trying to appreciate it for what it is. And while I did grow to appreciate the shift in the musical tone, I still feel lyrically Bruce made a mistake in cutting out the final verses. The final version of the song ends abruptly, and does not tell as strong a story as the original version. Thankfully, Bruce has done a good job saving his early cuts throughout his career - it would be a shame if the Tracks version never made it off the demo tapes.