"Rolling Stone" recently counted down the Top 100 Bruce Springsteen songs. The list was assembled by a panel of fans, musicians and rock journalists and can be found at http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-bruce-springsteen-songs-of-all-time-20140116
It inspired me to do my own - not because I had any major objections to the RS list, but because I've listened to thousands of hours of Bruce songs, attended 15 shows across six tours and I'm dumb enough and determined enough to hammer out my own Top 100 list in spite of how ridiculously time-consuming such a task can be (maybe that's why I was so liberal with the lyric sampling). I included some songs Rolling Stone didn't and vice versa. Doing this "project" gave me a chance to explain why each song appeals to me. I hope I made a decent case for most of them. I also tried to sprinkle in some anecdotes and describe a few memories. Please enjoy the read:
TOP 100 SPRINGSTEEN SONGS
100) Local Hero
"First they made me the king then they made me pope. Then they brought the rope." That line is sneaked in just prior to the harmonica solo. Leading up to that point, the song is catchy, funny. It ends on an optimistic note - not all of his songs do that. Maybe that's why I appreciate this one.
99) If I Should Fall Behind
The 1999-2000 tour
was special. It was a reunion, but it didn't feel nostalgic. It wasn't a
continuation either. It was a commencement. The start of a new era for the E Street Band. "If
I Should Fall Behind" was played at every encore. This song wouldn't
have sniffed this list if it wasn't performed the 100+ times during that tour. I
didn't appreciate it enough until then. It's fitting this song is played at
so many weddings. It's a show of appreciation for what you have in a
partner - just before the two of you embark on what's in front of you.
98) Kitty’s Back
That guitar. That jazzy sound. It's a party.
97) The Ghost of Tom Joad
It's heavy and it's vivid. Nothing subtle about it. It's
easy to see why someone with the political viewpoint that Tom
Morello has would be drawn to this song.
I listened to this song a lot while driving
along rural highways in Hernando Co., FL. Easy to lose yourself in it.
Would love to hear Bruce dust off this one.
95) You’re Missing
Sadness felt to the bone.
94) Shackled and Drawn
Bruce didn't pull any punches with
this one. "Shackled and drawn, shackled and drawn. Pick up the rock, son
and carry it on. We're trudging through the dark in a world gone wrong.
I woke up this morning shackled and drawn."
93) Born in the U.S.A.
Why is this so low? I'm not sure.
It's an important song. My brother-in-law heard him play it with an
acoustic guitar, not knowing he ever performed it that way. He sat there
with his mouth gaped open. I suppose the full-band version - with a
heavy dose of synthesizers - turned this tune into a relic.
92) Out in the Street
I rode in a van from Lexington to
Lynchburg with a group from college. This song came on the radio and the
driver switched stations. I told him to turn it back and he didn't. The other guys in the van sided with the driver. I
never rode with them again.
91) Prove It All Night
'78 version was sublime. '99-'00 version was powerful. Studio version was a modest hit. It charted higher than "Badlands." I find that befuddling.
90) The Fuse
The song conjures the image of a couple in heat, sweating under a slow-spinning ceiling fan. This song drips with lust. Damn, it's good.
89) Spirit in the Night
Someone famous once alluded to this song and accused Bruce of writing fiction. I've wondered how much of this song is true (a bar owner in Richmond claims he's Hazy Davy), but it doesn't matter. Fiction, schmiction. I would imagine a lot of people have a beach week, fishing trip, vacation-to-the-lake story in their history that enters the mind when this song is played. Clarence's sax is heard from beginning to end. That makes it unique. Early concert footage of Bruce singing this song shows what makes him such a great stage performer. He was channeling James Brown.
88) Frankie Fell in Love
New song. How could you not like a song with lyrics like, "World peace gonna break out. From here on out we're eating take out. She ain't gonna be cookin' for the likes of us."?
87) All the Way Home
"Devils & Dust" is considered a contemporary folk album, but this song has a rockabilly hook and you can dance to it.
86) Lonesome Day
The second single off "The Rising" and I like it a little more than the first (the title cut). The band performs it better live. Love the violin. The main character is conflicted about revenge. That theme is revisited throughout "The Rising" album.
85) Spanish Eyes
When I hear this song, I think about a woman I met in Quito, Ecuador. I wish I had heard the song and memorized it before that trip. She didn't know a lick of English, but I might've sung a few bars for her anyway.
