Keyboardist David Sancious was the only member of the E Street Band to ever live on E Street (located in Belmar, New Jersey) – but over the past four decades, E Street has proven to be a state of mind more than a neighborhood. Bruce Springsteen looms so large, straddling the Garden State like a colossus, that there are countless albums made under his influence: records by sidemen past, present and future; discs that he produced; albums by fellow travelers recording the songs he never got around to releasing himself. These are 12 of our favorites – great albums for when you're driving all night on Interstate 95 and you didn't bring along your copy of The River.
After a 13-year break, Steve Van Zandt reunited with Southside Johnny in 1991 for their fourth album together. It's an unashamedly nostalgic disc, highlighted by "It's Been a Long Time," which features him, Van Zandt and Springsteen reminiscing about the old days on the Jersey Shore. "We lived in a time and a world of our own," sings Southside. "Making up the rules as we went along." The album received raves, but in the grunge era there wasn't much appetite for a new Springsteen album, let alone one by the Asbury Jukes.
Bruce Factor: He sang on one song and donated "All the Way Home," which he eventually recorded himself on 2005's Devils and Dust.
Before joining the E Street Band on violin, Tyrell played with the Asbury Jukes, Buster Poindexter and (dating back to the Seventies) Patti Scialfa. On this 2003 disc, she sang her own songs, proving herself to be a talented songwriter in the Lucinda Williams mode. Growling and purring, Tyrell put across country-tinged semi-autobiographical tales of a life spent on the road: sometimes running, sometimes just rolling.
Bruce Factor: Background vocals on "Ste. Genevieve" and guitar on the title track.
The Big Man wasn't much of a vocalist, although somehow he scored a Top 20 single in 1985, when he collaborated with Jackson Browne on "You're a Friend of Mine" (Springsteen wisely declined to duet with him). For his solo debut (in 1983), Clemons recruited the raspy soul belter John "J.T." Bowen, with great results: The album is first-rate uptempo R&B (with, unsurprisingly, lots of sax solos).
Bruce Factor: Springsteen played guitar on "Savin' Up" (which he also wrote).
In the summer of 1974, keyboardist David Sancious left the E Street Band to start the jazz-fusion group Tone. He took drummer Ernest "Boom" Carter with him, and while their former bandmates were making Born to Run, they were crafting this trippy LP. Sancious is a stellar player and he brings a prog-rock sound to the instrumental project. It's currently out of print in America, but you can hear it on YouTube.
Bruce Factor: Two-fifths of the 1974 E Street Band played on the album – and a young Patti Scialfa briefly sang with the group a few years later.
When the operatic Bat Out of Hell hit the radio airwaves in 1977, many people thought it was some crazy parody of Born to Run. This baffled Mr. Loaf – even though E Street drummer Max Weinberg and pianist Roy Bittan play on the album. Songwriter Jim Steinman and producer Todd Rundgren put together a seven-song masterpiece where every track sounds like a fever-dream rendition of "Thunder Road" or "Jungleland." It sold an astounding amount of copies, though some of those buyers might have just gotten sick of waiting for Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Bruce Factor: The potent Max-and-Roy combination.
In 1982, E Street consigliere Steven Van Zandt changed his stage name from Miami Steve to Little Steven and demonstrated that he could run his own crew. Little Steven wrote an album's worth of rocked-up, romantic soul songs – excelling, as always, on the horn arrangements – and drawled his way through them. The standout cut was the paranoid anthem "Under the Gun."
Bruce Factor: Springsteen provided uncredited backing vocals to "Angel Eyes," "Until the Good is Gone" and the title track.
As the leader of the Pittsburgh-based Iron City Houserockers, Joe Grushecky hammered out four heartland rock albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These won over more critics than fans, so he became a special education teacher to support his family. Still, he maintained a close friendship with Bruce Springsteen, and in 1995, they teamed up for American Babylon. The two remain tight and play together at least once a year, but this album remains their greatest joint accomplishment.
Bruce Factor: Springsteen co-wrote "Homestead" and "Dark and Bloody Ground," served as producer and even hit the club circuit with Grushecky to promote the album.
Released in 1978, just four months behind Darkness on the Edge of Town, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes' third album remains their best. After four years of relentless touring, the New Jersey bar band were an extremely tight unit, and with help from producer Steve Van Zandt, drummer Max Weinberg and a songwriter named Bruce, they assembled a stunning nine-song LP. "Hearts of Stone" and "Talk to Me" are both Darkness outtakes, but Southside made them his own. In 1987, Rolling Stone named Hearts of Stone the 92nd best album released in the previous two decades.
Bruce Factor: Springsteen wrote two of the songs, co-wrote another and loaned out Weinberg and Van Zandt. The LP also features future E Street horn section stalwart Ed Manion.
Working with the power-pop trio Grin, Nils Lofgren released two albums before Springsteen issued his own debut, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. The second, 1972's 1+1, is the keeper, evenly split between raucous tracks like "End Unkind" and wistful downtempo tunes like "Lost a Number." Throughout, Lofgren displays the guitar prowess that made him a teenage sideman to Neil Young (and an adult member of the E Street Band) – but he always does so in the service of the songs, which is why this album became the cornerstone of his long solo career.
Bruce Factor: None.
Steven Van Zandt left the E Street Band for this 1984 album, missing the lucrative Born in the U.S.A. tour, and it might have even been worth it. Voice of America is a passionate collection of political rock songs about topics like South American repression ("Los Desaparecidos"), conflicted nationalism ("I Am a Patriot," which became an anthem for Jackson Browne) and solidarity ("Solidarity"). The album made it all the way to Number Six in Norway, presaging Van Zandt's later Scandinavian success with the TV series Lilyhammer.
Bruce Factor: None, other than the parting message in the Born in the U.S.A. liner notes ("Buon viaggio, mio fratello, Little Steven").
In 1993, two years after becoming Mrs. Bruce Springsteen, E Street Band backup singer Patti Scialfa released her solo debut. Produced by Springsteen and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, it's a wonderful showcase for her sultry voice and impressive songwriting chops, featuring emotionally complex tunes like "Baby Don't." Most nights on the 1999-2000 E Street Band tour, Patti sang a few bars of the title track, but it's worth checking out the other 99 percent of the album as well.
Bruce Factor: He's a co-producer and occasional guitarist. E Streeters Nils Lofgren and Roy Bittan play on the album, as well as future E Street violinist Soozie Tyrell.
Springsteen co-produced this thrilling 1981 comeback record for Sixties rocker Bonds (most famous for "Quarter to Three"), keeping The River's party rolling by giving him three songs that didn't make that album's final cut. The following year, Springsteen gave Bonds another seven original songs for On the Line – but Dedication was the one that included Number 11 single "This Little Girl," which explodes out of your speakers the first time you hear it (or when you play it 20 times in a row).
Bruce Factor: Springsteen co-produced the album with Bonds and Steven Van Zandt; he also played guitar and sang a duet with Bonds on "Jole Blon."