Retro Review: Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul – Men Without Women (1982)

While visiting my cousins’ years ago, in New York City, I got a broader exposure to music. In between, uh, “cigarettes”, I also got a brief history of the E Street Band. Including who Steven Van Zandt, Miami Steve and Little Steven was. Somehow Little Steven’s first solo album, Men Without Women, came out, made its way onto the turntable and one of my cousins dropped the needle on the record.

As I listened to the album and studied the cover, everything from the graphic design to the music to the lyrics, looked and sounded so simple. However, Men Without Women is anything but.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

I was still a New York City neophyte at this point so this album oozed NYC to me. I was from Ohio, so the phrase “tri-state area” (NY, NJ, CT) meant nothing to me. Watching the video for the album’s first single, “Forever”, I found out why. It was shot all around NYC.

My visit to NYC, this album and the video converged in my head & heart and I became smitten . . . with New York City. The first line, “If I give you my heart would you love me forever” was exactly how I felt. That video captures NYC and the band simply and perfectly . . . and, as I would soon discover, the innocence of love. 

I would also come to learn that ones love affair with New York City would indeed last a lifetime, but that love would not always be reciprocated.

I’ve read that Van Zandt recorded the band, the Disciples of Soul, in one room. Apparently, so they could see one another and to capture the vibe of the songs and perpetuate the solidarity of a band. This was a recording technique that had grown out of favor by 1982. Even before I knew that, I knew the album sounded . . . different.

The songs themselves are a blend of garage rock, bar blues, a touch of pop, and good old-fashioned rock and roll. It’s like a musical bouillabaisse made just for me. More importantly, when I got back to Ohio, Men Without Women became my lifeline to NYC until I could make it back.  

However, one song that took 20 years for me to cotton to was “Princess of Italy”. Growing up in Ohio, that concept was foreign to me. It won’t surprise anyone that ethnicity in the Midwest, at least then in Ohio, was broken down to white . . . and everyone else. But after having lived in New York City and Brooklyn and dated a couple of Italian Princesses, I’ve come to love and appreciate that song more.

Given the stature of Steven Van Zandt, the Disciples of Soul is a who’s who of both studio and touring musicians of the day, and still is. And yes, the DoS back then included almost all E-Streeters and a Boss and this has been confirmed by Van Zandt. Springsteen provided backing vocals on “Angel Eyes”, “Men Without Women” but most noticeably on “Until the Good Is Gone”.

Little Steven would stay on with Springsteen and the E Street Band to record and produce Born in the U.S.A. in 1984 before embracing his solo career (returning to E Street in ’99).

He’s also found success as an activist, a songwriter and producer, Sirius DJ, entrepreneur and showrunner in Netflix’s Lilyhammer.

But he’s best known for playing consigliere Silvio Dante on HBO’s The Sopranos. A role he slipped into easily after having been Springsteen’s consigliere for years.   

Even as I write this, I’m listening to side two and it sounds as fresh to me know as it did then. Considering I’ve heard it thousands of times, that’s amazing. It’s also something I could say about only a few albums. Sometimes albums are of their era and sometimes they transcend their era, Men Without Women is from the latter. 

Produced and arranged by Miami Steve, Men Without Women didn’t exactly burn up the charts (peaking at #118). And that’s a shame because it’s one of the few flawless records. Seriously.   

Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul are on tour now. Go see them.