Bruce Springsteen: 100 Greatest Songs of All Time - Rolling Stone
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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”

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 12: Bruce Springsteen performs onstage during 'Springsteen On Broadway' at Walter Kerr Theatre on October 12, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Bruce Springsteen performs onstage during 'Springsteen on Broadway' at the Walter Kerr Theatre on October 12, 2017 in New York City.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

In the 41 years since the release of his debut, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., Bruce Springsteen has built up a catalog of songs nearly unrivaled in the history of rock, from the streetwise drama of his early work, through to the stadium-shaking heights of Born in the U.S.A., and continuing on to his recent socially and politically impassioned efforts like the new High Hopes.

Such sustained greatness makes choosing highlights a deeply subjective job, but we’ve given it our best shot. Selected with the help of a panel of writers and artists, here are our picks for Springsteen’s 100 greatest songs.

The panel: Win Butler (Arcade Fire), Andy Greene (Associate editor, Rolling Stone), Dr. Lauren Onkey (The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum), Jackson Browne (singer-songwriter, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer), Mikal Gilmore (Contributing editor, Rolling Stone), Christopher Phillips (Editor and publisher, Backstreets magazine), Peter Ames Carlin (Journalist, Springsteen biographer), Brian Hiatt, (Senior writer, Rolling Stone), Rob Sheffield (Contributing editor, Rolling Stone), Bethany Cosentino (Founding member, Best Coast), Alan Light (Journalist and author, The Holy or the Broken), Steven Van Zandt (Actor, guitarist, E Street Band member), Bill Flanagan (Executive vice president, MTV Networks), Edward Norton (Actor-director, two-time Oscar nominee), Warren Zanes (Founding member, the Del Fuegos), David Fricke (Senior writer, Rolling Stone), Tom Morello (Solo artist, Rage Against the Machine guitarist)

Tom Hill/WireImage



Live/1975-85, 1986

One of Springsteen’s most covered tunes (it’s been done by everyone from Cher to Link Wray), “Fire” was written in 1977 to be sung by Elvis Presley; as Spring­steen has said, “I sent [Elvis] a demo of it, but he died before it arrived.” The Pointer Sisters‘ rendition became a Number Two hit, but Springsteen’s take on Live/1975-85 ignites the Fifties-style torch song’s soft-loud dynamic like no one else’s.

Peter Wafzig/Redferns/Getty Images


“American Land”

Wrecking Ball, 2012

Originally recorded during The Seeger Sessions in 2006, “American Land” turns a poem written by a 19th-century steelworker (and set to music by Pete Seeger) into Springsteen’s version of a Pogues song. It’s a rowdy Irish jig celebrating the American-immigrant experience, the Celtic strain in the roots-rock tradition and the unbridled joy of performing, in this land or any other.

Scott Harrison/Getty Images


“Brothers Under the Bridge”

Tracks, 1998

There’s a Springsteen song with a nearly identical title: an uptempo E Street rave-up left off Born in the U.S.A. This “Brothers” is entirely different, a stripped-down Vietnam ballad that puts all the pain up front. Over military drum taps, Springsteen sings about a homeless vet who hides out with other men like him at a California campsite, trying to avoid the highway patrol and his own memories.

Martin Philbey/Redferns/Getty Images


“County Fair”

The Essential Bruce Springsteen, 2003

Cut in 1983, this song didn’t get its first official release for another 20 years. And though “County Fair” was written in the wake of Nebraska, it feels worlds away from that album’s stark hard-luck tales. It opens with acoustic guitar and the sound of crickets chirping, as Spring­steen sings about small-town romance on a summer evening, riding the roller coaster and dancing to a local band called James Young and the Immortal Ones.

Us Rock Musician Bruce Springsteen Performs in Concert in Arnhem Netherlands 01 December 2007 Springsteen is on Tour to Promote His New Album 'Magic' Netherlands ArnhemNetherlands Music Bruce Springsteen - Dec 2007

Olaf Kraak/EPA/REX/Shutterstock


“Long Walk Home”

Magic, 2007

“Long Walk Home” reflects a turbulent time in America, marked by economic decline, constitutional decay and endless foreign wars. It’s no accident that this is the song Springsteen quoted when he endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008. “He speaks to the America I’ve envisioned in my music for the past 35 years,” Springsteen said. “A place where ‘nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone.'”

bruce springsteen

Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


“All That Heaven Will Allow”

Tunnel of Love, 1987

Like so many of the great songs on Tunnel of Love, “All That Heaven Will Allow” lays bare the hope and fear of a man in love. Springsteen sings about steps in a couple’s life together – a date in a nightclub, sharing a house, the dread of dying too young. He even tries to talk his way past a nightclub bouncer (“Come on, Slim, slip me in, man”). The song became a centerpiece of the 1988 tour, with a long introduction co-starring Clemons and set on a park bench.

