Ask ten Bruce Springsteen fans to name their favorite album and you're likely to get ten different answers. Some feel he peaked in 1975 with Born to Run, while others prefer the stark sound of Nebraska and still others love the personal tone of Tunnel of Love. Springsteen released his latest album, Wrecking Ball, earlier this month and just launched a world tour, so we figured it was a good time to poll our readers and find out their favorite album. Click through to see the results.
Towards the end of the Seeger Sessions tour in 2006, Bruce Springsteen debuted a new song called "Long Walk Home," a clear commentary on the sad state of America during the Bush years. It was the public's first glimpse of a new batch of politically charged songs that he would soon record with the E Street Band. Released in September of 2007, Magic is an angry, guitar-driven record about wounded veterans, lying politicians and our collective loss of civil liberties after 9/11. " Who would have ever thought we'd live in a country with no right to habeas corpus?" Springsteen said to Rolling Stone in 2007. "That's Orwellian. That's what political hysteria is about and how effective it is. I felt it in myself. You get frightened for your family, for your home. And you realize how countries can move way off course, very far from democratic ideals. Add another terrorist attack or two, and the country can turn into a pretty scary place."
For his newest album, Wrecking Ball, Springsteen ditched his longtime producer Brendan O'Brien in favor of Ron Aniello, best known for his work with Guster and Candlebox. "The record basically started out as folk music – just me and a guitar singing these songs," says Springsteen. "Then Ron brought a large library of sound that allowed me to explore, like maybe a hip-hop drum loop or country-blues stomp loop. The actual drums came later. There was no preconceived set of instruments that needed to be used. I could go anywhere, do anything, use anything. It was very wide open." The songs were written before the Occupy Wall Street movement began, but they voice much of the same anger towards Wall Street greed. "This is as direct a record as I ever made," Springsteen tells Rolling Stone. "That's with the possible exception of Nebraska, which this record has a lot in common with."
Bruce Springsteen went through a period of tremendous self-doubt before he recorded The Rising. His three Nineties records received extremely mixed reviews, and during that decade he recorded at least two albums that he ultimately decided to shelve. The 1999/2000 reunion tour with the E Street Band was a huge success, they were just playing old material. Sadly, it took the tragic events of 9/11 to give him the inspiration to bring the E Street Band back into the studio for a new record. Working with producer Brendan O'Brien for the first time, he crafted an album that channeled the feelings of devastation and loss that America felt after the terrorist attacks. It was a huge critical and commercial success, and it kicked off an extremely busy decade of recording and touring.
Bruce Springsteen knew that it was virtually impossible to top Born in the USA with a bigger album, so he didn't even try. Instead, he took a couple years off and returned with an intensely personal album about a failing relationship. On the opening track, "Ain't Got You," he seemed to be singing about himself, with lines like "All the little girls want to tear me apart/ When I walk down the street people stop and stare/ Well you'd think I might be thrilled, but baby I don't care." Though there isn't a huge pop song like "Glory Days" or "Dancing in the Dark" on the entire album, Springsteen was so popular at the time that singles like "Brilliant Disguise" and "One Step Up" did wind up on the radio. While every member of the E Street Band was given a token credit here and there in the liner notes, this was a solo album. He brought the group on the supporting tour but fired them the following year. It was the beginning of a challenging decade for Springsteen.
According to legend, Bruce Springsteen's manager, Jon Landau, was so displeased when he heard an early mix of Born in the USA that he threw a guitar at Bruce and told him to write a hit single. A furious Springsteen relented and wrote "Dancing in the Dark," a song that hides its rage and frustration under a glossy sheen. Springsteen went on to become bigger than anyone could have possibly imagined, scoring a stunning seven Top Ten singles from the album. "Born in the USA," "Glory Days," "Dancing in the Dark" and "I'm on Fire" were as inescapable as "Like A Virgin" or "When Doves Cry" that year. This was far and away the commercial peak of his career, and no matter how much he's accomplished before and after, when many people think of Springsteen the first image that comes to mind is him dancing with Courtney Cox in the "Dancing in the Dark" video.