84) No Surrender
"Born in the U.S.A." had seven top 10 singles. This could've been number eight. I like it as much now as I did when I was 10 years old.
Show stopper. Explicit lyrics, too. I never tire of hearing live versions of it. It's rumored to be a favorite of Max Weinberg's.
82) My City of Ruins
I heard this song for the first time during the "Tribute to Heroes" after Sept. 11, 2001. Millions remember that performance. I was one of a small group who watched Bruce and the band play a reworked version at The Apollo Theater show in 2012. It included band intros and it was the first E Street Band show after Clarence died. A special moment burned into memory.
81) This is Your Sword
New tune. Very biblical. Bruce has woven in biblical themes into a lot of his songs, particularly during the past 12 years or so. Even still, great vocal. The violin sounds great, too.
80) Lucky Town
It took a long time - years even - for me to start liking this song. It really speaks to me for some reason. Bruce sings a lot about redemption and the long road to get there. If he didn't write about it so well, it might've gotten tiresome about seven albums ago. It hasn't and it won't.
79) It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City
An urban rock song. It's soulful and quirky.
78) Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Live versions of this song far exceed the studio version. On a good night, this number can incite a stomper.
77) The Promised Land
The lyrics overshadow everything - even the sax and harmonica solos. "Working all day in my daddy's garage. Driving all night chasing some mirage. Pretty soon little girl I'm gonna take charge." Who writes like this at the age of 26?
76) Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
His girl's parents don't like him, but he plows ahead anyway - jubilant about what's ahead of him, as long as she's with him. I don't know why I haven't ranked this song higher. I guess it's because I've heard it live enough times where I don't beg for it to appear on the setlist anymore. I also grew tired of people screaming for it during the 99-00 tour. While hearing it at Shea Stadium, a couple climbed on top of the home team dugout and started dancing.
75) Atlantic City
It's bleak, just like mostly everything else on "Nebraska." Classic rock radio where I grew up didn't play many Bruce songs other than the usual few. I had never heard this one until it was 15 years old and appeared on "Greatest Hits." It immediately made an impression.
74) Lost in the Flood
His decision to re-introduce this tragic song to his audience during the July 1, 2000 concert at Madison Square Garden will stick with me forever. Piano intro, guitar solo and powerful vocal made it an unforgettable performance. I immediately thought of the first line of this song when it came time to name my blog.
73) Downbound Train
Five verses to this song. The first two matter little. The last three get me every time. I stop everything and listen. Also ... I don't pay close attention to Bruce covers, but The Smithereens do a version of this and it's extraordinary.
72) Land of Hope and Dreams
I thought this song was a nice addition to the encore during the 1999-2000 tour. This was included on every setlist of the first 11 Bruce shows I attended, so it has sentimental value. The studio version on "Wrecking Ball" caused me to like it even more. Recent performances are vastly better than the ones from 14-15 years earlier when the song was first being introduced to audiences.
71) Blood Brothers
Friendship rediscovered. Ranked kind of high for a song that isn't quite as good as it wants to be. It was the last song played during the 1999-2000 tour - my favorite version of the song. It was nobody's pick to close out the tour, but Bruce made it work thanks to a reworked last verse. My second-favorite version of "Blood Brothers" is when he's introduces the song to his band/producer during the documentary of the same name.
"Leah" could've appeared on "Human Touch." That album really would've benefited from an addition like this one. Then again, Brendan O'Brien wasn't around then. He really helped make this a stand-out song.
69) Open All Night
I heard a bootleg recording of
this one - played in Philadelphia in 1984 - during which he talks about
getting pulled over for speeding, pleading with the judge to let him off and then leaving the courtroom only to encounter the cocky cop who pulled him over. He was the biggest name in rock music at the time and he was still telling stories and singing songs about driving in New Jersey and the audience was gobbling it up. Great stuff.
68) My Love Will Not Let You Down
A straight-forward rocker. The lyrics portray a very, very confident man. It was the first song Bruce played on American soil during the 1999-2000 tour and he made sure to play it during the last show. I love the guitar solos on the live version.
67) From Small Things (Big Things One Day Will Come)
Gender roles are switched in this one. Momma is the deadbeat who runs away and goes to prison and the Daddy is the one left home raising the kids.
