It is completely impossible to create a Best Bruce Springsteen Songs list that covers his entire career. Bruce Springsteen’s music has changed dramatically every decade he has been releasing albums. Even within each decade, every Bruce Springsteen album radiates with its own unique voice that distinguishes it from the previous albums. However, in order to honor our task as a history site, we have broken down the list into a five part series that will examine some of his greatest songs from each decade. The 1970’s was easily the most challenging decade to choose only a handful of songs to write about.
Bruce Springsteen released four major albums in the 1970’s. Just about every song on each of his four 1970’s albums has achieved legendary status in the Bruce Springsteen cannon of music. The albums, Greetings From Asbury Park, The Wild Innocent and E Street Shuffle, Born to Run, and Darkness On The Edge Of Town are Rock and Roll Hall of Fame records. What is most extraordinary about those albums is Bruce Springsteen was only in his twenties when he composed and recorded those records. Incredibly, Springsteen was only 23 years old when he composed “Born To Run.”
All of the songs listed below have been analyzed thousands of times by some of rock and roll’s greatest journalists. There have been major symposiums on the work of Springsteen sponsored by some of the greatest institutions and halls of learning in the world. Professors with multiple PhDs have given lectures on the music of Springsteen. Aside from Bob Dylan, Springsteen has probably been the most analyzed single artist in modern music culture. So how in the world can we bring anything new to the discussion on the music of Bruce Springsteen in the 1970s. The answer is simple; make it personal. Yes,of course writing in the first person about a major artist breaks all the rules of journalism. However, there is no better way to express the feelings of Springsteen fans and how dear his music was to so many lives, than to express his songs from a personal point of view. In reality, my personal point of view will quite literally echo similar stories from other fans. So even though I may be writing from a personal viewpoint, rest assured I am speaking on behalf of my fellow Bruce Springsteen fans I grew up with as a teenager in the 1970s. The rest of our series will be written entirely from a journalistic perspective in third person. However, for the 1970’s, its personal.
We hope you enjoy the list. We would love to hear from you. Please share your Springsteen stories and which songs mean the most to you.
# 10 – Racing in the Street
Bruce Springsteen’s song “Racing in the Street,” was released in 1978 on the Darkness On The Edge Of Town LP. “Racing in the Street,” was the closing song on the album. The wait for the follow-up album to Born To Run was extremely frustrating. It’s funny how in the 2000’s we are so used to artists taking many years in between albums. But back in the nineteen seventies, artists routinely released albums every six months as most record deals contracted them to do so. But Bruce Springsteen was caught up in a managerial dispute which delayed the release of his follow-up album to Born To Run.
Finally, after close to a three-year wait, Darkness On The Edge Of Town was released on June 2 1978. I brought the album the first day it was released. It took me almost an hour to walk to the record store and an hour back. There were no computer downloads or streaming back then. When you wanted to hear music and you were too young to drive, and lived in suburbia, you walked….and walked.
“Jungleland,” was the epic closing track on Born to Run. When listening to Darkness On The Edge Of Town for the first time, many of us were expecting another “Jungleland,” at the end of the record. However, after spinning the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album on my turntable the first time, I remember being extremely surprised that the album closed without an epic number like “Jungleland,” At first listen, “Racing in the Street,” was a disappointment. There were no epic sax solos, or blazing triumphed finishes like in “Jungleland.” No, in “Racing in the Street,” the song just faded off into the distance, travelling into the unknown.
Then we listened to the “Racing in the Street,” again, and again. It’s depth of the lyrics started to become clear. Bruce Springsteen was no longer singing about fantasy on a cinematic level. We had now gone from the land of the “magic rat,” to the parking lot of 7 Elevens. Springsteen, as he has done throughout the rest of his career would not look back. On Darkness On The Edge Of Town, the story was about us. A It was a story told on such a level that it could relate to so many. The epic line that has touched so many of us in that song was when he sung. “Now some guys they just give up living, and start dying little by little piece by piece. Other guys come home from work and wash up, and go Racing in the Street.”
