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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”

bruce springsteen

bruce springsteen

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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)

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66

“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."

Bruce Springsteen

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65

“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."

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64

“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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63

“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.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

62

“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

61

“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.

Bruce Springsteen

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60

“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."

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59

“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.

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58

“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.

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57

“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.

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56

“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."

Ebet Roberts/Redferns

55

“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

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54

“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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53

“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.'"

Ebet Roberts/Getty Images

52

“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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51

“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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