66) Last to Die
A magnificent anti-war song. He really gave it to the Bush Administration with these lyrics. "The wise men were all fools. What to do?" Perfect.
65) Shut Out the Light
War veteran with severe PTSD comes home and can't resume his regular life. Very dramatic.
Epic closing song to "Born to Run." Soaring sax solo, amazing vocal, great guitar work from Steven Van Zandt. Why then, is it ranked so low when most people consider it a classic? The West Side Story-like lyrics take away from it. I simply can't stand the "Boys flash guitars like switchblades, hustling for the record machine" line.
63) This Life
Bruce mixes in a little Beach Boys - to great effect here. Also, he really REALLY goes all out to express his love to the woman he's singing to.
62) Gypsy Biker
See #66. This one is more emotional than overtly political, and it packs a wallop.
61) The Promise
"Well I won big once and I hit the coast. Yeah, but I paid the cost. Inside I felt like I was carrying the broken spirits of all the other ones who lost." It's like all the dreams and optimism he was singing about in "Born to Run" blew up in his face. Here he is coping with the massive disappointment.
It's never been played live, it's never been released on an album and he wrote it for someone else (Donna Summer). He recorded "Cover Me" for the purpose of giving it to Summer, but manager Jon Landau, who realized it had hit potential, convinced Bruce to keep it - or so the story goes (amazingly similar to the more-famous "Hungry Heart" story). Bruce kept that one, but wrote "Protection" for Summer as a replacement. She didn't release it as a single and yet it was nominated for a Grammy (I think). Bruce has a few songs that you can dance to, but this is the only "dance song" Bruce has written and recorded that I know of - and I like it a lot. Donna's version is great, too.
59) Streets of Philadelphia
The movie was good. The song is better.
58) Held Up Without a Gun
Honky tonk meets punk rock.
57) Human Touch
It had been four years or so since Bruce had released a single. It felt like an eternity - and the music landscape had changed so much. I just remember how good it was to hear a song of his on the radio again. I really like the extended album cut.
56) The Ties That Bind
This song was written and recorded relatively fast. It was done by design. Bruce wanted the enthusiasm and spontaneity to come through - and it did. It's a great opener for "The River" and it's a great concert opener, too.
55) Talk to Me
"The Promise" is a mind-blowing double-album. So many great songs that Bruce shelved and didn't release for 30 years. "Talk to Me" is the one - other than the alternate version of "Racing in the Street" - that jumped out at me the most the first time I listened to it. How does a song like that remain in a vault for so long?
54) My Lucky Day
Every time hear this in the car and I have to be careful. Before I know it, I'm going 85 mph.
53) Dancing in the Dark
I don't get tired of this song. It's Bruce's highest-charted single (#2) and I'm cool with that (In fact, I'm disappointed it never went #1). When he and the band brought it back in 2002 and made it a regular part of the encore, I started liking the song even more. It sounds better live even though it's so slick and polished on the record. He doesn't mail it in on this song. When he's singing about his need for inspiration and companionship, he means it.
52) Sherry Darling
Bruce and the band were playing this years before it appeared on an album. It's a concert-friendly tune that harkens back to the days of 1960s fraternity rock. Such a blissful sound.
51) Where the Bands Are
For some reason, this song almost never gets played. I'm a slave to this beat.
50) Santa Ana
I've struggled to discover the meaning of this song, but it sounds interesting to me. It's a great listen, particularly during the last minute when it slows down and picks up again.
49) Reason to Believe
It's clear Bruce wanted to close the "Nebraska" album on a positive note considering how disturbing much of it is. In the face of poverty, tragedy and strife, people still maintain their optimism and faith.
48) American Skin (41 Shots)
I read about this song when it premiered in Atlanta in June 2000. I was going to see Bruce in New York weeks later and I didn't want to hear the song until the show. Napster was in its infancy stages, there was no YouTube and I was still using dial-up, so I was probably safe from spoilers. I'm glad, too, because listening to it for the first time that night was a privilege beyond words. The second verse, in particular, struck me the most. The version I heard that night is the same one that was released on the "Live in New York City" double album. It remains the superior version.
47) I’m on Fire
I like this song for its simplicity. It also feels timeless. "Every Breath You Take," "With or Without You" and "Boys of Summer" all are in that category. A scaled-down song with a simple, repetitive beat and no extravagant accompaniment - but somehow a masterpiece that never gets old even after the 500,000th listen.
