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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)

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

81

“Night”

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."

Clayton Call/Redferns

80

“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

79

“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

78

“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.

Christopher Pillitz/Getty Images

77

“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

76

“Roulette”

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 Springsteen

CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/GettyImages

75

“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."

Debra L Rothenberg/Getty Images

74

“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.

Bruce Springsteen

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

73

“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.

KMazur/WireImage for New York Post

72

“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 for Clear Channel

71

“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

70

“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

69

“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."

Paul Warner/WireImage

68

“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."

Karl Gehring/Getty Images

67

“Seeds”

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."

Michael Putland/Getty Images

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."

Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

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

SGranitz/WireImage

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

KMazur/WireImage

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."

Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

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.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

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.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

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.

Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

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.

George Rose/Getty Images

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

Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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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