The distinctly non-Jersey imagery of this song – tornadoes, a "rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert" – was inspired by a road trip Springsteen took as he worked on Darkness on the Edge of Town. The simple, straightforward music, meanwhile, is one of the best examples of Springsteen stripping down in the aftermath of the wall-of-sound grandeur of Born to Run: "I remember him telling me he really wanted to downsize the scale, that big sound," producer Jon Landau said years later, describing the transition out of the highly orchestrated Born to Run. Bittan's spare but expansive piano and Weinberg's driving beat fit lyrics that balance images of isolation and frustration with a hunger for independence within a larger community. "It really begins our folk-based rock," Springsteen said of "The Promised Land." "It goes back to blues and folk, and folk structures – I was not trying to be really melodic, because that immediately pulls you into the pop world. I was trying to create this mixture, this sort of rock-folk music that stretches back all the way, in some ways, to Woody Guthrie and country music and up through the Animals."