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Bruce Springsteen’s Top 40 Songs

Celebrate the The Boss' birthday with his greatest and most enduring works

Bruce Springsteen's Top 40 Songs
Bruce Springsteen’s Top 40 Songs
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Editor’s Note: This feature was originally published in March 2012.

It’s almost impossible to discuss rock ‘n’ roll without mentioning Bruce Springsteen. When Columbia Records signed the New Jersey songwriter in 1972, few if any expected the highly celebrated career that would blossom years later. His 1973 debut, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., more or less flopped, and its follow-up, 1973’s The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, also received little commercial attention.

It was a rough time, but the label held on, thanks in part to a string of critics who championed Springsteen’s style – especially Crawdaddy‘s Peter Knobler. However, it wasn’t until 1974 that sparks began to fly, right around the time that Springsteen started carving out material for what would become his masterpiece, Born to Run. In May of ’74, Jon Landau, who was then a writer for Boston’s The Real Paper, caught Springsteen at the Harvard Square Theater and wrote, “I saw rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

While hardly a prophet, Landau did bring success to Springsteen. Soon enough, he became the band’s manager, pushing them forward in their long, arduous recording sessions behind Born to Run, the likes of which amounted to 14 months of work. By 1975, upon the album’s release, Springsteen’s life changed forever.

bruce gif Bruce Springsteens Top 40 Songs

We know the rest of the story; after all, why else would we be writing about him? Over 40 years later, Springsteen has become one of America’s most poignant songwriters, and he continues to expand his critically and commercially acclaimed discography. His latest entry, Chapter and Verse, goes back even further into his youth, dating to 1966, and arrives as a companion piece for his highly anticipated autobiography, Born to Run.

In light of Springsteen’s birthday, and given that he’s been doing this professionally for over 40 years, we thought it’d be fun to collect 40 of his best songs. We didn’t realize how insane of a feat that was until we started. The man’s catalog is endless (just look), but we couldn’t shrug off the challenge. What we learned, however, is that for every great song, there’s an even greater one behind it. So, we fully admit there are handfuls of tracks left out here.

Still, we think the 40 we picked are top, top choices.

–Michael Roffman
President/Editor-in-Chief


springsteen 1 Bruce Springsteens Top 40 Songs

40. “Human Touch”

There are four producers attached to this song, which includes Springsteen, and it sounds like it. Slick, glossy, and drenched in ’90s overtones, “Human Touch” doesn’t top too many lists, and that’s unfortunate. It’s more or less the “love anthem” between Bruce and Patti Scialfa, and when they sing it onstage together nowadays, it’s a solid moment. Plus, we all love Max Weinberg, but Toto’s Jeff Porcaro pounds the hell out of the drums here. –Michael Roffman


39. “Bobby Jean”

Who is Bobby Jean to Bruce Springsteen? A former girlfriend? His former self? Steven Van Zandt? The Boss has never given any answers, and he doesn’t have to. Whatever the identity of the song’s titular character, it’s someone who shares an unbreakable bond with the narrator and hopefully with the listener. Replace the name with whoever you’d like, and you’ll find yourself both loving that person and wishing you saw each other more. Even if you last spoke on bad terms, and even if they’re sitting hundreds of miles away in a hotel room, Clarence Clemons’ bombastic sax coda will bridge the distance between you. –Dan Caffrey


38. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”

While The Boss wouldn’t completely define his sound until Born to Run, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle most accurately captures his Jersey Shore stomping grounds. The boardwalk of “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” swirls with Danny Federici’s accordion, Suki Lahav’s heavenly choir vocals, and waves of beach imagery, emitting the aroma of saltwater from the speakers every time it plays. –Dan Caffrey


37. “Two Hearts”

This poppy cut off The River has always been a concert staple and fan favorite but no surprise there. It’s an all around “feel good” anthem with one of Springsteen’s catchiest choruses. When Springsteen yearns “to become a man and grow up to dream again,” he’s pretty much screaming his own mission statement. –Michael Roffman


36. “Candy’s Room”

“Candy’s Room” starts quietly with a cymbal hiss from Max Weinberg that, besides driving the rest of the cut with galloping momentum, is one of the most easily recognizable openings in rock ‘n’ roll history. Lifter Puller even stole the track’s title for one of their tunes simply because it had the same beginning, despite possessing completely different lyrics and music. In Springsteen’s version, the ceaseless percussion gives the song an urgency that echoes the narrator’s pounding heart, which beats for a troubled girl that will most likely never feel the same way. Not that it matters. In the world of Darkness on the Edge of Town, the characters only know how to love one way: obsessively. –Dan Caffrey


springsteen 2 Bruce Springsteens Top 40 Songs

35. “Lonesome Day”