(Original Caption) Bruce Springsteen. (Photo by Marty Fresco/Hulton-Deutsch/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images)

Marty Fresco/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images


“If I Was the Priest”

Unreleased, 1972

The first time Springsteen met John Hammond, the legendary talent scout asked whether he had any songs that he would never perform live. Springsteen responded with this cowboy ballad about a town where Jesus is the sheriff and the Virgin Mary runs the Holy Grail Saloon. “When he sang that song,” Hammond later recalled, “I knew he could only be Catholic.”

bruce springsteen

Tom Hill/WireImage


“The E Street Shuffle”

The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, 1973

The slippery junkyard funk of this track, complete with clavinet, tuba, bongos and a horn riff interpolated from Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time,” is utterly unlike the stadium stomp that would become the E Street Band’s signature. Few songs give a better sense of what the earliest incarnations of the group sounded like live. Says Craig Finn, “The way he references the band, it’s like a mission statement.”



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“Sad Eyes”

Tracks, 1998

Recorded shortly after Springsteen had broken up the E Street Band and relocated to L.A., this rarity wasn’t released until eight years after it was recorded. Studio musicians like bassist Randy Jackson and Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro give it a modern feel. It also harks back to rock’s past, from a lyric that could have been in any number of lovelorn Fifties hits to Springsteen’s falsetto. “I tried to write something that was soul-oriented,” he said.

NETHERLANDS - APRIL 29: (FILE PHOTO) Obituaries In 2011: As 2011 comes to a close, we look at 25 famous personalities that have died in 2011. Please refer to the following profile on Getty Images Archival for further imagery and additional Obituaries of 2011. Photo of Bruce SPRINGSTEEN and Clarence CLEMONS and Steven VAN ZANDT and LITTLE STEVEN, L-R Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt (aka Little Steven) performing live on stage (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

NETHERLANDS - APRIL 29: (FILE PHOTO) Obituaries In 2011: As 2011 comes to a close, we look at 25 famous personalities that have died in 2011. Please refer to the following profile on Getty Images Archival for further imagery and additional Obituaries of 2011. AHOY Photo of Bruce SPRINGSTEEN and Clarence CLEMONS and Steven VAN ZANDT and LITTLE STEVEN, L-R Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt (aka Little Steven) performing live on stage (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images



The River, 1980

“Ramrod” isn’t exactly Springsteen’s deepest song. It’s simply a barnburner about a hard-working guy looking to take a pretty girl on a drive. “His cleanest, coolest, purest track,” said superfan Stephen King. The song explodes onstage, often stretching into the 10-minute range with false stops and James Brown-like collapses, causing Van Zandt to “revive” the fallen Springsteen.

NETHERLANDS - JUNE 19:  ARNHEM  Photo of Bruce SPRINGSTEEN, 19-06-1999/BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN/GELREDOME/ARNHEM  (Photo by Peter Pakvis/Redferns)

Peter Pakvis/Redferns/Getty Images


“Back in Your Arms”

Tracks, 1998

The 1995 documentary Blood Brothers shows Springsteen and a reunited E Street Band painstakingly working on this song. After it finally ended up on Tracks, fans fell in love with its sad, organ-fueled recollection of a past love. When the group played it on the 1999 reunion tour, it seemed Springsteen was singing about his bandmates in the line “all the love I’ve thrown away and lost.”

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Musician Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band  perform at the Bridgestone halftime show during Super Bowl XLIII between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Jamie Squire/Getty Images


“Blinded by the Light”

Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., 1973

Springsteen wrote this in hopes of meeting his label’s desire for a hit – and in fact Manfred Mann took it to Number One three years later. Springsteen has described the track – written with “a rhyming dictionary in one hand and a notebook in the other” – as a sort of coded autobiography: “I wanted to get blinded by the light, I wanted to do things I hadn’t done, see things I hadn’t seen.”