Songs like “Racing in the Street,” on the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album changed the dynamic between Springsteen and his fans. An artist that was once hailed as the “Future of Rock and Roll,” by Jon Landau, and had found himself on the covers of Newsweek and Time magazine in the same week, now seemed more approachable in a lyrical sense. Bruce had begun to write about the common man and woman. He was sharing their problems and realizing their dreams. It started on the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album, and it was no more apparent than on the song “Racing in the Street.”
# 9 – The Promised Land
“The Promised Land,” was the opening track to side two of the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album. It was the third single released from the Darkness album following “Prove it all Night,” and “Badlands.” It is the second of three songs that represent the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album on this Best Bruce Springsteen Songs 1970’s list. From a musical standpoint, “The Promised Land,” is the song that connects the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album to the Born In The U.S.A record. The screeching harmonica and driving highway beat represented the musical avenues that Bruce would explore on the Born in the U.S.A. album. In between those albums, Bruce drove down many other streets, but eventually he arrived in a place that started with “The Promised Land.”
The song “The Promised Land,” seems dear to Springsteen’s heart. In many interviews he has acknowledged that “The Promised Land,” was one of his favorite songs. Springsteen has never been one to just write off the top of his head. His lyrics are filled with imagery and spirit inspired by great works of art and historical occurrences. From the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album onward, Springsteen would make references to instances of culture in his lyrical content. At times those references would slap you instantly across the face. while at other times they were buried deep within the song in order to create an air of ambiguity open to interpretation. Many times when Springsteen was asked by fans what he meant by a lyric, he would answer back asking,”What does it mean to you.” No matter how one does interpret “The Promised Land,” what is clear is the song remains one of Springsteen’s most important recordings and a true turning point in his writing style.
# 8 – Incident on 57th Street
Bruce Springsteen’s” Incident on 57th Street,” opens up side two of Bruce Springsteen’s second album The Wild Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. If we were to choose a best album side of Springsteen’s entire career, it would be hard to argue against this one. What opens with “Incident on 57th Street,” segues into “Rosalita,” and then ends with “New York City Serenade.” In simple terms, its Springsteen’s West Side Story. Bruce even makes references to the classic modern day tale of Romeo and Juliet by including the names of characters from Shakespeare’s story in “Incident on 57th Street.”
It’s incredible that this was the same Bruce Springsteen singing on “Incident on 57th Street,” that was singing “Blinded by the Light,” only a few months earlier on his album debut. Springsteen tossed aside the rock and roll folk music signature sound of Greetings From Asbury Park in favor of a jazz inspired Van Morrison style recording. I remember a friend of mine asking if I was listening to Van Morrison back in the 70’s when he heard me spinning “The E Street Shuffle.”
The song’s epic story and Springsteen’s emotional street cool style singing juxtaposed against David Sancious’ fluid piano playing made for a track for the ages. And speaking of David Sancious, one may wonder how much input the trained jazz musician had on the recording of the album. In rock and roll no matter how many interviews an artist gives throughout their career, there are always untold stories kept from the public. David Sancious’ story is an interesting one.
The sound of Springsteen’s second album is easily the most distinctive of his career. There is still a bit of a bar band feel to the record that is driven by the groove of drummer Vinnie Mad Dog Lopez. Yet, the brilliance of David Sancious on piano elevated the sound of the band to successfully accompany Springsteen’s more musically complex compositions. The transition to a very polished professional high energy sounding band would become complete with the addition of Max Weinberg on drums for the Born To Run album. David Sancious jazz influenced keyboard mastery would also be replaced by a pianist Roy Bittan whose style would help mark a dramatic change of direction in the E Street Band sound for the Born to Run album and beyond.
# 7 – Lost in the Flood
Closing out side one of Bruce Springsteen’s first album, was the great track “Lost in the Flood.” The song clearly stood out from the rest of the record. The song was a sneak peek into the style of music that Springsteen would explore on the Born to Run album. If you ask many Springsteen fans what their favorite track was on Greetings from Asbury Park, many of them will choose “Lost in the Flood.”