After a less-than-stellar 90s, The Boss came back to life once he got back together with his E-Street Band. The second single from The Rising finds Springsteen trying to move on from a tough time, prop himself up, and just soldier on. One of many anthems adapted for the post-9/11 era, the song and the album it sprung from still resonate today in different trying times. –Justin Gerber


34. “Youngstown”

Chronicling the rise and decay of American industry in times of war, “Youngstown”‘ fits The Ghost of Tom Joad‘s bleak outlook to a tee. The chorus’s “Sweet Jenny” was actually a blast furnace in the real Youngstown, OH, lit at the end of WWI and put out at the end of ‘Nam. Two years after Tom Joad was released, the furnace was demolished, a poignant parable to the song itself. –Ben Kaye


33. “Girls in Their Summer Clothes”

Springsteen has a knack for channeling Roy Orbison, and on this diamond track off 2007’s Magic, he goes full Orbison. With sunny acoustics and sweeping, lush instrumentation, The Boss watches the years escape him, looking for that timeless someone, as he laments, “Hello beautiful thing, maybe you could save my life.” Who can’t relate to that? -Michael Roffman


32. “The Ghost of Tom Joad”

It’s a lonely boxcar ballad that leaps out of the sleepy anti-establishment album of the same name. Drawing largely from Tom Joad’s famous “Wherever there’s a…” speech from The Grapes of Wrath, the song’s timeless feel evokes the injustices of Steinbeck’s Dust Bowl, the politics of a Guthrie protest song, and whatever bummer socio-political headline you read just this morning. —Jeremy Larson


31. “Night”

“Night” is the first in a long line of Springsteen songs about a narrator elated to get off work to see his lady. But unlike the similarly themed “Out in the Street”, the woman in Born to Run‘s third track doesn’t actually exist. Our hero spends the entire evening driving around town looking for her. We know he’ll never find his love, but the breakneck speed, bellowing backing vocals, and constant glockenspiel alleviate the fatalistic outcome, creating a sonic juxtaposition that characterizes The Boss’s best work. –Dan Caffrey


 Bruce Springsteens Top 40 Songs

30. “American Skin (41 Shots)”

Springsteen’s heartbreaking elegy examines race and justice in America through the tragic killing of 23-year-old Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, at whom NYPD officers fired 41 times, mistaking him for a wanted rapist. Premiered during the 2000 Reunion Tour, the only version released is a live recording from Madison Square Garden featuring The Boss asking for, and mostly receiving, quiet from the entire venue. Despite boycott calls over the song, the 10 MSG shows concluding the aforementioned tour sold out, magnifying the track’s power. –Ben Kaye


29. “Kitty’s Back”

For decades, the E Street Band has prided themselves on being the world’s greatest bar band. To their credit, they’ve never indicated otherwise; improvisation comes naturally to them. On “Kitty’s Back”, the jazzy seven-minute suite that conditions The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle acts as a thesis statement to back their claim, turning the spotlight on the album’s seediest characters with a humble ode replete with solo after solo. At the time, David Sancious’s organ work probably irked The Doors’ Ray Manzarek and pleased countless prospective musicians dwelling behind the black and white keys. Onstage, this dusty track always surprises, with each E Street member shining bright throughout. All in all, it’s a jammer’s delight. –Michael Roffman


28. “She’s the One”

Another live regular, the song’s staccato beats and furious keys are really just lead-ins to a blaring Clemons solo. Lyrics focus on one of those age-ol’ tropes: the seductive, beautiful but frosty woman you wish would “just leave me alone.” And, honestly, who hasn’t encountered that woman at least once… or twice? –Ben Kaye


27. “Something in the Night”

The repetition sells this ballad and bookmarks it. In between is roughneck poetry, the sort you’d swear could make great tattoos (e.g. “You’re born with nothing, and better off that way.”), and altogether it sums up Darkness on the Edge of Town. Also, right at 4:23, Springsteen croons his loudest, literally tearing the hearts out of our chests. If you don’t believe him there, then you never will. –Michael Roffman

26. “Blinded by the Light”

