We raided the vaults for our dream list of awesome, unknown Bruce Springsteen songs we’d love to hear him to play. (It’s unlikely, but you never know!) Some of these were recorded by his pre-E Street crews Steel Mill and the Bruce Springsteen Band, while others are outtakes from classic studio albums. Here are 15 of the best. If there’s ever a sequel to 1998’s rarities collection Tracks, these all deserve to make the cut.
Springsteen released two CDs of Darkness on the Edge of Town outtakes in 2011, but somehow he neglected to release this haunting track. He played a bit of the song as an intro to "She's the One" a handful of times in 1978. One of those performances is included on the Houston DVD from The Promise, and that's as close as it's ever come to an official release. But you can hear the studio version here.
Nearly 40 years before he wrote “Outlaw Pete,” Bruce Springsteen wrote an even better cowboy epic: “Ballad of Jesse James,” one of the best original songs by the short-lived Bruce Springsteen Band. The group featured future E Street players Steve Van Zandt, Garry Tallent, Vini Lopez and David Sancious. Like most songs from this era, Springsteen hasn’t touched it since the early 1970s.
Springsteen first made a name for himself in the local Asbury Park band Steel Mill, which featured future E Streeters Vini Lopez, Danny Federici and Steve Van Zandt. They never recorded a proper album, but they gained a pretty devoted following in New Jersey (and, weirdly, Richmond, Virginia) due to their marathon live shows. One of the highlights was "Goin' Back to Georgia," which owes a clear debt to the Allman Brothers.
The Born in the USA sessions lasted about three years, and produced tons of great non-album tracks like “Shut Out the Light,” “Pink Cadillac” and “Murder Incorporated.” Those have all been released, but “The Klansman” – a dark tale of a Southern boy visited by a KKK recruiter – remains in the vault. He cut the song at his home studio with a drum machine. Expect to see it on the inevitable Born in the USA box set.
There was almost a new Bruce Springsteen album in 1979 called The Ties That Bind, which would have included this pretty love song, but Springsteen pulled the LP at the last minute. He went back into the studio and recorded a ton more songs for the eventual double-LP set The River. "Cindy" didn't survive the cut, but bootleggers got their hands on hours of material from this era.
Is this weirdest Bruce song ever? A lot of Nebraska songs are told from the perspective of criminals, but this outtake, about a guy who takes an underage girl to Florida as his "child bride," is pretty dark. It's not very far off from the real-life story of Charles Starkweather, the subject of Nebraska's title track (and the classic Terrence Malick movie Badlands, a major Springsteen inspiration). The song never came out, though parts of it evolved into "Working on the Highway."
Springsteen spent six years fiddling around with "Janey Needs a Shooter," but he was never satisfied with the results. Warren Zevon fell in love with the title after hearing it from Springsteen manager Jon Landau, and he started writing his own version (with the name changed to Jeannie) – which Springsteen helped him finish. Springsteen's own version remained unreleased.
There was no Bruce Springsteen album in 1974, but he wrote new material through much of the year. "Lonely Night in the Park" was originally slated for his third disc, and manager Jon Landau argued that this song should have appeared on Born to Run instead of "Meeting Across the River." He was overruled.
“Visitation at Fort Horn” was originally slated for Greetings From Asbury Park, but Clive Davis didn’t hear a hit on the LP. He sent Springsteen back to the studio, where he recorded “Spirit in the Night” and “Blinded By the Light.” To make room he, cut “Visitation at Ford Hood,” a wordy epic that recalls “Lost in the Flood.”
The wildly sacriligeous Jesus-in-the-Wild-West tale "If I Was the Priest" has never been released in any official capacity, but it remains one of the most important songs in the Springsteen catalog. He played it for Columbia exec John Hammond at their first meeting – and Hammond signed the young songwriter, hoping that his debut LP would be all solo songs like this.
Springsteen almost never plays pre-Greetings From Asbury Park songs in concert, so fans have to scour bootlegs to hear them. "Song for Orphans" is a rare exception. Out of nowhere, he dug it out in 2005 at a Trenton stop of his Devils and Dust tour. The handful of people in the arena who knew the song went insane.
This is another song that Springsteen played for John Hammond at his Columbia audition in 1972. He attempted a studio version during the Greetings sessions, but it didn’t come close to making the final cut. It’s a totally strange tale about cowboys who “herd the fishes of the deep . . . at the bottom of the sea.”
This is yet another song from Springsteen's 1972 demo sessions with John Hammond. It's sort of a proto-"Kitty's Back," about a girl with "Cadillac hips," eyes that are "certified glass" and "legs just like a limousine."
"Tokyo" was an early contender for The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. Springsteen regularly played it live, but epics like "Rosalita" and "New York City Serenade" only left room for seven songs. "Tokyo" was yanked, though many amazing live recordings survive. It's a rare chance to hear Garry Tallent on the tuba.
This tune, recorded during the Ghost of Tom Joad sessions, was recorded by rockabilly hero Sonny Burgess and included on the 1997 Springsteen tribute disc One Step Up/Two Steps Back: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen and Burgess played it together at a 9/11 benefit concert in Red Bank, New Jersey in 2001.