46) Hungry Heart
John Lennon loved it from the first time he heard it. 'Nuff said.
45) Wreck on the Highway
Stark and haunting, this song closes "The River" album on a melancholy note. The first part of it is chock full of upbeat, party songs. The second part is comparatively much darker - and it ends with one of the saddest pieces Bruce has ever written.
It makes me want to have that feeling ... Being so enamored with a woman that I'm "lost in the stars" and I try to "jockey my way through the cars" and with my "faith in the machine" I "scream into the night" on my way to see her. The sax and bass sound so good.
43) Darkness on the Edge of Town
It is a slow burn from beginning to end. "'Cause tonight I'll be on that hill 'cause I can't stop. I'll be on that hill with everything I got. Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost. I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost for wanting things that can only be found in the darkness on the edge of town."
42) For You
The piano ballad version never worked for me. But the full-band version? I flipped when I heard it the first time and thought it was one of the best things I've listened to on any album. It didn't quite stand the test of time - and the thousands of CD repetitions. Even still, how could anyone not like a song with a lyric like, "Crawl into my ambulance. Your pulse is getting weak. Reveal yourself now to me girl while you've got the strength to speak."?
41) Back in Your Arms
Now that's what despair over a lost love sounds like. Bruce croons to great effect.
I once told a woman - an ex - that I thought of her when I heard this song. She didn't like that much, until she read the lyrics. She felt better about it afterward. I still haven't heard him play this in concert - because he doesn't pull it out often. I really wish he would. Every concert recording I've heard is great.
39) Real World
A real gem. He played it on the piano during a concert in 1990 - two years before it appeared on an album - and that remains the best version.
38) Long Time Comin’
Revisiting a theme he hammered home on "Lucky Town," this song is a "Devils & Dust" highlight. A heartfelt plea to his wife - very effective.
37) Jack of All Trades
The character in this song is a tough, resilient man. Probably an optimist, too. But it's clear he's desperately covering up his own doubts and insecurities. The music is straight-up ballad, but the words are reminiscent of the powerful stories Bruce wrote on any number of songs he was putting out 30-35 years earlier.
Nothing frivolous about this song. A homeless family with a kid in the backseat with a "graveyard cough." A father's bitterness is so strong he spits on the "shiny chrome" of a rich man's car. A precursor to "Tom Joad." Bruce sang this as a Dylan-esque folk song during a show at the end of the "Human Touch" tour and it was unforgettable. He really belted it out, too. He didn't have much of a voice left at the end of that show and I think this performance had a lot to do with that.
35) Bobby Jean
I was 10 years old when I first owned "Born in the U.S.A." on cassette - and unlike most cassette packages at the time, this one included a lyrics sheet. I listened to this song and read over the lyrics time and time again. Even then, I put Bruce's songwriting in another category. Journey wasn't writing songs like this one. "Bobby Jean" was allegedly written about Steven Van Zandt, who had just departed the E Street Band. I have my own interpretation. I hear it over the radio and I think the main character is crazily in love with a girl. She only wishes to be friends - and he accepts that because he can't handle the thought of not seeing her, hearing from her or being part of her life in some way. He pours everything into that friendship. She leaves town. She moves on. He's left pining over her still. This song is close to home for me.
34) Devil’s & Dust
Brendan O'Brien really shows why he became a favorite collaborator of Bruce's during the last decade. It's quiet in the beginning and it has a great crescendo effect. That was O'Brien's idea. Anti-war songs don't get better than this.
33) The Wrestler
No Oscar nomination for this one? Really, Academy? It perfectly encapsulated what the film was about and what the main character felt about himself and where his life had taken him. This song also rescued the "Working on a Dream" album. Tacking this on the end made a major difference.
32) Drive All Night
Hearing the snippet of this song in the middle of "Backstreets" on 1978 tour recordings was enough to put this on the list. Recent performances of this song catapulted it upward. It's so full of emotion. Bruce's vocal performance is spectacular.
One of my favorite choruses - and it's mostly just Bruce singing "We're living in a dollhouse!." I guess it's the way he sings it. And that intro? A piano solo jumps right into a catchy Ramones-like garage rock riff. One of the best cuts from "Tracks."