Featuring some of The Boss’s most playful and tongue-twisting lyrics, this was actually his first ever single, but failed to chart until Manfred Mann’s Earth Band covered it three years later. Springsteen’s version is sans “Chopsticks” and far more swingy than trippy. And let’s clarify a lyrical dispute: The original line is “cut loose like a deuce,” referencing a two-seater hot rod. –Ben Kaye


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25. “Brilliant Disguise”

How well do you know the person you love? How much do they care? How long can that slow, painful dance last? This is what concerns The Boss on his Tunnel of Love hit, fueled by the self-doubt and confusion he felt during his crumbling marriage to actress Julianne Phillips. (The two would divorce a year later in 1988.) When Springsteen pines, “Now look at me baby/ Struggling to do everything right/ And then it all falls apart/ When out go the lights,” it’s as if he totally forgot he’s in song. Juxtaposed against Weinberg’s poppy beats and Roy Bittan’s “Rock Organ” keyboard patch, “Brilliant Disguise” remains a humble yet epic ode to those nagging feelings that everyone encounters at some point in their relationship. It was also used to great effect in last year’s mini-series Show Me A Hero, not that you needed that slice of trivia or anything. –Michael Roffman


24. “I’m Goin’ Down”

For all his layered instrumentation and dramatic street poetry, The Boss also knows how to keep it simple. “I’m Goin’ Down” is the most straightforward track on Born in the U.S.A., devoid of politics, bitter nostalgia, or small town lamentations. Boy meets girl, girl grows tired, boy knows it’s ending. The song was most likely written before Springsteen was involved with Julianne Phillips, but the subject matter would fit in easily on Tunnel of Love, an entire record dedicated to the rise and demise of their relationship. On Born in the U.S.A., it stands apart for its directness. –Dan Caffrey


23. “For You”

Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez hardly gets mentioned in Springsteen’s mythos, which is unfortunate. Take a stab at “For You”, and it’s his percussion that distracts you from the sprawling story of a suicidal woman. That in itself is the methodology to Springsteen and would later explain why most of America threw their fists up during “Born in the U.S.A.” in patriotic fervor. That juxtaposition of severity and lightheartedness, The Boss’s true hallmark, arguably started here. –Michael Roffman


22. “Prove It All Night”


If Darkness on the Edge of Town tackles broken dreams of working-class heroes so viscerally that any working-class hero whose dreams have been broken can find an air of solace within, then “Prove It All Night” is where the album’s characters are the most resilient. The “It” in the song’s title might be a little vague, but it’s something important and hopeful. Just listen to how vigorously Springsteen voices the matter throughout the cut. –Mike Madden


21. “The River”

The title track of Springsteen’s fifth album, “The River” works itself hauntingly into Springsteen’s depressed suburban world, swiveling back and forth from hard-luck urban strife and the beauty of being able to escape into nature. The biblical purity of diving into the river whenever the realities of getting a “union card and a wedding coat” for his 19th birthday is striking, a brief moment of clarity away from the “curse” of unfortunate memories. –Adam Kivel


springsteen 5 Bruce Springsteens Top 40 Songs

20. “Dancing in the Dark”

Ironic that a song about being stuck in a rut and not being able to do or write anything turned out to be one of the biggest and best pop songs Bruce ever wrote. Crucially simple and inoffensive synths coupled with the softer side of his voice on the chorus made for timely first single from Born in the U.S.A.. Also, could you even imagine if you were actually one of those lucky ladies pulled up onstage like Courtney Cox during Bruce’s tour in the 80’s? –Jeremy Larson


19. “The Rising”

Besides being a national tragedy, 9/11 was also responsible for a glut of maudlin, pigheaded, and just plain bad pop culture. The title track off The E Street Band’s 2002 album (their first in 18 years) skirts this by trumpeting imagery over politics. A firetruck on its way to the Towers becomes “wheels of fire,” a hose is a “half mile line.” While Toby Keith was threatening to put a boot in Osama Bin Laden’s ass, The Boss portrayed a firefighter accepting his doomed fate, ascending to a heaven filled with images of his wife and children. Springsteen songs tend to either humanize the epic or make the mundane seem grandiose. This song does both. –Dan Caffrey


18. “Tenth Avenue Freezeout”

The second single from Born to Run, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” oozes fun out of every pore. While the precise meaning of a “tenth avenue freeze-out” may remain clouded in mystery forever (as well as the alter-ego Bad Scooter), the majority of the song relies on a wild narrative about the band’s rise to glory in a grimy city. Perhaps the best tribute to recently departed saxophonist Clarence Clemons, Springsteen’s grin always beamed as he sang the line about how “the Big Man joined the band.” The blaring horns, the talk about Scooter and the Big Man busting the city in half, and the swagger-y rhythm make this perhaps the most purely fun pop song in Springsteen’s catalog. –Adam Kivel


