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"

49

"Johnny 99"

Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Nebraska, 1982

In September 1984, after Ronald Reagan misappropriated "Born in the U.S.A." for his re-election campaign, Springsteen took his revenge onstage. "The president was mentioning my name the other day, and I kinda got to wondering what his favorite album musta been," he said in Pittsburgh one night. "I don't think it was the Nebraska album." Then he ripped into "Johnny 99" – the pitch-dark tale of a laid-off autoworker who kills a man in a moment of drunken despair, then begs a judge for understanding. "Johnny 99" is supposed to inspire empathy, not horror: "You kinda just gotta know what that feels like, somewhere," Springsteen said of the song.

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