30) You’ll Be Coming Down
A famous sportswriter once said he woke up one morning in his 40s and realized the well had run dry. Whatever passion or inspiration he once had for writing just all of a sudden left him. "Magic" confirms that creative brilliance doesn't always expire. Bruce was in his 60s when he put out this masterpiece. My quibble with the album is that the opening track, which also was the first single, sounds sophomoric when stacked up against the rest of the material. "You'll Be Coming Down" is the album's second track ... and musically it fits perfectly with the robust lineup of songs. I could listen to those harmony vocals all day.
29) Empty Sky
Misinterpreting lyrics frustrates the hell out of him - and with good reason. The line that includes "I want an eye for an eye" is being said by a man who is conflicted and probably guilt-stricken about his lust for vengeance. Bruce had to start telling his audiences to stop cheering whenever he sang that part. "The Rising" wasn't my favorite record, but for some reason, I was never more angry watching an award show than when I saw it get passed over in the "Best Album" category at the 2003 Grammys. "Empty Sky" isn't a song that could be written by just anyone. In fact, I'm not sure anyone else out there could create something like this - something so emotionally on point in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
28) Take ‘em as They Come
I might not be giving enough love to E Street Band members in this countdown of mine, so let me take a moment to praise Gary W. Tallent for his bass work on this one. In my mind, "The River" sessions were even more outstanding than the comparatively more-balleyhooed "Darkness" sessions. I know this was said about so many other songs ... but I can't for the life of me understand why this was kept off the original album. Thank you, Bruce, for the gift of "Tracks."
27) The River
One man called into a Richmond, Va. classic rock station and requested "The River" be played during the lunch hour - and he specifically asked for the version that appears on the live boxed set. That version includes a story from Bruce about his father confronting him after he went missing for days. Bruce disappeared because he was petrified about taking his physical for the Vietnam draft. For reasons he didn't mention, he didn't pass. His father, who has always wanted more discipline from his son, was relieved. The father who called into that radio station 12 years ago requested that song specifically because his son had just enlisted. He wept as he made the request. The run time on that song is 11 minutes and 42 seconds, an eternity for FM stations. To his credit, the deejay, Dick Hungate, played it anyway.
26) Girls in Their Summer Clothes
Bruce summoned something from way down deep in his soul when he laid down this track. I've never heard him sing like this. The story sticks with me, too. It's about a man fraught with loneliness as he comes to grips with his age and his disconnect between himself and those around him. It's almost like he went back to the places he was singing about in the early to mid-1970s - and none of it looked familiar anymore. This song has never been played well live ... but it never has made a regular appearance on the setlist. I'm still hoping to hear it once in person.
The album, "The Ghost of Tom Joad" requires patience and attentiveness, but "Youngstown" was the one song that jumped out the most. It had more accompaniment besides an acoustic guitar and harmonica, so that was a factor, but the story is another reason for its widespread appeal. It has historical context. I wrote a paper in college in my "Civil War and Literature" class and I was offered a choice of term paper topics - and my choice was contemporary music and the Civil War. I might've mentioned a few Southern rock bands and songs, but most of the report centered on this song - for no other reason than the reference to Youngstown's history as a ammunition- and war machine-manufacturing city. The full-band version is powerful and it was a great addition to the 1999-2000 tour setlist, but I still prefer the stark, studio version. The last verse is killer. (I don't remember the grade I got for my term paper, but I don't think it was very good.)
24) This Hard Land
Max Weinberg thought this was one of the best songs Bruce and the band ever recorded. It stayed off the "Born in the U.S.A." record. It's hard to imagine anything improving that one, but this song would have. The band re-recorded it for the "Greatest Hits" collection and I'm one of the few who loves that version as much as the original, which was finally released on "Tracks." I wish Bruce played it more often.
23) My Hometown
For a couple years in the early 2000s, I lived in a rural town in Southside Virginia. An older couple from Freehold, N.J. owned a bagel shop in town and it was a regular stop for me. I talked to the wife about Bruce and she would just shrug. She didn't care about celebrities. It didn't matter. We had other things to talk about. I had visited Freehold once, so I decided to share a few stories about that trip. Then, out of the blue, she said something to me about Bruce. She made a point to tell me how much she liked this song. "He nailed it," she told me, recalling how her town was depicted in the lyrics. "He really nailed it." I once had a bootlegged recording of this song ... Bruce played in in the mid-1990s in Freehold. Just him and his acoustic guitar. I even think he played it at the auditorium of his high school. If someone asks me what concert would I most want to go back in time to see, I would have to consider that one.
