Our 10 Essential Steven Van Zandt songs takes a look at the incredible and fascinating career of Steven Van Zandt. It’s difficult to know where to start in defining Steven Van Zandt’s contributions to popular culture. Steven Van Zandt has led a career in which he has found tremendous success both standing in the shadows and under the spotlight. Some people just write songs, some perform, some produce, some act, some direct, Steven Van Zandt has done it all and has been very successful at every turn. Since this is an article that looks to present 10 Essential Steven Van Zandt songs, we will focus on his music. However, we cant fail to mention that Steven Van Zandt was not only a member of one of the greatest rock and roll ensembles of all time in the E. Street Band, he was also a main cast member of what many argue was the greatest television series in history called The Sopranos. We can’t think of anyone else in popular culture that could claim to be a part of one of the most loved and iconic bands and also television shows on that level of historic success.
Steven Van Zandt’s first commercial success occurred when he joined the E Street Band in 1975 during the recording of Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run album. His role on the album may have been standing out of the spotlight, but stories have been told that Steven Van Zandt contributed heavily to the fuel that fired up that spotlight on the Born To Run album. Steven Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen had been friends for many years as they both learned their craft playing bars on the Jersey Shore scene. The bar scene in Jersey in the late 1960s and early 1970s featured a host a great musicians. One particular fantastic vocalist named Southside Johnny would team up with Steven Van Zandt to form the group Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes in the mid 1970s.
The band would release their first album in 1976. Steven Van Zandt wrote three songs on Southside Johnny’s’ first album with one of them becoming Southside Johnny’s biggest hit of his career. Steven Van Zandt would produce the band’s next two albums while also remaining a member of the E Street Band. Many of the songs released on the first three Southside Johnny albums were written by Steven Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen. These were spectacular songs that easily stood up to some of the great Stax recordings that were made in the 1960s. Steven Van Zandt proved early on that he was a brilliant songwriter who wrote songs filled with emotional soul that paid tribute to the great r&b classics of the 1960s. At the same time, the songs sounded fresh and began to inspire the next generation of songwriters that would come of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s like Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp, Billy Falcon, Melissa Etheridge and many more.
In 1981, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt began working on revitalizing the career of Gary U.S. Bonds who was a early 1960’s singer that had inspired both men as musicians and artists. This is an incredibly interesting time period in both Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt’s career. Bruce Springsteen stepped out of the spotlight and Van Zandt did what he had been doing with Southside Johnny. The two men basically recorded two E Street Band albums with Gary U.S Bonds releasing Dedication in 1981 and On The Line in 1982. Both albums were filled with Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt songs performed by the E. Street Band with Gary U.S. Bonds on vocals. These are two gems that have probably never gotten the full attention these albums deserved.
During the recording of the Gary U.S. Bond’s albums, Steven Van Zandt began forming his own band to play on his first solo album. Originally nicknamed Miami Steve because of the Hawaiian shirts he used to wear, Steven Van Zandt took on the name Little Steven. His first solo album would be credited as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. The album titled Men Without Woman was a spectacular showcase of Steven Van Zandt’s skills as a songwriter, musician and performer. The album was released in 1981 and set the wheels in motion for his eventual departure from the E Street Band three years later
After recording the albums, Born To Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River and Born in the U.S.A with Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt left the E Street Band in 1984 to finally step into the spotlight fronting his own band. At long last, the man stepped out of the shadows and took on the spotlight he so deserved.
Steven Van Zandt’s follow up album to Men Without Woman defined a turning point in his career. Starting with his sophomore album Voice of America released in 1984, Van Zandt’s music would take on a far more political tone. Politics, history and social issues would formulate his music and career fueled by his next series of solo albums. In 1985, Steven Van Zandt created an activist group to raise awareness over the issues of South Africa’s apartheid policy. It resulted in the Sun City project and the song he composed entitled “Sun City.” 54 musical artists joined with Steven Van Zandt in recording the song and an album eventually emerged with artists contributing songs. Concerts were performed all in the hopes of stopping South Africa’s racist apartheid policy,
For almost fifteen years from 1975 to 1989, Steven Van Zandt was one of the busiest musicians in rock and roll. However, the 1990s saw big changes in the music business. Nirvana came along and turned the music world upside down. Bruce Springsteen fired the E. Street Band so that he could work with a new set of musicians and explore what Springsteen defined as a “rock and soul sound.” However, in 1999 the calm came to an end as the E Street Band reunited and Steven Van Zandt found himself standing in the shoes of a character named Silvio on HBO’s new mob series entitled The Sopranos. Somehow, Steven Van Zandt managed to balance performing on tour with the E Street Band and filming The Sopranos at the same time. Even more impressive was while filming The Sopranos and performing with the E Street Band, Steven Van Zandt found the time to release a new studio album titled Born Again Savage. It was his fifth solo album.
In 2011, Steven Van Zandt celebrated the release of a television show he co-wrote and starred in titled Lilyhammer. The show was released on Netflix and stands as one of the first original shows to air on the Netflix streaming service.
In 2017, Steven Van Zandt released a covers album entitled Soulfire. What set this one apart from other artists who have released covers albums, was that Soulfire was an album for the most part filled with Steven Van Zandt songs that had been recorded by other artists, but for the first time was being recorded by Steven Van Zandt himself. It was pretty similar to what Carole King had done with her multi-million selling album entitled Tapestry back in 1974.
One year ago, in 2019, Steven Van Zandt released his first studio album of all new material in twenty years. The record entitled Summer of Sorcery is a spectacular statement of brilliant original songs performed and written by a musician who seems to never run out of gas.
