Bruce Springsteen recently announced plans to release a box set containing remastered editions of his first seven albums. Some fans were dismayed that they're getting this over a River box set, but most were thrilled to hear that so many of his key works are getting sonic upgrades. It's long overdue. We figured this was a good time to poll our readers and determine their favorite Springsteen deep cuts. Here are the results.
Many Bruce Springsteen songs address serious topics like the plight of the American worker, the mistreatment of Vietnam War veterans and the fractured relationship between the singer and his own father. Then there's a song like "Kitty's Back," the story of a trashy girl that left her man for a "city dude" on Bleecker Street. Kitty is just one of the larger than life characters we meet on The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, and her jazzy tale often stretched to 20 minutes in concert. It's the perfect showcase for every member of the E Street Band. The track was retired in 1978, but resurrected for an Asbury Park Christmas show in 2000. It's been back in the mix ever since.
On Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ we meet a bunch of Jersey kids that fritter away their time on the shore, worrying little about the future. Later that year, Bruce said goodbye to the scene on "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" and on Born to Run he began writing about characters that desperately want to break away, too. On Darkness on the Edge of Town, they learn there's nowhere to go. Nowhere is that more apparent than on "Racing in the Street," the story of a guy in a miserable job that finds salvation only in street racing with his buddy Sonny. The track winds up with a gut-wrenching piano coda by Roy Bittan that only seems to underscore the fact they are literally driving in circles.
Bruce Springsteen wrote a staggering amount of songs for Darkness on the Edge of Town, somewhere around 70. Some of them, like "Because the Night" and "Fire," he gave away because they didn't fit the theme of the album. Then there's a song like "The Promise," that almost fit the theme too much. Written in 1976, it's the tale of group of friends and some deep, secretive betrayal, clearly inspired by Springsteen's legal battle with his manager Mike Appel. He spent countless hours working on the song, but in the end he cut it from the LP. It simply hit too close to home. It did get some life onstage, and in 2010 it finally came out on the Darkness box set.
Bruce Springsteen spent nearly a decade playing clubs before he finally made it big with Born to Run. In that time, he mastered the art of the show and wrote a bunch of songs designed to drive a crowd into hysterics. One of the greatest was "Thundercrack," an eight-minute tale of a woman that loves to dance. "It ended three or four different times – you didn't know where it was going to go," Springsteen said in 1999. "It was meant to make you nuts." He recorded a version of it for his second album, but the disc was already packed with long songs and something had to give. He revisited the song in 1998 when putting together the Tracks box set, even bringing in original E Street Band drummer Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez to record new background vocals.
Springsteen's 1980 LP The River is packed with depressing songs, but few can compare to "Point Blank." First played live in the summer of 1978, it's the story of a guy still reeling from an agonizing break-up. "I was gonna be your Romeo, you were gonna be my Juliet," he sings. "These days you don't wait on Romeos, you wait on that welfare check." He dreams about a reunion on the dance floor of a club, but in the end he sees her on the street and she pretends she doesn't even know him. The song kicks off the third side of the album, and then it goes right into "Cadillac Ranch" to lighten up the mood. As a side note, it should be said that "Point Blank" is a wonderful showcase for the talents of bassist Garry Tallent. The man deserves way more credit than he gets.
Anyone that claims to fully understand the meaning of "New York City Serenade" is either lying or delusional. In the 1973 masterpiece, we meet Billy and Diamond Jackie, who "boogaloo down Broadway
and come back home with the loot." Along the way, they meet a jazz man that plays them a serenade. That thin story stretches to ten minutes, with the help of an extended piano intro by David Sancious and horn work by Clarence Clemons and Albee Tellone. The track was brought back in 1999 after a long absence, and it never sounded better than it did in July of 2013 when Springsteen and the E Street Band played it with a string section.
Imagine a cross between "West Side Story" and "Thunder Road" and you'll probably still not conjure up "Jungleland," but you might get close. The nearly 10-minute song wraps up Born to Run bringing the story from the swamps of Jersey, across the river and into Manhattan. The change of scenery doesn't exactly lighten the mood. If anything, it's the most tragic song on the album. There's even a body count. The track famously wraps up with a Clarence Clemons sax solo. It's not only the most beloved sax solo in a Bruce song, but maybe the complete history of rock and roll.
Written before Springsteen learned the axiom "less is more" when it comes to lyrics, "Incident on 57 Street" is the sprawling tale of the star-crossed lovers Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane. In the end, Johnny takes off to earn some "easy money" and, more than likely, meets some sort of horrible end. Good things rarely happen to the characters in these sorts of songs. All that said, the lyrics hardly matter. The song has a magical quality that makes brings Springsteen fans to tears from the first piano notes to the final cry of "Goodnight, it's all right Jane."
"Trapped" is an extremely obscure 1970s Jimmy Cliff tune that Springsteen began playing in 1981. His radically re-arranged rendition became an instant fan-favorite, and in 1985 he released a live version on the We Are the World album. The song stuck around, getting brought out frequently on the Born In The USA tour, the "Other Band" tour in 1992/'93 and many, many times in the reunion era. Many people don't even realize it's a cover by this point.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played a stunning 115 concerts in 1978, and as the months went by some of the songs grew longer and longer as the band began improvising new bits on stage. "Backstreets" eventually doubled in length to twelve minutes, with a long improvised section in the middle where Springsteen pledged to his lover that he'd "drive all night just to buy you some shoes." That phrase stuck around his head when he began writing songs for The River, and the penultimate song on the album was born. It's the sort of song he'd have trouble cramming onto a single LP, which is why he made The River his first (and, so far, last) double album.