Bruce Springsteen acoustic performance taping of "VH1 Storytellers" to air on VH1 April 23, 2005 at 10:00 PM EST (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)

Kevin Mazur/WireImage


“Devils & Dust”

Devils & Dust, 2005

Much of Devils & Dust was written during the Tom Joad tour, but the title track was inspired by the Iraq War. “It is basically a song about a soldier’s point of view,” Springsteen said. “But it kind of opens up to a lot of other interpretations.” It was attempted as an angry rocker and a ballad, before Brendan O’Brien found a middle ground. Said Springsteen, “It picks up a little instrumental beef as it goes.”

bruce springsteen

Phil Dent/Redferns/Getty Images


“Bobby Jean”

Born in the U.S.A., 1984

“If you got a good friend out here . . . that means something to you, this is for you, ’cause there ain’t nothing like it,” Springsteen said, introducing this song in 1984. This Born in the U.S.A. rocker was widely seen as his farewell to Van Zandt, who left the band just before the album’s release (but returned about 15 years later). The song’s aching nostalgia is summed up in one of Clemons’ most evocative sax solos.

bruce springsteen

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“Restless Nights”

Tracks, 1998

In the summer of 1979, Springsteen practically wore out his cassette of Raspberries’ Best. “They were great little pop records – I loved the production, and when I went into the studio, a lot of the things we did were like that,” he recalled. “Two-, three-, four-minute pop songs, coming one after another.” One of the best of his power-pop nuggets is this outtake from The River – few other artists would toss aside such a perfectly catchy chorus.

Bruce Springsteen performs at the Uptown Theater, Chicago, Illinois, October 10, 1980. (Photo by Kirk West/Getty Images)

Kirk West/Getty Images


“Fade Away”

The River, 1980

Springsteen described the mood of this hushed, agonized ballad as follows: “Have you ever felt a love that you’ve had slipping away? That is an ugly feeling. You don’t know what you can do to fix it, probably nothing.” The song also suggests heartbroken girl-group pop, and the choked, almost adenoidal vocals borrow from Elvis Costello circa “Alison.” It’s one of Van Zandt’s favorite Springsteen songs.

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 1984:  Rock and roll legend Bruce Springsteen poses for a portrait in December 1984 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images)

Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images


“Pink Cadillac”

Non-album single, 1984

Combining an image from Elvis Presley’s “Baby Let’s Play House” with a lean rockabilly rhythm, Springsteen emerged with one of his sexiest tracks. “This is a song about the conflict between worldly things and spiritual health, between desires of the flesh and spiritual ecstasy,” he once said onstage. It was the B side to “Dancing in the Dark,” and Natalie Cole had a surprise hit with the song in 1988.

bruce springsteen

Kevin Mazur/WireImage


“Lonesome Day”

The Rising, 2002

With this driving E Street showcase, Springsteen found a way to combine his more personal Nineties songwriting with a broader outlook (and to replace his overused synths with violin). “The first verse, it feels like it’s a guy who’s talking to his girl,” he said. “The second verse . . . I switched out of this personal thing to this sort of overall emotional mood and the feelings that were in the air in the States. But . . . one thing works with the other.”

Ed Perlstein/Redferns/Getty Images


“Drive All Night”

The River, 1980

Springsteen first recorded the hypnotic “Drive All Night” for Darkness on the Edge of Town, but it had little chance of making that album: A lengthy, soul-based love song, it didn’t mesh with Darkness‘ concise tracks. He inserted bits of “Drive All Night” into live versions of “Backstreets” and found room for it on The River. Until 1999’s “Land of Hope and Dreams,” it seemed like it would be the last of his sprawling epics.

NEW YORK - AUGUST: Bruce Springsteen performs on stage on Born To Run tour during a residency at the Bottom Line in August 1975 in New York. (Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns)

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty Images



Born to Run, 1975

“The characters on Born to Run were less eccentric and less local than on Greetings and . . . Innocent,” Springsteen wrote in Songs. “They could have been anybody and everybody.” That’s certainly true of “Night”: The only song on Born to Run under three minutes, it’s an archetypal straight-ahead car song with a Chuck Berry-esque opening line Springsteen grafted from a 1970 Steel Mill song called “Oh Mama.”

