You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) was written in 1979 and recorded in a great rockabilly version, August 24-25, 1979, for the shelved single album concept tentatively titled The Ties That Bind. As Bruce wrote more songs and expanded the concept, the number of songs grew to require two vinyl albums – and The River was born.
Bruce re-recorded the song in a new musical arrangement similar to the recently penned “Held Up Without a Gun”. The song made its live debut on October 7, 1980 at Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, OH, ten days before The River was released on October 17, 1980.
It was played at most shows during the 1980 and 1981 The River tour. It was played at one club show at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ, August 15, 1982, as guest of Cats on a Smooth Surface.
After not being played during the Born in the USA tour, Bruce performs it in an interesting acapella rendition, which includes a snapping solo, to open his set, headlining at the first Bridge Benefit concert, October 13, 1986, in Mountainview, CA.
November 10, 1986, notes the live release of the song, recorded on December 29, 1980 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY on Live / 1975-85 album. As Bruce once again adds a horn section to the Tunnel of Love touring band, in a fantastic version built upon the original rockabilly version, which included big gang vocals, huge guitar, a “dance party”, with the likes of Patti Scialfa, Julianne Phillips Springsteen, and Cis Lofgren – flaunting across the stage as Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” riff plays a bridge to another chorus of gang vocals. Brilliant! It’s played at every show on the Tunnel of Love tour in 1988.
Nine years after it’s last performed with the band, Bruce puts it in his solo set in a stripped-down, acoustic version, at two back-to-back shows in France, May 18 & 19, 1997.
As Bruce puts the band back together for the Reunion tour, the song is back in its released arrangement, but only played infrequently. The song is back in the set on The Rising tour on October 7, 2002 at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, NY. It’s played only a few more times during the tour with its final performance being on June 12, 2003 at AOL Arena in Hamburg, Germany.
On the Devils & Dust tour, it’s performed only five times, late in the tour, in a dissonant piano version, layered in vocal delay. On the Seeger Sessions tour, the song is played in a vastly different—horn heavy—arrangement that is debuted for the open rehearsals and played at all except a few shows on the tour, with its final performance on November 18, 2006 at The Point in Dublin, Ireland.
Rehearsed during September 2007 rehearsals for the Magic tour and put in the set on October 10, 2007 at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, NJ. It’s played only three more times during the tour.
Again in the set just three times for the Working on a Dream tour, which included one time as part of a performance of the entire The River album, November 8, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. As with many songs, it’s played only a few times during the Wrecking Ball and High Hopes tours, being played for a final time, May 18, 2014 in Uncasville, CT at the final show of the High Hopes tour.