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The Boss—Springsteen favorites

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There are certain artists, like Raspberries, who are closer to cult heroes than international stars. Then there are the Bruce Springsteens of the world. The Boss is among my personal favorites, and since we're in a ranking mode, here goes. I've got a Springsteen "5/40" here: five favorite albums and 40 favorite songs.

1. Tunnel of Love (1987).
Typically not the No. 1 pick for Springsteen fans (see No. 2, below). But this one connected with me and still does. It's got so many moving songs that found Springsteen getting more honest and revealing than ever: “One Step Up." "Walk Like a Man." "Two Faces." The haunting "Valentine's Day”....

2. Born to Run (1975). The breakthrough record—a pretty much flawless and iconic album.

3. Born in the USA (1984). Fiery, high-energy, and anthemic. "Bobby Jean" and "No Surrender" and "Downtown Train" and "I'm on Fire" and "My Home Town" and "Glory Days"—what truly great songs!

4. The River (1980). All these years later, I still discover cool things about this two-record set. The epic-length "Drive All Night' is so classic, one of too many high points to mention in this short bit.

5. Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978). A superb follow-up to Born to Run. On my list, Wrecking Ball (2012) is right on its tail.

1. "Born to Run"
(from Born to Run). Shocker, no?

2. "Bobby Jean" (Born in the USA). Sweet nostalgia packaged in unrelenting rock'n'roll. The ending... it'll bring back a Bobby Jean for anyone. Or maybe a lot of Bobby Jeans. And they all ended this way (except, if you're lucky, one):

"And I'm just calling one last time / Not to change your mind
But just to say I miss you baby / Good luck, goodbye, Bobby Jean"

3. "No Surrender" (Born in the USA). These first three songs make a killer playlist trio, as I'm finding. And then, my playlist gets a little reprieve from... 

4. "One Step Up" (Tunnel of Love). I love the symmetrical melody, the mood, and the imagistic lines (like, "Another fight and I slam the door on/Another battle in our dirty little war...").

5. "Valentine's Day" (Tunnel of Love). The closing number on Tunnel of Love has a sort rambling beauty, and I can't get enough of it. Even though it's got a long and moving tag, I always want it to roll on a little longer.

6. "Thunder Road" (Born to Run). Some days, it's my favorite Springsteen. I've always loved that line, "Roy Orbison singing for the lonely, hey that's me and I want you only." The teen urgency here is so well-played... "Don't run back inside, darling, you know just what I'm here for." 

7. "I Wish I Were Blind" (Human Touch). A truly underrated track filled with heartbreak and intensity and a sort of grinding production. 

8. "Man's Job" (Human Touch). A fun and rollicking number about a high-maintenance woman who's taken up with somebody else.

9. "Tougher Than the Rest" (Tunnel of Love). This reminds me of "Man's Job," thematically, but with a cool, grinding vibe. I like when Springsteen gets to "grinding."

10. "Hungry Heart" (The River). Who can't relate, and who can't resist? Also, check out the YouTube live-in-concert versions of this song, where Bruce lays himself down for the audience and gets passed around, even while singing.


11. "Secret Garden" (soundtrack single). Such a beautiful melody, though to me, this is a song of utter hopelessness. And surrender. And more hopelessness.

12. "Drive All Night" (The River). Might be tempting to skip past such a long song, but you'd miss out on a masterpiece. This one nails desire, urgency, and determination—and frustration too.

13. "Downbound Train" (Born in the USA). Overshadowed a bit by all those singles on Born in the USA, but don't dismiss it as a throwaway. "Downbound Train," for many artists, would be their finest moment. 

14. "Walk Like a Man" (Tunnel of Love). An under-appreciated gem tucked in the middle of Tunnel of Love. It's a touching and emotional tribute to Springsteen's father that gets you thinking about your own dad and your earliest memories of—if you were lucky—your first hero. 

15. "Glory Days" (Born in the USA). A look back at better times. Using baseball as an analogy, The Boss couldn't go wrong. 

16. "Badlands" (Darkness on the Edge of Town). Pure rock'n'roll greatness.

17. "Wrecking Ball" (Wrecking Ball). Hmm, it took me this long to get to a 21st-century Springsteen song. And, you could easily argue some older songs ahead of this one. Just shows how deep is his catalog. I thought Bruce created one of his best songs here... a folksy, uptempo, defiant tribute to his home state of NJ. 

18. "There Goes My Miracle" (Western Stars). Hey, two 21st-centuries in a row! I love the melody, the '60s feel, Bruce's different sort of vocal, and the feel-good aura.

19. "Incident on 57th Street" (The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle). Early on, he showed a penchant for these types of scene-setting, melodic, hook-laden stories. See also next entry and, later, "New York City Serenade.”

20. "4th of July, Asbury Park" (The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle). Sandy! Like the previous one, it gets a virtual movie playing in your head.


21. "When You're Alone" (Tunnel of Love). Yet another deep song — don’t let the simplistic title fool you — from the underrated Tunnel. This one sits between "One Step Up" and "Valentine's Day" on the album—a moving trilogy. 

22. "Streets of Philadelphia" (soundtrack single). A total downer of a song, written so perfectly as a gut-wrenching soundtrack number for the Tom Hanks film about the ravages of AIDs.

23. "My Hometown" (Born in the USA). If you've lived in this type of town, you can relate.

24. "Two Faces" (Tunnel of Love"). Where the singer takes a hard, critical look at himself.