Legendary rock star and icon Bruce Springsteen performs with Clarence Clemons. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)

Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis/Getty Images


“Out in the Street”

The River, 1980

“Out in the Street” turns the one-take bar-band feel Springsteen wanted for The River into what might be his most unencumbered declaration of freedom through community. Van Zandt, who became a co-producer on the album, shares euphoric vocals, and Max Weinberg’s clarion song-opening shot more than meets Springsteen’s demand: “I wanted the snare drum to explode.”

Ed Perlstein/Redferns/Getty Images


“The Ties That Bind”

The River, 1980

Springsteen’s love for mid-Sixties garage rock and British Invasion hits runs through the opening track from The River. Although Springsteen is a meticulous record-maker, this song was cut fast, in a day, to retain its freshness. “I knew I wanted more of the roughness and spontaneity of our live show,” Springsteen wrote in Songs, describing his approach to The River. “I was determined to let the band play live and let the music happen.”

Peter Still/Redferns/Getty Images


“My Hometown”

Born in the U.S.A., 1984

“I used to think that once I got out of town, I was never going to come back,” Springsteen said of his native Freehold, New Jersey, where he grew up. “I realized I would always carry a part of that town with me no matter where I went or what I did.” Springsteen was living in California when he wrote “My Hometown,” a scathing indictment of post-industrial America. Originally titled “Your Hometown,” it was demo’ed as a speedy rockabilly tune.

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 13:  MADISON SQUARE GARDEN  Photo of Bruce SPRINGSTEEN, Bruce Springsteen performing on stage  (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 13: MADISON SQUARE GARDEN Photo of Bruce SPRINGSTEEN, Bruce Springsteen performing on stage (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images


“Two Faces”

Tunnel of Love, 1987

“Two Faces” is the bleakest song on Tunnel of Love, with Springsteen singing about making his wife cry and destroying the relationship. “I wanted to write a different kind of romantic song,” he said. “One that took in the different types of emotional experiences of any relationship where you are really engaging with that person and not involved in a narcissistic romantic fantasy or intoxication or whatever.”

Christopher Pillitz/Getty Images



Non-album B side, 1988

This outtake from The River sessions emerged in 1988 as the B side to “One Step Up.” By then its frenetic spitfire tale of a desperate man trying to save his family after the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster took on a chilling new meaning following the Chernobyl meltdown. Explaining why he left it off The River, Spring­steen said, “Maybe . . . I thought it was too specific.”

Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in concert, Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy, Paris, France - 04 Jul 2012

Geoffrey Robinson/REX/Shutterstock


“We Are Alive”

Wrecking Ball, 2012

Springsteen was nearly done with Wrecking Ball when he realized it could use one song to wrap it up. “I needed a strange kind of party,” he said. “A party filled with ghosts. It’s a party filled with the dead, but whose voices and spirit and ideas remain with us.” Max Weinberg said they originally cut the song sort of like the Ramones would have, but they eventually settled on a folkier vibe, built around a horn riff borrowed from Johnny Cash‘s “Ring of Fire.”

Bruce Springsteen performs during his sold-out concert, at RFK Memorial Stadium in Washington, D.C. The show is the first of a nine-week, 25-city tour of North America in support of his new album, "Born in the U.S.ABruce Springsteen 1985, Washington, USA

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“Johnny Bye Bye”

Non-album B side, 1985

The title is a homage to Chuck Berry‘s “Bye Bye Johnny,” but this stripped-down Born in the U.S.A. outtake (later issued as a B side to “I’m on Fire”) is about Elvis Presley. Springsteen was devastated by his death in 1977; the song took three years to write. “The type of fame Elvis had . . . the pressure of it, the isolation that it seems to require, has gotta be really painful,” Springsteen said.

Us Rocker Bruce Springsteen Performs on Stage During a Concert at the Ernst Happel-stadium in Vienna Austria 12 July 2012 Austria ViennaAustria Music - Jul 2012

Us Rocker Bruce Springsteen Performs on Stage During a Concert at the Ernst Happel-stadium in Vienna Austria 12 July 2012 Austria Vienna Austria Music - Jul 2012

Hans Klaus Techt/EPA/REX/Shutterstock


“Rocky Ground”

Wrecking Ball, 2012

The righteously angry Wrecking Ball takes a turn toward redemption on this groove-driven song. It’s fueled by decades of African-American music – from a sample of a Forties gospel choir to Nineties-flavored hip-hop loops and, in a first for Springsteen, an actual rap verse, written by him and delivered by duet partner Michelle Moore. Fittingly, the song had its live debut at New York’s Apollo Theater.