17. “State Trooper”


There is no word in the English language that better fits “State Trooper” than “haunting.” How else do you describe a song in which Springsteen literally howls and sings of “great black rivers” and his “last prayer”? Like most of the songs on Nebraska, there isn’t much hope here, not in the lyrics nor in the blunt, acoustic guitar work. Springsteen’s only consolation is having a “clear conscience” about what led him into the darkness in the first place. –Mike Madden


16. “Born in the U.S.A”

Long before Conan O’Brien jumped the Late Night ship, he used to poke fun at Max Weinberg by asking him to play the anthemic beat to “Born in the U.S.A.”, always giving him hell for its simplicity. So be it. That simplicity led to one of the most ingenious tricks on America since, well, President Ford. Though some contend the song retains patriotic elements, the song focuses on the atrocities that happened during the Vietnam war and its effects on American pride, or lack thereof. To date, it’s debated by music historians, though most agree it’s about lost veterans amidst a system that still believes in the American dream. The fact that the song works off this simple yet uplifting beat only underscores its true brilliance. The Boss came in and pulled the rug out from beneath us all, and today it speaks in many tongues and in high volume. –Michael Roffman


springsteen 6 Bruce Springsteens Top 40 Songs

15. “Racing in the Street”

The delicate piano opening courtesy of Roy Bittan creates more goosebumps than most other band’s entire discographies. Then Springsteen has the gall to usher out tears with his lyrics of racing and gambling and loss and other great tenets of Springsteen prose. At nearly seven minutes, including an outro that welcomes in every member of the E Street Band to play their respective parts, you don’t want it to end. A beautiful song that starts to build well after the final words are sung, “Racing in the Street” is the end of Side A on Darkness on the Edge of Town and, for many, the standard by which all other Springsteen tracks are judged. –Justin Gerber


14. “Darkness on the Edge of Town”

You just have to close out an album with a great song. Springsteen and Co. do just that with the title track from Darkness on the Edge of Town. Hot off the heels of the scorching “Prove It All Night”, the album’s coda takes a slight step back from such ferocity to cool its heels, just before that rage returns to Springsteen’s voice and Weinberg’s drums by the chorus. It’s a thunderous song with lyrics that chill to this day: “Some folks are born into a good life/Other folks get it anyway anyhow/I lost my money and I lost my wife/Them things don’t seem to matter much to me now.” –Justin Gerber


13. “Spirit in the Night”

This second Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. single shares much in common with the first, “Blinded by the Light”. They were both later covered by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band to greater success, they’re the only album tracks featuring “Big Man” Clemons, and both were written after Columbia Records president Clive Davis expressed concerns over Greetings’ commercial appeal. Due to the late addition of “Spirit in the Night”, only Clemons (sax), Vini Lopez (drums), and Springsteen (everything else) were around to record it, yet it’s one of the most complete songs on the record. A tale of six teenagers spending a night of unfettered frivolity at the mythical Greasy Lake is bolstered by each instrument: Clemons’ slinky, sexy sax; Lopez’s free, snappy drums; and Springsteen’s dancing keys. Throughout, and especially near the end, there’s a sense of wistfulness that makes even a modern-day young-hearted soul long for those unobtainable days of ‘60s carefree youth. –Ben Kaye


12. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”

For sheer drive, power, bombast, and kick-you-in-the-face rock ‘n’ roll, there are maybe only a handful of Springsteen tunes that can top “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”. The song is a seven-plus-minute powerhouse from The Boss’s second full-length, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, an album full of long cuts. Despite never being released as a single, the track assumed a frequent spot on FM radio play in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but it’s in the live setting that it truly came out to play. For most of the E Street Band’s shows from 1975-1985, “Rosalita” was the sure-fire set closer, a big blast off into the night, including an “I Can’t Turn You Loose”-like breakdown reserved for band introductions, a short jam, and the full-band singalong on “Papa says he knows that I don’t have any money.” After 1985, “Rosalita” hardly surfaced, leading fans to make signs requesting “Rosie, come out tonight!”, and when she did emerge, she was always a spectacle. Sprinkled throughout are a few of those most precious E Street Band moments: Little Steven’s aggressive background vocals on the chorus, leaning with his back into Bruce’s mic, and the big man’s big windup sax riff leading into the chorus. –Jake Cohen