The Dylan comparisons that Springsteen dealt with on his first album were in many ways really not that unfair. Springsteen lyrics on his first album were similar to some of Dylan’s work in the way Springsteen used metaphors and bathed many of his stories in ambiguity. Springsteen utilized adjectives and adverbs in such ways that made interpretation of his songs quite challenging at times for the average person. But upon deeper analysis its becomes very clear the brilliance behind his lyrics. In the opening verse of “Lost in the Flood,” Springsteen writes, “The Ragamuffin gunner is returning home like a hungry runaway.” That line has always seemed to be a clear reference to a returning war veteran. Many writers have always argued it was about a Vietnam veteran, but Springsteen has been quoted as saying that “Lost in the Flood,” was about trying to get a feel for his parents generation. It was according to Springsteen, as being about the generation that dealt with World War II and The Korean War.
In listening to songs like “Lost in the Flood,” one may argue that there was also something mysterious resonating within the music. As brilliant as the words were that Springsteen wrote, its possible that many of his lyrical ideas in songs such as “Lost in the Flood,” were also written on an unconscious level. Songwriters will always talk about how at times thoughts and ideas will just appear to them without any understanding of why and how. It’s the unknown to many artists that distinguishes writers from those who write from some sort of divine or mystical force to those who just write based on point of view and fact.
On the song “Lost in the Flood,” you can hear a more self-directed thought process in intentionally rhyming lines for the purpose of writing an entertaining original sounding rock song. “Blinded by the Light,” is a brilliant and very original piece of music, but you can hear the conscious writing process. But in “Lost in the Flood,” there is something far deeper going one. There is the force that perhaps Springsteen did not even understand, but it was force that he would forge ahead with and utilize in helping him craft a catalog of music unlike anyone else. Some would argue it was the opposite and “Blinded by the Light,” with its creative poetic lines was the more magical song. However, it was “Lost in the Flood,” that had the impact, the moment that stops you in your tracks, the lines that aren’t written, they are born.
“And some kid comes blastin’ ’round the corner, but a cop puts him right away
He lays on the street holding his leg, screaming something in Spanish, still breathing when I walked away,”
# 6 – Darkness on the Edge of Town
“Darkness on the Edge of Town,” is perhaps the most important song in Bruce Springsteen’s career. And for many of us, a song that we have all turned to at some moment in our lives when the only one that could offer salvation and rescue was ourselves. “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” was a song of defiance. It was the story of how a human being at times stands alone facing that great void of hopelessness, despair and turmoil. It’s how man or woman stares right back at the darkness of futility. How he or she stands on a hill glaring back, tossing everything aside, letting go, while holding on.
Springsteen was in the fight of his like after the Born to Run album was released. He was fighting for control of his career. This was a man who defined the concepts of artistic integrity and character. “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” was the story of that battle. At the heart of the song lay the line, “Well I lost my money and I lost my wife.” It’s a very relatable line as so many of us usually lose one and sometimes both. So, how do we survive, how do we move on? Springsteen yell’s out “Those things don’t seem to matter much to me now.” Springsteen fights back. “Cause tonight I’ll get on that hill cause I can’t stop, I’ll get on that hill with everything I got.”
There you have it, no matter how deep the darkness, or as close to the edge one may get, there is that moment, that point in time where you just scream back and walk on. No surrender, no looking back. There are songs that are legendary, iconic and forever ingrained in the halls of rock and roll immortality. And then there are songs, that simply save lives….
# 5 – Backstreets
For most of us who discovered Bruce Springsteen in the 1970’s, our first encounter was with the “Born to Run,” single. Our second encounter was hearing the album’s opening track “Thunder Road.” And then there’s “Backstreets.” It’s no coincidence that Backstreets Magazine founder Charles Cross titled his very successful fan magazine after the song. If we were to examine Springsteen’s 1970’s output and try to pin point the one song that defined the heart, soul and spirit of the Springsteen sound, it would be “Backstreets.”
