100 Greatest Bruce Springsteen Songs of All Time

An expert panel of writers and artists pick Springsteen's best songs, from "Rosalita" to "Wrecking Ball"

21

"I'm on Fire"

Lucian Perkins/The Washington Post

Born in the U.S.A., 1984

When I first met Bruce, his first album wasn't out yet. I had just released my first album. The way I'd hear about his early records – it wasn't on the radio. It was my wife: "You gotta hear this guy." I think it was "Incident on 57th Street." He made those first two albums before he really blew up and everybody knew him. He's an artist that has had many major turns and awakenings. A lot of surprising stuff has happened along the way.

"I'm on Fire" is one of his most intimate songs. And it's not claiming any high ground. It's about fundamental deep-seated desire. The drums are played with a cross stick [on the snare]. He says, "I'm on fire," but he lets all this muscular playing fall away. The performance has its own power. It's something that exists in him. It's just there. And it's astonishing to see somebody who relied that much on physical power to let the music and his voice be understated like this. It's a great moment.

"My Hometown" [on this album] is the same thing. It's the same thing that had begun to happen in "Atlantic City" – beginning to recognize that you're in this place with all of these other people, that where you're from will always be with you.

It's the reverse of "Thunder Road" and "Born to Run." It's growing up. That had to happen. You couldn't go on being the outsider, rejecting everybody, believing that redemption only existed under the hood of his car. And at this point, his descriptive prowess is in full force. "I'm on Fire" is a beautifully, economically drawn picture. He has this ability to say so much in very few words.

It's interesting that Bruce never wanted to act. But what he's doing is above that. There is acting taking place – a willingness to portray. He's created a body of work that is possible to perform and act out.

By Jackson Browne

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