Bruce SpringsteenStand Up for Heroes: A Benefit for the Bob Woodruff Family Fund, New York, America - 05 Nov 2008At a benefit for the Bob Woodruff Family Fund Bruce Springsteen has auctioned off his 1994 Harley Davidson Dyna Glide. The foundation got $70,000 for the Harley as well as $50,000 for the guitar Springsteen played while performing at the event, which he signed backstage for the buyer. Bob Woodruff was an ABC News Anchor who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury in 2006 when an improvised explosive device blew up the military vehicle in which he was riding in Iraq. The Bob Woodruff Family Fund helps veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have suffered brain injuries.

Dave Allocca/Starpix/REX/Shutterstock


“Gypsy Biker”

Magic, 2007

Although it doesn’t get into specifics, this jittery, high-voltage song has often been interpreted as the emotional funeral of a soldier returning from Afghanistan or Iraq. “We kind of live in Orwellian times where what’s true can be made to seem a lie, and what’s a lie can be made to seem true,” he said, introducing the song in New Jersey in 2007 – right in the midst of those two wars.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage


“Jack of All Trades”

Wrecking Ball2012

Like most of the songs on Wrecking Ball, “Jack of All Trades” is about the Great Recession’s disproportionate impact on the working class. “The banker man grows fat,” he sings. “Working man grows thin. It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again.” The brokenhearted song picks up at the end with a searing guitar solo by Tom Morello. “You cannot have a social contract with the enormous income disparity,” Springsteen told Jon Stewart in 2012.

Paul Natkin/WireImage


“Better Days”

Lucky Town, 1992

One of the few Springsteen songs to feature an American Idol judge – that’s Randy Jackson on bass – this Lucky Town rocker is Springsteen’s roaring anthem about the satisfaction he’d found with Scialfa in the early Nineties. Featuring one of his most strenuous vocals, it also sees him poke deprecating fun at his own myth: “And it’s a sad, funny ending to find yourself pretending/A rich man in a poor man’s shirt.”

Hulton Archive/Getty Images


“Cadillac Ranch”

The River, 1980

After an initial stab at cutting The River, Springsteen took a break – and, after resuming work, out came this party-ready rocker. It’s a pivotal song – combining a rousing arrangement with darker lyrics that use the real-life Cadillac Ranch (a Texas art project where 10 Caddys are half-buried) as a metaphor for death. Before that, he said, “I hadn’t figured out a way to synthesize it into one song.”

bruce springsteen

Paul Warner/WireImage


“Your Own Worst Enemy”

Magic, 2007

As with “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” Springsteen and Brendan O’Brien created a “big pop production” – with lyrics that implicitly tap the mood of a nation that has lost its moral compass post-Iraq War. “It’s all about self-subversion,” Springsteen said. “You can take it personally or politically. That’s what gives the record its tension, those two things – the perfect pop universe and then what’s at its center.”

bruce springsteen

Karl Gehring/Getty Images



Live/1975-85, 1986

Initially known as “Gone Gone Gone,” this Born in the U.S.A. outtake became a political centerpiece of the subsequent tour, as can be heard on Live/1975-85, where it gets packaged alongside Edwin Starr’s “War,” “The River” and “Born in the U.S.A.,” drawing a grim American picture. “These four songs together were telling different things,” Jon Landau said of the live set piece. “Things never heard before on any of our albums.”

Bruce Springsteen leaps into the air during a concert in front of 71,000 screaming fans at Cleveland Stadium, August 7,1985. Springsteen and his E-Street band are on a tour of North AmericaBruce Springsteen, Cleveland, USA



“Glory Days”

Born in the U.S.A., 1984

Originally, “Glory Days” had a downcast verse about Springsteen’s dad, who “ain’t never had glory days” – but Bruce removed it, preserving the song’s light tone of wry nostalgia. “Occasionally, you need some comic relief,” said Van Zandt, who improvised the climactic mandolin solo into his vocal mic. “I wanted to get a merry-go-round organ sound, like a roller rink,” Springsteen said. “That’s a happy sound.”