Bruce Springsteen became incredibly famous and successful after Born to Run broke in 1975, but a nasty three-year lawsuit stalled his momentum and cost him a fortune. He didn't make any real money until 1980, when he scored a big pop hit with "Hungry Heart" and launched a long arena tour. Most people would have followed that right up with another album full of similar songs, but Springsteen went in a radically different direction. He recorded a series of stark, stripped-down songs about poverty and desperate criminals at his New Jersey house. What happened next depends on who you ask, but it's probable that the E Street Band attempted to record at least some of this material before Bruce decided to just release the home demos as an album. He didn't even tour to support the disc, though he did release his first music video, for the single "Atlantic City." Two years later he made the album that everyone wanted, but today Nebraska is widely regarded as an absolute masterpiece. Even many people who hate Springsteen begrudgingly admit that they like it.
Just months after Bruce Springsteen's 1973 debut LP, Greetings from Asbury Park, tanked in record shops, Springsteen and the E Street Band returned to 914 Sound Studios in Blauvet, New York to begin work on the follow-up. The group was completely broke by this point, and some of the band even slept in a tent outside the studio to save money. They worked at night, not even officially booking time at the studio. "It was kind of a clandestine operation," bassist Garry Tallent told Rolling Stone in 2009. With this album Bruce set aside the folky sounds of his debut album, writing songs with a more soulful, epic vibe. Songs like "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" and "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" had been road-tested all year, and he'd cooked up epic New York tales with "Incident on 57th Street" and "New York City Serenade." On this record Van Morrison was more of an influence than Bob Dylan, but it didn't matter much at the record stores. It too bombed, leaving Springsteen with one last chance to prove himself.
Songs were pouring out of Bruce Springsteen when he began work on The River in 1979. Though he originally conceived of it as a single disc called The Ties That Bind, he simply had too much material and decided to make it a double album. Unlike his previous LPs, the tone of The River shifts wildly from song to song. Some are wild ravers like "Ramrod" and "I'm a Rocker," while others are stark and sad, like "Fade Away" and "Stolen Car." "This record was sort of a gateway to my future writing," Springsteen said in 2009. "It was a record made during a recession, hard times. It was a record where I first started to tackle men and women and families and marriage. There were certain songs on it that led to complete records later on. 'The River' led to Nebraska. 'Stolen Car' led to Tunnel of Love . . . I wanted to capture the themes I'd been writing about on Darkness [on the Edge of Town] and keep those characters with me, but at the same time add the music that made our live shows so enjoyable and fun for our audience."
There was a long three-year gap between Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Springsteen was engaged in a rough legal battle with his former manager, Mike Appel, and he wasn't even allowed in a recording studio until it was resolved. As one can imagine, Springsteen was extremely frustrated with the situation. He wrote throughout the period, and by the time the case was resolved he had about 70 songs in various stages of completion. As noted in the recent documentary The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, Springsteen worked obsessively on this disc, casting aside brilliant songs like "Because the Night" and "The Promise" because they didn't fit the theme of the album. Songs like "Badlands" and "The Promised Land" have become classics, but they weren't big singles at the time. Some people even saw it as a disappointing follow-up to Born To Run. Nobody feels that way today.
After the commercial failure of his first two albums, Bruce Springsteen knew he was at a make-it-or-break-it point in his career. He wrote the title track to Born to Run in early 1974, inspired by Duane Eddy's 1960 hit "Because They're Young." "I had these enormous ambitions for it," Springsteen told Rolling Stone in 2005. "I wanted to make the greatest rock record that I'd ever heard. I wanted it to sound enormous, to grab you by your throat and insist that you take that ride, insist that you pay attention — not just to the music, but to life, to being alive." He cut the song in a New Jersey studio with the E Street Band, but soon afterwards drummer Ernest "Boom" Carter and keyboardist David Sancious quit the group to start a jazz fusion group called Tone. Springsteen was quickly running out of money, and now he couldn't even play gigs until he found two new bandmates. It was around this time that former Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau entered the picture. He helped Springsteen move the sessions to the prestigious Record Plant in New York City and became the co-producer of the album. They crafted a Phil Spector-inspired Wall of Sound masterpiece that (very loosely) tells the story of one hot and muggy day in New Jersey and New York. "I was interested in songs with a variety of movements, which you can trace back to the way Roy Orbison records were composed," Springsteen said in 2005. "There is something about the [piano] melody of 'Thunder Road' that suggests a new day — which is why that song ended up first on the record, instead of 'Born to Run.'" Needless to say, the album was a huge success, and it turned Springsteen into a superstar.