Our 10 Essential Steven Van Zandt songs list attempts to present some of the highlights of Steven Van Zandt’s amazing career. It is by far, not a definite list, but rather just a small sampling of all the styles of music he has written for other artists as well as many of his own album tracks. We tried to mix it up as well as we could. We hope this list inspires you to check out all the great solo Steven Van Zandt albums. All of them have just been re-released with bonus disks. Many of them have been out of print for a long time.
# 10 – Daddy’s Come Home
We open up our 10 Essential Steven Van Zandt Songs with this incredibly beautiful song Steven Van Zandt wrote for Gary U.S. Bonds entitled “Daddy’s Come Home.” The song was released on Gary U.S. Bonds comeback album titled Dedication. The song’s double entendre seems to signify Gary U.S Bonds comeback as well as the sweet story it presents literally. However you choose to interpret this beautiful song, it stands as one of the most heartfelt ballads Steven Van Zandt ever composed. For anther beautiful Steven Van Zandt ballad written for Gary U.S. Bonds, check out the closing song on Bond’s On The Line album entitled “The Last.”
# 9 – This Time Baby’s Gone for Good
The first three Southside Johnny albums was explosive rock and roll records that stand as some of our favorite albums of the 1970s. Steven Van Zandt played a large role in all three albums. The great record Hearts of Stone was produced by Steven Van Zandt. Seven out of the album’s nine songs were written by Steven Van Zandt with one of them sharing a songwriting credit with Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny on “Trapped Again.” Bruce wrote the other two songs on the album.
There are so many great Steven Van Zandt songs on this record that made it so challenging to pick just one. We loved the bass part one on “I Played The Fool.” “Got To Be a Better Way Home” was simply killer. In the end, we went with the soul infused track “This Time Baby’s Gone For Good.” We could listen to this one over and over again. An oh…. those fabulous horn parts. Simply sensational stuff.
# 8 – This Time It’s for Real
Our second of three Southside Johnny recordings of Steven Van Zandt songs appears on this list at number eight. The follow up album to Southside Johnny’s debut record was released in 1977 entitled This Time It’s For Real. This was another great Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes album produced by Steven Van Zandt. On the album, Steven Van Zandt composed six songs plus two additional with Bruce Springsteen for a total of 8 out of the 10 songs on the record. This is another tough choice as so many of these are great songs. Nonetheless, our favorite was the album’s title track “This Time It’s For Real.” This one was a killer opening track for the record and also became a very common opening number for Southside Johnny’s live shows. I wonder how difficult it was to write such great songs and watch somebody else sing them. Maybe we should ask Burt Bacharach that question too.
# 7 – Princess Of Little Italy
Continuing with our top 10 Steven Van Zandt songs list we turn to his first solo album released under the name Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul entitled Men without Women. The album was released in 1981. The song “Princess of Little Italy,” sounded like nothing else on the record. This is an incredibly original piece of music that in some sort of way previewed the future Hollywood roles of The Sopranos’ Silvio Dante and Lilyhammer’s Frank Tagliano that loomed twenty years later in Steven Van Zandt’s future.
# 6 – Communion
We jump many years ahead now on this Steven Van Zandt songs list from Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul first solo album to his most recent release in 2019 entitled Summer of Sorcery. This was such a great album that embraced the early Disciples of Soul sound with a more modern and a bit heavier approach to the music. It worked perfectly. When people say there’s no great new music out anymore, play them this record.
# 5 – Bitter Fruit
After the release of his first solo album, Little Steven turned to politics and social issues after he left the E Street Band in 1984. He released three albums in the 1980s that dealt with those issues. In 1987, Steven Van Zandt released the album Freedom – No Compromise. It was perhaps his most political album alongside Revolution that was released in 1989. Featured here is the track “Bitter Fruit,” in which musician Ruben blades shared lead vocals. This was a powerful piece of music that defined true artistic growth and well-informed social consciousness in the artistry of Steven Van Zandt
# 4 – Out Of The Darkness
The video for Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul great song Out Of The Darkness opens up with a wonderful shot of the band walking towards the camera. The song was released on Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul’s second album entitled Voice of America. The album was released in 1984. The sound of the eighties is all over this track. Listen to those keyboards bathed in production. This is big sounding music covering big issues. It’s a transitional album that defined Steven Van Zandt’s growth as an artist that was still continuing even after all the spectacular songs he had already written.
# 3 – Born Again Savage
When I first purchased this album in 1999 and stuck the CD in my car player, I was completely blown away by what I heard. This sounded like something from 1968. It was heavy, it was psychedelic and it was freaking great. For all the soul infused songs that Steven Van Zandt had written over the years for Southside Johnny, Steven Van Zandt’s real inspiration can shining through on this one. Garage Rock, 1960s style. Born Again Savage was the album’s title track. If you are rock and roll fan, you must own this album.
# 2 – Lyin’ In A Bed Of Fire
Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul 1981 debut album Men Without Woman was filled with so many fantastic songs. The album cover was shot by the brilliant photographer Jim Marchese who was Springsteen’s photographer on the River tour. Marchese captured the essence of Little Steven so perfectly in that album cover photo. The photo defined the energy and the passion of an artist that was ready to walk out of the darkness of that foyer behind him and make his own mark. This was the song that did it.
# 1 – I Don’t Want To Go Home
We close out our top 10 Steven Van Zandt songs list with the song that started it all for Little Steven and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The song was the opening track on the Juke’s first album. It was also the first single released. It received substantial airplay on both am and fm radio in 1976. It was never a huge hit single but it has become Southside Johnny’s signature song along with the album’s Springsteen penned song “The Fever.” In the end, chart success doesn’t matter to us, great songs do, and “I Don’t Want To Go Home,” is a pure gem.