11. “Backstreets”

Starting with a minute-long, propulsive piano intro played by Roy Bittan, the six-and-half-minute “Backstreets” is one of Born to Run’s most glaringly ambitious moments. “Remember all the movies we’d go see/Trying to learn how to walk like heroes we thought we had to be,” Springsteen sings to one Terry (whose gender has long been debated) in one of the impassioned song’s most impassioned sections. Wielding one of E Street’s all-time tightest and most raucous performances, “Backstreets” serves as an emphatic end to the first side of one of the greatest rock records ever. –Mike Madden


springsteen 7 Bruce Springsteens Top 40 Songs

10. “I’m on Fire”

The best Springsteen song under three minutes, “I’m on Fire” is Born in the U.S.A.’s lone quiet moment. Bringing together gorgeously intersecting palm-muted guitar, lingering synth passages, and a constant snare in the left channel, The Boss sings to a taken woman who springs a “bad desire”: “Tell me now, baby, is he good to you? Can he do to you the things that I’ll do?” Rarely does he sound this desperate, this in need of something he seemingly can’t have, and it’s hard to not listen to it all at least three or four times consecutively. –Mike Madden


09. “Badlands”

Springsteen followed his breakthrough LP Born to Run with an album that may be even better: 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. As the opening number, “Badlands” lays to waste any doubts that The Boss could do it again. With the unmatchable Roy Bittan playing piano as only he can, a desperate Springsteen spins a tale about wanting more and the struggles attached to that. Drummer Max Weinberg provides the backbeat of not only this song, but pretty much the whole decade, and Clarence Clemons pulls off another legendary sax show. –Justin Gerber


08. “New York City Serenade”

Take one viewing of Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver in and you’ll know how much of a shithole New York City used to be. On Springsteen’s nine-minute opus, there’s all the regular fare of ’70s Big Apple chaos, but it’s awash in sentimental overtones, though the strings and Billy Joel-rivaling piano work is partly to blame. As the closer to Springsteen’s stellar sophomore LP, “New York City Serenade” shifts, turns, slows down, and speeds up. It’s an evolving ballad that captures its era without any of the wishy-washy decadence, instead keeping the tone romantic yet vital. Above all, however, it hints at the expansive work that would make Springsteen the true rock ‘n’ roll icon he is today. –Michael Roffman


07. “The Ties That Bind”

The River is epic. Springsteen’s double LP studio album needed a strong song to begin the proceedings, and he chose ever so wisely with “The Ties That Bind”. With a rousing chorus only The Boss could summon (“The ties that by-eye-eye-eye-eye-eye-eye-eye-eye-eye-eye-eye-ind”) and the late great Clarence Clemons at his finest on the saxophone, it’s hard to imagine any other track on The River kicking things off. The endless energy that is “The Ties That Bind” represents not only Springsteen at his very best, but his E-Street Band, as well. –Justin Gerber


06. “Streets of Philadelphia”

In “Streets of Philadelphia”, Springsteen goes solo, stripped-down, and synth-heavy. This track’s heartrending lyrics confronted the plight of AIDS sufferers during a time when the disease was still misunderstood and gay men with AIDS were demonized and disavowed. “Streets” is the standout (and Oscar-winning) single from the soundtrack to Jonathan Demme’s 1993 film, Philadelphia. Springsteen’s song echoes the film’s message, but goes deeper, more personal. The lyrics are profoundly humanizing, and though confronting HIV/AIDS directly, connect with anyone combating disease, shame, and alienation. Springsteen’s simple synth work empowers his lyrics, and the haunting, largely wordless chorus lifts up hopeless hearts with understanding and a sense of brotherhood. It’s not just one of the most important tracks of the 90s, it’s one of the most powerful songs for social justice ever composed. –Cap Blackard


springsteen 8 Bruce Springsteens Top 40 Songs

05. “Thunder Road”

As the opener of Born to Run, the first notes from the weeping harmonica and tiptoeing, stumbling piano of “Thunder Road” stop you cold before a beast unlike anything that had preceded it. It’s a new Boss, a fully-realized E Street Band, both knuckled down in make-it-or-break-it fortitude. It’s also our introduction to the fabled Mary, who reappears multiple times in Springsteen’s lyrics. Springsteen’s imagery is at its poetic finest, a master’s course in young love with the ghosts of ex-lovers haunting “this dusty beach road and the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets.” A pessimistic sequel followed later with “The Promise”, but it’s this track that belongs amongst the all-time great rock songs. One listen to the closing duet of Clemons’ sax and Bittan’s piano, which knocks you on your ass and lifts you up with tears in your eyes the way only the E Street Band can, seals that deal. –Ben Kaye