25. "Point Blank" (The River). Another ominous number, one he wrote right after finishing off Darkness on the Edge of Town. Released as a single in Europe, but not the U.S. 

26. "I'm on Fire" (Born in the USA). Kind of a grungy love song. The video was awesome—I hadn't seen it in years, but just looked it up—Springsteen as a mechanic working under a car, when a woman walks in for help and catches his eye. Lust at first sight! 

27. "We Take Care of Our Own" (Wrecking Ball). Love the sentiment behind this inspiring rocker. A timeless sentiment. "Wherever this flag's flown, we take care of our own."

28. "Waiting on a Sunny Day" (The Rising). Lots of darkness in Bruce's catalog (and I'm drawn to much of it). But here's an example of his "sunny" side. This should go into a playlist with ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky."

29. "Better Days" (Human Touch). Springsteen at his raunchy rock'n'roll best.

30. "Jungleland" (Born to Run). Given Bruce's later description of "Overnight Sensation" as a great little pop opera, you have to figure he had that Raspberries song in his head when he wrote this. You could call it a great little pop opera, too.


31. "Brilliant Disguise" (Tunnel of Love). I hate that I'm ranking this so low,  but again, it shows how deep his catalog is. 

32. "Land of Hope and Dreams" (Wrecking Ball). Nobody can "build up" within a song like Springsteen.

33. "Dancing in the Dark" (Born in the USA). This was a huge hit, remember? Boosted in part by a lively video in the early days of MTV—a video that helped launch the career of Courteney Cox.

34. "Born in the USA" (Born in the USA). One of the anthems of our lifetime.

35. "Tunnel of Love" (Tunnel of Love). It took eight Tunnel of Love songs for me to get to the title track. I don't love the production of this one song—it's so 1980s—yet it's also eerie and ominous, so it works. (Search the live version of this song from 2016 on YouTube.) 

36. "The River" (The River). The Boss at his "story-in-a-song" best. 

37. "Human Touch" (Human Touch). Hey, I'm on a title-track run! Four in a row....

38. "New York City Serenade" (The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle). Another imagistic scene-setter.

39. "Candy's Room" (Darkness on the Edge of Town). I think I'm underrating this one.

40. "Spirits in the Night" (Greetings from Asbury Park). Makes me think of two cats I had long ago. They were active all night—nocturnal kitties who ran around and made a lot of noise... two spirits in the night.

• • • • • • •

And yet... I'm leaving out some great ones. "All That Heaven Will Allow" (a perky love song amid all the introspection of Tunnel of Love). "Ties That Bind." "Cadillac Ranch." "Out in the Street." "Growin' Up." His original versions of "Blinded by the Light," "Because the Night," and "Fire"—all chart hits for others. At least two truly great B-sides in "Pink Cadillac" and "Be True."

And early staples like "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" and "Rosalita." And his highway songs, "Working on the Highway" and "Wreck on the Highway." And "Trapped," from USA for Africa.

Heck, I left off too much of Born to Run, including "She's the One," "Meeting Across the River," and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out." And too much of Darkness on the Edge of Town, including "Racing in the Street" and "Prove It All Night." And Born in the USA staples like "Cover Me" and "I'm Goin' Down" and "Darlington County." And my original list had "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" (seasonality prompted me to drop it) and the Dylan cover "Chimes of Freedom." 

But, I had to stop the list somewhere, and a Top 40 was the place... even though I just rattled off 25 more worthy cuts. 

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A couple of the deeper cuts from above that are worthy of study—"I Wish I Were Blind" and "Drive All Night" (live versions):



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I was / am familiar with his music through "The River", and not completely familiar with his first 2 albums. I know songs post The River, but can´t think of any that really do anything for me.  My song rankings:

1. Jungleland....really a rock masterpiece, it gets ink, but still I believe it´s underrated. In the running for greatest rock & roll song ever. And it might win.
2. Thunder Road
3. Candy´s Room
4. Racing in the street
5. Born to Run
6. Darkness at the Edge of Town
7. Badlands
8. Rosalita
9. Blinded by the Light....though Manfred Mann´s version is the standard for this song, imho
10. Prove it all night
11. Trapped

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Of his first two albums, I thought the 2nd (Wild, Innocent, E Street Shuffle) was stronger than the 1st (Greetings from Asbury Park, even though that one had "Blinded by the Light"). For the post-River albums, you can tell Tunnel of Love is "the one" for me. But I can understand how it "might not be for everybody." When it came out, I was going through a bad breakup, and I found solace in Tunnel. History tends to repeat itself, I guess.

I wish Marvin was still posting here. I'd love to get his take. He's way more familiar with 21st-century Bruce than I am. Like, I want to dig more into The Rising (which was influenced heavily by 9/11) and Devils and Dust (2005) and Magic (2007).

On the other hand, I love Wrecking Ball (2012) and the one just before it (Working on a Dream, 2009). There's another, from 2014, called High Hopes that I am not that familiar with. One more thing to dig into! His 19th studio came out last year, Western Stars. I picked that up.... I also bought his Broadway album, which I found very moving ... all kinds of stories woven in between songs. Highly recommended.  

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Springsteen has many die hard fans. Though I do like him, and have most of his albums, I always thought he was one of the most over-rated artists ever. (Shhh...don't tell Marvin I said that) I seem to like when other artists do his songs more than I like when he does them. I do love Hungry Heart. Great pop song! Tunnel Of Love was definitely a fine album. I need to make a more concerted effort to dive in to everything.

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