Tuesday, January 6, 2015

My 20 Favorite Bruce Springsteen Songs

I've been listening to Bruce Springsteen for a long time. I'd like to say I didn't need 'Time' and 'Newsweek' to show me the way to 'Born to Run', but that would be lying.

He's one of a handful of performers who has stayed as relevant and as interesting after forty years as he was after four minutes. Like a classic movie or a great book, his songs hold up to repeated listening because there is always something new to be found in them.

Add that these songs were often rendered in front of an audience with as much fire and passion as they had been in a recording studio, and an indelible rock and roll icon was born.

Very few performers poured themselves into their concerts like Bruce Springsteen did. His concerts were hands-above-your-head celebrations of rock and roll; exorcisms of generational expectations and wage slavery which would crescendo into the orgiastic ecstasies of salvation and redemption.

It's not an abuse of poetic license to compare them to southern baptist church services—wild and unfettered.

Of course, all of this was a long time ago—I haven't been to a Springsteen concert since 1984. But the songs below live on. 

And unlike me, they remain ageless and undiminished.

1. Backstreets - Captures that sense of loss and regret when the wide-screen dreams of childhood give way to the tedium and obligation of adulthood.

2. The River – Moving portrait of a young, working-class couple expertly rendered and observed.

3. Badlands - Compelling statement of survival, will and purpose.

4. Born to Run – An anthem for anyone who ever loaded up their car in hopes of finding something better.

5. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out - Razor-sharp tribute to the R&B of Springsteen's youth.

6. Johnny 99 - Composite of every end-of-his rope, down-on-his-luck character Springsteen ever wrote about, and sadly as true in '15 as it was in '82.

7. No Surrender - Picture-perfect reminiscence of how thrilling and influential rock and roll was to us, especially in our youth.

8. Born in the U.S.A. - Howling litany of a veteran's betrayal which unwittingly became example number-one in pop song misinterpretation.

9. Incident on 57th Street - The opus-highlight of an album rooted in beat poetry and soul music.

10. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) - A wild and exuberant celebration of career and romance freshly bloomed.

11. Thunder Road - A song that captures the anticipation of striking out on your own.

12. Jungleland - A stylized street life ballet that rises and falls like sex.

13. Factory - This song moves like the factory clock. You can practically feel the weariness of feet in steel-toed boots.

14. Racing in the Street - A couple at the point where they realize the honeymoon is over.

15. She's the One - Glorious celebration of lust and sexual attraction.

16. Streets of Philadelphia - Haven't heard this song in years, but can still hear the haunting line "...and my clothes don't fit me no more."

17. Prove It All Night - Not for anything contained in the lyrics--just for the epic floggings it received on the 1978 tour.

18. Stolen Car - Thoughtful meditation on an album mostly dedicated to upbeat frat-rock.

19. Atlantic City - Another profile of people in desperate straits, set to a sober, haunting melody.

20. Tougher Than the Rest – An expression of eternal love, with a melody as pure and uncluttered as the thought.

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