There was a magic that Springsteen presented to his fans in the 1970’s. It’s a feeling hard to define if you did not grow up during that time period. And not everyone who grew up during that time period got it. Charles Cross felt it. Cross defined it in his book Backstreets when he described meeting Springsteen for the first time. Cross wrote that he had met Bruce and mentioned to him that he understood. Bruce just smiled and hugged him.
The first Bruce Springsteen concert I attended was in 1978. I have never seen another concert as spectacular as that show at Madison Square Garden in June of 1978. I was at the famous New Year’s Eve shown in 1980 at the Nassau Coliseum only a few years later. As legendary as a show that was, it did not have the magical feeling that the 78 show had. In 1978 it was as Bruce had been let loose out of jail and was bent on taking over the rock and roll world. The only other performer that I had ever seen that came close to that intensity in 1978 was Prince in 1988.
The 1978 tour had many special moments, but most die-hard old school Bruce fans would argue that the performance of “Backstreets,” trumped all other performances. It was the coda at the end of “Backstreets,” that made the performance so special. Many fans referred to it as “Sad Eyes.” It was a coda that seemed a bit inspired by the Ben E King song, “Don’t Play That Song(You lied)” When Bruce released the River album a few years later, the live coda to “Backstreets.” fueled the heart of the song “Drive All Night.” It was a great song but it did not have the same spirit that Bruce had sung with at the end of the live “Backstreets.” When the live album was released in 1985, so many of us were disappointed that the coda to “Backstreets,” was cut from the official live release.
Many Bruce fans choose “Backstreets,” as their favorite Bruce Springsteen song. The escapism from reality, and then the ultimate realization of commonality resonated deeply with all of us. It contains perhaps one of Springsteen’s most treasured lines that in reality, summed up most of our own lives.
“Remember all the movies, Terry, we’d go see
Trying to learn to walk like the heroes we thought we had to be
And after all the time, to find we’re just like all the rest
Stranded in the park and forced to confess
To hiding on the Backstreets”
# 4 – Born To Run
I was sitting in ninth grade journalism class arguing with the teacher over why I thought the status of Elton John’s new album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy was the singer’s greatest record. After being told I had no idea what I was talking about, I just sat there in silence frustrated over being denied my youthful journalistic opinion. While sitting, an old freaky looking 20 year old super senior sat down next to me and asked if he could make a suggestion. He asked if I had ever heard of Bruce Springsteen. I informed him I had never heard of the singer. I was told that I should cut out of school the next period and go buy the album immediately because it would change everything for me. I was also told that he would want to know the next day what I thought of it. Well this guy kind of scared me a bit (he scared everyone) so I thought I would go after school and check it out.
I went to the store AFTER school that day and decided to just buy the single of “Born to Run,” instead of spending four dollars on the album. I threw it on the turntable when I got home. Like so many of us, I was shocked at first hearing Springsteen’s voice. It was so low and harsh sounding unlike the pop singers of the time period. We were used to hearing the high tenor voices of the Beatles, and Elton John on the radio. This Bruce Springsteen guy sounded very different. I sat on the bed listening, not really sure if I liked what I heard. Then came the moment in the middle of the song when the music came to that freezing halt, and the band sustained that one note for a few seconds. Right in the middle of that hold, Springsteen shouted 1,2,3,4 and the band and music came roaring back in. I had never heard anything like that in a rock and roll song before. It was like a Rocky moment. I dropped the needle back on that 45 rpm single record and listened again and again and again…….
# 3 – Rosalita
Released on Bruce Springsteen’s second album The Wild Innocent and E Street Shuffle and sandwiched between “Incident on 57th Street,” and “New York Cit Serenade,” Springsteen’s “Rosalita,” became one of his greatest concert numbers. For so many years throughout the 1970’s. “Rosalita,” was Springsteen’s show closer before he returned for his encores. It was the perfect closing song. The sound of that opening guitar riff would lift every single concert goer out of their seats. You couldn’t sit down when you heard that sound. It was the ultimate party song. It was Springsteen’ ultimate party song.