Georges De Keerle/Getty Images


“Walk Like a Man”

Tunnel of Love, 1987

This might be the most tender song Springsteen has written about his father – “All I can think of is being five years old following behind you at the beach/Tracing your footprints in the sand/Trying to walk like a man,” he sings, then reflects on his shaky emotions as his dad watched him get married. Springsteen said the song was about “struggling toward some tenuous commitment, knowing that when you make that stand, the clock starts.”

Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images


“American Skin (41 Shots)”

Live in New York City, 2001

This song was bizarrely thought to be controversial in the wake of the police murder of Amadou Diallo in 1999. Bruce played it once in a show in Atlanta, and then it got this huge reaction in the New York press. One of the themes in the song was, sometimes when you’re black in the United States, you get shot by police officers. As if that’s a controversial thing to report in a song. Bruce is able to distill universal themes into these small narratives, and “American Skin” is certainly a case. It’s a song that, I think, transcends the crime. I went to the last Madison Square Garden show of that reunion tour, and there was some controversy with the local law enforcement, a scenario that I was very familiar with at the time. Backstage, I told Bruce, “Welcome on board!” I was impressed by his courage. He played that song every night of the homestand and did it so fearlessly.

By Tom Morello

bruce springsteen

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“She’s the One”

Born to Run, 1975

A pounding, fifties-influenced song about a coldhearted woman, “She’s the One” rides a Bo Diddley beat (“the beat of the universe,” as Springsteen called it introducing the song live) and really takes off during Clemons’ towering sax solo; Springsteen later said that he wrote the song so he could hear the solo he heard in his head. It’s also the song Roy Bittan played along to when he auditioned for the E Street Band.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Perform at the 'Koelnarena' in Cologne Germany 13 December 2007 Springsteen Started the European Leg of His World Tour to Promote His Album 'Magic' in Madrid Spain 25 November the Tour Will End in London Britain 19 December Germany CologneGermany Music - Dec 2007

Rolf Vennenbernd/EPA/REX/Shutterstock


“Radio Nowhere”

Magic, 2007

“It’s a little more sonically guitar-driven than any past Bruce album,” Jon Landau said of Magic. The album’s opening track set the tone: “Radio Nowhere” rides waves of guitar noise in a place of isolation and hunger. Its desperate energy locked into feelings of Bush-era helplessness and rage. “I have something to say not just to your dad or your older brother,” Springsteen said. “I have something to say to you, if you’re 15 or 16 years old, about right now.”

Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images


“Point Blank”

The River, 1980

Talking about the ways in which rock & roll can capture joy as well as bleakness, Springsteen once said, “How could a happy song like ‘Sherry Darling’ coexist with ‘Point Blank’ . . . ?” Swept along by Roy Bittan’s dramatic piano, this grand passion-play ballad was indeed one of Springsteen’s gloomiest relationship songs. Although he’s never discussed who inspired it, it’s long assumed the woman in the song is an ex who dealt with drug problems.

SPRINGSTEEN VAN ZANDT American rockstar Bruce Springsteen, left, performs with Steven Van Zandt during his concert at Bercy stadium in Paris, Monday Oct.14, 2002FRANCE SPRINGSTEEN, PARIS, France

Francois Mori/AP/REX/Shutterstock


“You’re Missing”

The Rising, 2002

Cut in 1994, this tense track was shelved and then revived and rewritten after 9/11, when its title phrase became even more evocative of those who died that day. Along with “Into the Fire,” “You’re Missing” sparked ideas for other songs: “I’d come up with one, and that would lead to another and lead to another and lead to another,” said Springsteen. “Then you start to tell a story. . . . You’re soul-mining.”

bruce springsteen

AFP/Getty Images


“Reason to Believe”

Nebraska, 1982

The closing song on Nebraska is a thin ray of hope, a driving, soulful song in which Springsteen expresses amazement that people can keep their faith despite the harsh reality of everyday life. “Sometimes people need something to believe in so bad that they’ll believe in anything that comes along – just so that they got some reason to believe,” Springsteen said while introducing the song live.