22) Something in the Night
"Nothing is forgotten or forgiven, when it's your last time around. I got stuff runnin' around my head that I just can't live down!" His heart bleeds throughout the song.
21) Wrecking Ball
No matter my feelings of the old Giants Stadium (none good - especially the Jan. '87 NFC Championship Game), this is a kick-ass song.
20) She’s the One
"With her hands on her hips oh, and that smile on her lips, because she knows that it kills me." We've all had women like that enter our lives. The band cuts loose when this is played. So does the audience. I've never heard a performance of this song that wasn't mesmerizing.
19) Don’t Look Back
The song grabs a hold of you from the start and doesn't let go. It's a song that opened the first of two shows I saw in Cleveland in November 1999 and it really set the tone for what was about to happen during those two nights. We walked out of Gund Arena following that first show and some guy yelled out, "I hope you people appreciate what you just witnessed tonight!" I've seen him 13 more times since then, so there's my answer.
18) Because the Night
Loved Patti Smith's version. Hard to imagine why Bruce never was satisfied with his recording and even harder to imagine his willingness to give it away, but Smith definitely made it soar. Hearing Bruce and the E Street Band play it alongside "Candy's Room" was a memorable two-fer during the "Darkness" tour. Even though I was 3 years old when that tour took place, I'm very familiar with those performances through the magic of bootlegging.
17) Restless Nights
Another gem from "Tracks." Those high-octave background vocals really add something, as does the Animals-influenced organ. Danny Federici's solo gives this song a unique ending.
16) Stolen Car
I used to comment on a number of songs in Bruce's catalog and say, "This is one of the saddest songs he's ever written." I found myself saying that so often that I stopped. So many of Bruce's songs drift into darkness and despair. This one, however, I will say without hesitation is one of the saddest songs I've ever heard. It comes seven years before "Tunnel of Love." Talk about prescient.
15) Independence Day
Lucky for me, my relationship with my father wasn't anything close to what Bruce had with his. This one is heart-breaking, but at times heart-tugging, too. Bruce is singing about forging a life of his own, which was in contrast to the kind of life his father wanted for him. "They ain't gonna do to me what I watched them do to you." Wow
14) Candy’s Room
This song is so explosive. It sounds fine on the record, but when it's live it's other-worldly. The guitars are relentless. The piano and percussion add a lot, too. "Oh, how I want her so. I'll never let her go. Oh no no no."
13) Long Walk Home
This song connected with me from the first listen. It really makes me think of home. The world I know now is very different from what I thought it was 20 years ago. Coming home isn't as easy is jumping on a plane and spending time with friends and family. But once you make peace with whatever you're battling with - home is exactly what you want it to be. "My father said, 'Son, we're lucky in this town, It's a beautiful place to be born. It just wraps its arms around you, nobody crowds you and nobody goes it alone.'" It's the highest-ranked "modern Bruce" song on this list. I hope others would agree it belongs this high.
12) Growin’ Up
This song needs to be ranked simply for the historical context. Of all the songs he played for legendary record producer John Hammond, this was the best one. It helped land him his record deal with Columbia. The full-band version is such a great recording. It's so raw. It's rarely played live nowadays, but I was lucky enough to hear it twice.
11) Living Proof
An ode to his newborn son, heavy on religious themes, set to the tempo and style of a rock-n-roll bar song. Bruce's references his own redemption and does so beautifully with these words. "I put my heart and soul, I put 'em high upon a shelf. Right next to the faith, the faith that I'd lost in myself." Then there are these words."You shot through my anger and rage to show me my prison was just an open cage. There were no keys no guards, just one frightened man and some old shadows for bars." Bruce has joked about how he wasn't known for writing happy songs. When he tried to write happy songs in the early 1990s, the public didn't like it. The two albums he put out then aren't among his best efforts, but there are strong spots (none as strong as this one). In my opinion, this song soars above almost everything else in his immensely impressive catalog.
"Poor man wanna be rich. Rich man wanna be king. And a king ain't satisfied 'til he rules everything." Cynical and powerful. The story: Bruce came up with the title for the song before he wrote the first lyric or note. He wanted the song to live up to the title, so he spent a great deal of time on it. He still puts sweat into the song whenever he plays it - and he plays it pretty much every night.
