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Clarence Clemons’ Greatest Moments

From ‘Spirit in the Night’ to ‘Edge of Glory,’ a tribute to the Big Man

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty Images

The Big Man played on so many great songs during his 40-year career that it's hard to whittle them down to just 13. But we did anyway. Here's a look at some great Clemons moments, from 1973 to just a few weeks ago. 

By Andy Greene

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‘Spirit In The Night’ (1973)

Clemons said he could never remember for certain, but he was pretty sure that the first song he ever played with Bruce Springsteen during their famous 1971 meeting was an early version of "Spirit In The Night." It's one of a handful of songs that featured Clarence on Springsteen's 1973 debut LP Greetings From Asbury Park, and was a staple of the E Street Band's live set until their most recent tour in 2009. Here's an incredible version shot in Los Angeles in 1973. It's one of the few color, pro-shot videos from that era of the band. 

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‘Jungleand’ (1978)

Ask any Bruce fanatic to list his favorite Springsteen bootlegs and it's likely he'll list Passaic, New Jersey 1978 pretty high up. The show was broadcast on the radio, and a multi-camera video of the show has long circulated in the fan community. This is the E Street Band at their absolute peak, and Clemons absolutely destroys his legendary "Jungleland" solo. 

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’10th Avenue Freeze-Out’ (1980)

Even Bruce Springsteen admits that he has no idea what the term "10th Avenue Freeze-Out" means –  but the song tells the story of Bruce meeting Clarence. Springsteen is "Scooter" and Clarence is, obviously, the Big Man.  The song begins with Scooter "stranded in the jungle" of New York, until "the change was made uptown And the Big Man joined the band." On the 1999/2000 tour, Springsteen stretched the song out to insane lengths before that line to introduce the band, with Clarence's name coming, of course, last. It always drew some of the biggest cheers of the night. 

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‘Dancing In The Dark’ (1984)

As insane as this may sound to Springsteen fans, to many people Clarence Clemons was best known as the guy who played sax in the "Dancing In The Dark" video while Bruce danced with Courteney Cox. This video got a ton of MTV airplay in 1984, and it helped transform Springsteen into one of the biggest rock stars in the world. The song ends with one of Clarence's most famous sax solos. 

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‘You’re A Friend Of Mine’ (1985)

Clarence scored his lone solo hit – a duet with Jackson Browne – in 1985, right at the peak of Bruce-mania. "It was such a thrill for me to be asked to be on that song," says Browne.  "It probably wasn’t a song that was appropriate to have Bruce on. Maybe that would’ve been too obvious. But I was happy to be on that record. We shot the video at a house in Hollywood." 

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‘Freeway Of Love’ (1985)

Aretha Franklin had a massive comeback hit in 1985 with "Freeway Of Love," which features Clemons on the sax. The song is often confused with the Springsteen song "Pink Cadillac," because both came out around the same time, repeatedly refer to a pink Cadillac and feature Clarence on the sax. It's far past time that somebody created a mash-up of the two songs. 

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‘Quarter To Three’ (1989)

In 1989 Springsteen and the E Street Band were off the road, so Clarence toured with the first incarnation of Ringo Starr's All-Star Band. Every night he covered the 1961 Gary U.S. Bonds song "Quarter To Three," which was an E Street Band staple in the 1970s. His decision to alter the lyrics to turn it into a rap may have not been the best move, but he's the Big Man so it somehow worked. 

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‘Badlands’ (2002)

Crowds go crazy for Springsteen and the E Street Band in New Jersey, but in Spain they absolutely lose their minds. That's probably why the group decided to film their 2002 live DVD in Barcelona. The crowd's frantic cheers really make this a stellar version of "Badlands." As is this case with so many of these songs, it's impossible to imagine them being played again without Clarence on the sax. 

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‘Super Bowl Halftime Show’ (2009)

Weeks before the 2009 Super Bowl Halftime Show, Clarence Clemons had knee replacement surgery and didn't know if he'd make the show. Despite being in incredible pain, Clarence flew down to Florida and even managed to take his first steps since the surgery on the stage in front of about a billion people. 

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‘Growin’ Up’ (2009)

In 2009 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were ostensibly on tour in support of their new album Working On A Dream, but most of the new songs were dropped after just a handful of shows. The final leg of the tour featured complete performances of classic albums, and it wrapped up in Buffalo with Greetings From Asbury Park. During "Growin' Up," Bruce slowed down the song in the middle to once again tell the story about the night he met Clarence. At the end, he leaned on his shoulder and recreated the cover of Born To Run. Even though nobody knew it was the final regular concert for Clarence, it was still a highly emotional moment. 

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‘Blue Christmas’ (2009)

The final time Springsteen performed with Clarence was in December of 2009 at Asbury Park's Carousel House – just down the street from the former site of "The Student Prince," where they first played together almost 40 years earlier. The show was mainly songs from the Darkness On the Edge of Town box set, but it ended with "Blue Christmas." That's probably not the song either of them would have liked to have ended on, but now the lyrics feel very appropriate. 

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The National Anthem (2011)

Clarence Clemons lived in Florida for the past few decades, and regularly played the National Anthem before games by the Florida Marlins and Miami Heat. Here he is in April playing before opening day at Sun Life Stadium. 

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‘Edge of Glory’ (2011)

This past January, Clarence got one of the biggest shocks of his life when Lady Gaga asked him to play sax on her new record. He was at his Florida home when the call came, and was told to get on a plane  and fly to New York. "It was wild," Clemons told Rolling Stone. "I was so excited. I'm a Gaga-ite." In just three hours, he recorded sax parts on "Hair" and "Edge of Glory." He played the latter song with her on the season finale of American Idol, and just a few weeks before he died Clarence shot this video with Gaga. 

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