04. “The Promised Land”

From the adolescent frustration to the blue-collar dreaming, “The Promised Land” consolidates the tropes of Springsteen’s lyrical genius. The geographic notes might not match up (there’s no Waynesboro County in Utah, presumably where the Utah Desert is), but the sense of hope in bleak work-a-day life is pitch perfect. The insistence on adulthood, hopelessness, and violent passion are teenage cliches for a reason. In the making of Darkness DVD, Springsteen claims that the song is about “how we honor the community and the place we came from.” It’s no surprise, then, that after a bridge about dreams floating away, Springsteen insists again that belief in the promised land, a wild harmonica solo blaring things into focus. The epic insistence that nothing can tear down something that’s “got the faith to stand its ground” is a triumphant victory for the lost, frustrated, and desperate clinging to hope. –Adam Kivel


03. “Atlantic City”

He recorded this in his bedroom. His bedroom! Alone with nothing but his thoughts and a dingy four-track recorder, Springsteen orchestrated “Atlantic City” to sound exactly how it was conceived. It’s sparse, it’s desolate, and it’s somber. Lyrically, the song depicts a troubled man entering a life of crime, referencing true life events like the death of the Philip Testa, or “the chicken man”. Outside of that, there’s an intriguing insight to be had here, working on themes of fate, existence, and, naturally, death. The song’s tired line of “Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back” haunts you. It pushes you to question your own ideas of self-control. Yet what’s still remarkable about this track is its stark simplicity: It’s just The Boss. Many might point to the songwriter’s energetic anthems when it comes to describing his legend, but really, they only need to play this. In a taut four minutes, Springsteen sketches out a curriculum vitae that every guy with an acoustic guitar has salivated over since. This is true power. –Michael Roffman


02. “Born to Run”


Facing the threat of being dropped from Columbia Records, Springsteen pulled out all the stops for Born to Run, meticulously constructing every nuance of his third album in a last-ditch effort to make it big. Beginning with a stomping drumroll before launching into one of the most recognizable riffs ever, the record’s title track is testimony to the magic Springsteen hoped to cull from the music he was making at the time. “Let me in, I wanna be your friend/I wanna guard your dreams and visions,” he sings to one Wendy, but listening to the mammoth wall of sound of “Born to Run”, it’s clear that he was also very concerned with realizing “his” dreams and visions, too. “We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school,” Springsteen would later sing on Born in the U.S.A.’s “No Surrender”. “Born to Run” may last four and a half minutes, but it’s hard to imagine anything else illuminating in less time the triumphant side and spirit of rock and roll. –Mike Madden


01. “Jungleland”

Bruce Springsteen’s career is categorized by maximalist peaks and minimalist valleys. Early on, his wall of sound grew bigger with each album before progressively scaling down to folky haunts such as Nebraska. But no album is more epic than Born to Run, and no song is more grandiose than “Jungleland”, its legendary closer. Not that you would know from the opening. Whereas the record’s title track charges out of the barn with 11 guitars roaring, “Jungleland” begins simply, sweetly, with nothing more than Suki Lahav’s yearning violin and Roy Bittan’s rainfall piano, his ivory patters softer than the steps of the barefoot girl who falls in love with The Magic Rat, our doomed hoodlum protagonist. Their love is flippant and in the real world would probably amount to nothing more than a one-night stand, even if The Magic Rat wasn’t gunned down at the song’s climax.

But anyone who’s been in love knows how dramatic it feels, regardless of how flippant it may be, and The Boss gives the characters’ romance all the stakes of a Shakespearean tragedy through intensely poetic language and crescendo after crescendo. Danny Federici’s church organ gives way to buzzsaw guitar overtaken by the most famous sax solo of Clarence Clemons’ career, his water tower wails eventually halting the pace for a tragic, falling action that refuses to lay low. Like Springsteen’s discography, “Jungleland” starts out small, gets bigger, slows to a silence, then rises once more. It’s always cinematic, and the characters could always be you, whether you’re a criminal or not. And when it comes to love, what’s the difference? –Dan Caffrey


Playlist

Stream the entire collection with our Spotify playlist below.

 

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