9) Brilliant Disguise
Bruce is so intensely private, so I was surprised when I listened to an old interview during which he said how indifferent he was about the paparazzi taking his photograph during the "Tunnel of Love" tour. He was on the road, away from home and carrying on an extramarital affair with his backup singer (who would later become his wife and the mother of his three kids). He said because so much was happening in his life, he didn't care what some dude with a camera was doing in a tree 50 yards away. He was right. It didn't matter what any photographer snapped or what any tabloid published. Bruce already disclosed to the world what was going on inside his head and in his marriage. He let everyone know through this song. I remember when "Brilliant Disguise" premiered. I knew immediately it was going to be a hit.
8) Racing in the Street
Two studio versions. I didn't know another existed until about three years ago when it was included on "The Promise" compilation. Both are extraordinary.
Listening to the "Born to Run" album from start to finish for the first time was life-altering. I didn't listen to music the same way again. "Backstreets" stood out. The piano intro, the wall-of-sound effect, the lyrics and those howling vocals make this one a transcendent piece of music. Bootleg recordings from the "Darkness" tour that include the "Drive All Night" coda are heart-stopping.
6) Tougher Than The Rest
I put this one in "When a Man Loves a Woman" territory. If I could choose a ballad that would best describe my feelings about a woman I loved, this one might be it. How could you go wrong with lyrics like, "The road is dark
and it’s a thin, thin line, but I want you to know I’ll walk it for you any time."? Forget it. You just can't.
5) The Price You Pay
This is my favorite driving song. Lots of great lyrics to this one, and I prefer the outtake with the additional verse. The ending is so strong. "So let the game start, you better run you little wild heart. You can run through all the nights and all the days. But just across the county line, a stranger passing through put up a sign that counts the men fallen away to the price you pay. And girl before the end of the day, I'm gonna tear it down and throw it away!" Please, Bruce, start playing this one more often.
4) Born to Run
"My shot at the title," Bruce said of this song. He crushed it. He definitely slaved over it, but in the end, he cleared the bases. Pardon the hyperbole, and apologies to The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and whoever else took a shot at the title, but "Born to Run" is simply the best rock-and-roll single ever made. Oh, and the album of the same name is also the best album ever made.
3) Incident on 57th Street
"Upstairs a band was playin', the singer was singin' something about goin' home. She whispered, 'Spanish Johnny, you can leave me tonight but just don't leave me alone.'" Like "Lost in the Flood" and "Jungleland," it is a street epic. And for some reason, to me, this one delivers the biggest punch. He might've been channeling Bob Dylan with his first album, but the second album was more about following in the footsteps of Van Morrison. This song is as good as anything heard on "Astral Weeks," and I think "Astral Weeks" belongs on the Mount Rushmore of albums. The closing guitar solo and the piano segue into "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" is one of the best things ever heard on vinyl. Of all the songs that I haven't heard Bruce sing live, this is the one I'm dying to hear the most. If he simply wants to perform it as a piano ballad, I'm fine with that, too.
2) 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Featured on the same album as "Incident," this one too, appears to be influenced by Morrison. Amazingly, it includes heavy use of an accordion and I still like it. In all seriousness, this song is comedic, poignant, romantic and epic. I visited Asbury Park in 2001 and I just had to have my photo taken standing next to Madame Marie's stand. I saw the 2008 Tampa show - the first one after the death of Danny Federici. The band played it in honor of their fallen brother. The audience that night consisted of a lot of Jersey transplants. I'm glad that performance took place in an arena full of fans who appreciated it.
1) Thunder Road
One night in March 1995. I borrowed my friend's "Born to Run" CD. I lay in bed in my barracks room with my headphones on. The opening bars of "Thunder Road" were the first things I heard. I listened intently to the lyrics. There wasn't a hook. There wasn't a bridge. There wasn't anything "pop" about this song, but it stuck with me more than any other pop song could. It did for me what "Like a Rolling Stone" did for countless others. An aimless, flawed boy wants to whisk his girl away and go someplace and make a better life. "It's a town full of losers, and I'm pulling out of here to win." It's rebellion mixed with hope. Bruce called the song an "invitation." I RSVP'd right away and I haven't looked back. Thanks, Bruce. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRvnsj8G7QM