All bands cover songs like “Twist and Shout, Mony Mony, and Old time Rock and Roll.” But no one covers “Rosalita,” because it wouldn’t work. It’s a song so unique that only Springsteen could sing it. No one else could sell a lyric like, “My machine she’s a dud, I’m stick in the mud somewhere in the swamps of Jersey”. If you ever saw Springsteen in the 1970’s perform “Rosalita,” you experienced a euphoria that only those who witnessed it could understand. Springsteen concerts in the 1970′ had many magical moments. The performance of “Rosalita,” every night stood at the top of that list.
# 2 – Jungleland
The night John Lennon was murdered I was sitting in my room alone listening to New York’s FM Radio station WNEW. It is difficult to describe the emotions so many of us felt when we first heard the news of Lennon’s death. It had been like a part of our own personal existence and history had been ripped from our souls into a plane of emptiness. I sat there listening to the disc jockey on WNEW search for the words to describe what had just happened. I believe it was Vin Scelsa that was talking. I was listening, but I was also in shock, so I can’t remember the exact words. However what I will never forget was that moment Vince stated he could not find the words to define what happened. After Vin Scelsa struggled, he went silent for a few seconds and then from that small transistor radio came the opening string line to “Jungleland.”
I had been listening to that song for five years before the night of Lennon’s death. It had always been one of my favorite Springsteen songs with its epic cinematic lyrics and majestic musical arrangement. But when hearing it played after Lennon’s death, it took on a meaning far deeper and important than Springsteen may have ever imagined. I am sure most stations played Lennon songs that night after the announcement, but “Jungleland,” was an emotional choice that offered some sort of reckoning that this was the world we lived in. It was a harsh statement but it was a realistic one.
Springsteen’s “Jungleland,” was a tale that brought us together. Those of us who lived in the cities understood what he meant when Bruce sang, “And the girl shuts out the bedroom light,” There was a solace in the lyrics because that’s what we did. We turned away when we had to in order to start a new day. It wasn’t ignorance or even thoughtlessness, it was simply necessary “And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be.” That line is the meaning of “Jungleland.” It’s why they played the song after Lennon death., It’s why the song resonated so dearly to may of us growing up in the 1970’s . It was reality presented through the cinematic imagination of an artist’s writing material on a level of brilliance most artists never achieve.
# 1 – Thunder Road
“Thunder Road,” was the second Bruce Springsteen Song I had ever heard. After purchasing the “Born To Run,” single, I walked back to the Smith Haven Mall the next day to buy the Born to Run album. As “Thunder Road,” was the opening track on the Born To Run album, it became for millions of fans including myself the first song we ever heard on a Bruce Springsteen album.
It must be pointed out that Born to Run was the first Bruce Springsteen album most of us brought in the nineteen seventies. It was after we all fell in love with the Born to Run album that we purchased his first two records Greetings From Asbury Park and The Wild Innocent and E Street Shuffle.
I would love to write that the first time I heard “Thunder Road,” I fell to my knees in awe while experiencing one of the greatest rock and roll records of all time. But, that’s not what happened. There was so much depth to the track that most of it sailed right over my head. After listening to “Thunder Road,” I pulled the needle of the vinyl and went out to play basketball without listening to any more songs on the album. I remember thinking that night that I had waited my money on buying the album.
In school the next day, there was a voice inside my head that kept yelling at me to play the album again. There had been so much hype about the record, that I must have missed something. I went home that afternoon and once again dropped the needle on “Thunder Road.” I heard the lyric, ” You ain’t a Beauty but hey your alright, and that’s alright with me.” Wow, wait a second now, that as a pretty cool line. I think I kind of get that. Yeah, he is talking to those…. those of us who are never usually talked to. Boom! Right there was the moment of realization, the moment many Bruce Springsteen fans go to when they come to the realization that they are hearing something extraordinary. Boom ! it’s there, its been discovered. You either get it, or you don’t.
Best Bruce Springsteen Songs 1970s article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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