NETHERLANDS - JUNE 19:  ARNHEM  Photo of Bruce SPRINGSTEEN, Bruce Springsteen, Nederland, Arnhem, 19 juni 1999, Pop, rock, het duo, Bruce op zijn gitaar en Clarence, Clemmons op zijn saxafoon, hier samen in actie  (Photo by Peter Pakvis/Redferns)

Peter Pakvis/Redferns/Getty Images


“Loose Ends”

Tracks, 1998

“Loose Ends” was going to be the final song on The Ties That Bind, the album-in-progress that Springsteen decided to scrap in 1979 because it “seem[ed] inadequate.” Van Zandt reportedly argued for it to be included on The River, to no avail. The harrowing rocker about a fading relationship didn’t get an official release until the Tracks box, two decades after it was recorded.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage


“Girls in Their Summer Clothes”

Magic, 2007

This lovely song has what Jon Landau called “a Pet Sounds feeling mixed with the E Street Band.” Springsteen undercuts a radiant melody and producer Brendan O’Brien’s lush orchestration with melancholic lyrics about aging amid youthful beauty – “girls on the Jersey Shore with their little short-shorts and bleach-blond hair,” says Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino.

Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images


“Lucky Town”

Lucky Town, 1992

“I wrote and recorded that whole record in three weeks in my house,” Springsteen said of Lucky Town. The understated title track was a moving celebration of hard-won romantic salvation, with Springsteen playing every instrument except drums, handled by sturdy session man Gary Mallaber. The calmly rocking tone of “Lucky Town” fit Springsteen’s mood. “These are the stories I have to tell,” he said. “This is what’s important in my life right now.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - 1979:  Rock and roll icon Bruce Springsteen falls to the stage and continues playing the guitar on his back during a 1979 Los Angeles, California concert at the Sports Arena. Springsteen spent much of 1978 playing small midwest venues while he battled his record label over control of his music. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

George Rose/Getty Images


“Independence Day”

The River, 1980

This pensive ballad was one of several from this period that detailed Springsteen’s famously fraught relationship with his father. “He was always just sitting at the kitchen table at night, drinking too much, or off at work,” Springsteen told an audience in 1981 when introducing the song. “It took us 30 years to be able to tell each other that we loved each other.” Clemons’ brief solo adds a powerful blast of emotional catharsis.

bruce springsteen

Terry O'Neill/Getty Images


“Streets of Fire”

Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978

Though the Darkness sessions were driven by Springsteen‘s huge backlog of material post-Born to Run, “Streets of Fire” was actually written in the studio. It’s one of his bluesiest, most desolate tracks. Producers of a noirish 1984 rock movie titled Streets of Fire wanted to use a version of the song by the New Wave band Face to Face, but Springsteen turned them down – and wisely so, since the film tanked.

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“Hungry Heart”

The River, 1980

Springsteen’s first top 10 hit was almost the one that got away: He initially planned to give the song to the Ramones (after seeing them at a club in Asbury Park), until Jon Landau successfully argued that he’d be crazy not to keep it for himself. Landau was right, of course. The lyrics, about a guy who walks out on his wife and kids, are actually pretty dark, but you’d never know it from the sunny Beach Boys melody and arrangement; co-producer Chuck Plotkin sped up the tape on the track so Springsteen’s voice would sound higher. “It just had this groove,” Van Zandt said. “So I said, ‘Let’s get some extra-high harmony on it.'”

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“I’m Goin’ Down”

Born in the U.S.A., 1984

This fun, straightforward rocker almost didn’t make it onto Born in the U.S.A. – “It was either this or ‘Pink Cadillac,'” Springsteen said years later when introducing it live. The song ended up being the sixth Top 10 single from the album (even though some heard it as an allusion to oral sex). Despite it being one of his catchiest songs, Springsteen has always seemed somewhat ambivalent about its relatively simple depiction of romantic distress. Since the Born in the U.S.A. tour, the E Street Band has rarely played it live. At one of its rare concert appearances, he jokingly called it “one of my more insightful songs about men and women.”

bruce springsteen

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“One Step Up”

Tunnel of Love, 1987

The dissolution of Springsteen’s first marriage, to Julianne Phillips, which echoed through the pensive Tunnel of Love, is particularly present in this downcast ballad: “Another fight and I slam the door on/Another battle in our dirty little war,” he sings. Adding to the mood of isolation, Springsteen played all the instruments himself on this track (which was recorded in Los Angeles in the summer of 1987), with only future wife Scialfa joining in to sing a lovely harmony. Of the songs he was writing at the time, Springsteen said, “I thought, ‘OK, we’re growing up together, me and my audience,’ and I took that idea seriously.”

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