This is a list of Springsteen’s finest ten endeavors from the decade. One may be surprised to find some of his best tunes in this list. Even though his fans and critics didn’t take well to these records, they were home to some very special tracks. This list includes all three full releases, the MTV live album, and the fresh recordings on his ‘Greatest Hits’ album.
# 10 ‘Red Headed Woman’ – ‘Bruce Springsteen In Concert MTV Unplugged’ – 1993
‘Red Headed Woman’ was a previously unreleased song in Springsteen’s catalog which he decided to open his MTV live performance with. Sure, the lyrics are pretty crass. There’s something fetching about Springsteen’s persona in the recording, though, and the song is darn catchy to boot. The Boss’ Hank Williams-esque yodeling shows an entirely different side of his lively character.
That lively character was also refreshing after a series of slightly depressing albums, such as 1987’s ‘Tunnel Of Love,’ which catalogs his first divorce. ‘Red Headed Woman’ is fun, which is something Springsteen didn’t exactly exude crooning about “brilliant disguises” and being “one step up and two steps back.”
Note: Even streaming catalogs like Spotify don’t seem to care much for Springsteen’s 90s content. There’s a few typos in their listings, and this album is actually classified under the wrong year.
# 9 ‘Murder Incorporated’ – ‘Greatest Hits’ – 1995
‘Greatest Hits’ is a very unusual compilation. In 1995, Springsteen opted to release his ‘greatest hits’ on one album. Almost a third of the release, however, was new, unheard songs. As such, Springsteen got panned for not including more classics. The critics didn’t particularly enjoy the new songs, either. It’s been twenty one years, though, and time has favored those songs. They’re actually very good.
‘Murder Incorporated’ is one of the songs Springsteen recorded specifically for ‘Greatest Hits.’ Even though the song had been written many years before the ‘Greatest Hits,’ release and had been bootlegged often, the recording for the ‘Greatest Hits,’ package was brand new. It’s quintessentially Springsteen with hard, driving ‘wall of sound’ instrumentation, ferocious lead vocals, and intense subject matter. ‘Murder Incorporated’ sits at home perfectly with tracks like ‘Badlands’ and ‘Hungry Heart,’ which were also included in the compilation.
# 8 –‘The New Timer’ – ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ – 1995
‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ was Springsteen’s last album of the 1990s. It’s mostly just Springsteen and his guitar crooning Americana themes, so it’s essentially the spiritual successor to 1982’s ‘Nebraska.’ When Springsteen writes Americana folk music, it’s worth noting that he pulls a lot of influence from 1940s stylings. Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl are very heavily infused into these songs. That also means they tend to be quite the downers.
‘The New Timer’ takes its namesake from a phrase coined in the literary world in the 80s. Essentially, ‘new timers’ were working class people driven into poverty by economic hardship. In the song, a man has to leave his wife and children to work, ultimately falling victim to the nomadic life of a hobo. He befriends a fellow hobo, Frank, who ends up dying. It’s a song Guthrie would have written.
# 7 –‘Better Days’ – ‘Lucky Town’ – 1992
Springsteen’s entry into the 90s was oddly bizarre, perhaps even historic, in a way. He released two full albums on the same exact day in 1992: ‘Human Touch’ and ‘Lucky Town.’ Fans love to hate both of them, and both were met with a collective shoulder shrug. The two albums have very different atmospheres as well. The former is much more upbeat and in your face, while the latter is more bare and introspective.
‘Better Days’ opens ‘Lucky Town’ with a good post-relationship endeavor. The song is a really powerful statement when you compare it to the album that preceded it, which included songs like ‘When You’re Alone’ and ‘Cautious Man.’ “These are better days,” Springsteen sings with a newfound splendor. These were his “happy songs,” according to him.
# 6 – ‘I Wish I Were Blind’ – ‘Human Touch’ – 1992
‘I Wish I Were Blind’ is a song that sounds like it was pulled directly off of ‘Tunnel of Love.’ Its production is similar, as is its sentiment. ‘Human Touch’ offers a dichotomy to ‘Lucky Town’ not just in sonic quality, but in emotion. While the album is often very upbeat and rocking, it has moments of intense sadness and crisis. (Such as this song.)
‘I Wish I Were Blind’ does what Springsteen does better than anyone else: it’s relatable. “I wish I were blind when I see you with your man,” he sings. Who hasn’t felt that in life? Break ups are a dagger through the heart – watching the other person recover from that extends the pain even further. On the bright side, though, that female vocalist on the track is Patti Scialfa, Springsteen’s new wife at the time. (She remains his wife to this day and tours with the E Street Band.) ‘I Wish I Were Blind’ is a diamond amidst a somewhat forgettable album.
# 5 – ‘This Hard Land’ – ‘Greatest Hits’ – 1995
If ‘This Hard Land’ sounds like it was meant to be on the era-defining ‘Born In The USA,’ that’s because it was. It was left on the cutting room floor, though, and Springsteen ultimately revisited it to record it for ‘Greatest Hits.’ The song boasts a fantastic harmonica section, Springsteen’s uplifting, even inspirational Americana observations, and a really tight backing band.
‘This Hard Land’ has become a favorite for Springsteen’s live shows, and he still performs it nowadays. It’s not to be confused with ‘American Land,’ a song that’s also become a live favorite without a real release on a full album.
# 4 – ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ – ‘Philadelphia Soundtrack’ – 1994
1993’s ‘Philadelphia’ is one of the great American dramas of its time. The film rightfully landed Tom Hanks his first Oscar for Best Actor, and Springsteen won his first Oscar for ‘Streets of Philadelphia,’ the film’s opening song. (Hanks would later win the next year, too.) The track’s instrumentation is mostly Springsteen toying with a drum machine and self-production in his basement. Yes, Bruce Springsteen won an Oscar for a song he made in his basement.
The self-production of ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ is definitely evident. The beat is clearly a drum machine, and Springsteen has overdubbed his own vocals in layers along with synthesizers. The raw simplicity of this, however, is what makes ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ so impactful. Springsteen captures the anguish and pain of Tom Hanks’ Andrew Beckett in an unforgettable fashion, making it one of Springsteen’s best songs ever, not just of the decade.
# 3 – ‘Blood Brothers’ – ‘Greatest Hits’ – 1995
‘Blood Brothers’ first saw release as one of the new tracks on ‘Greatest Hits’ in ‘95. The following year, Springsteen released an EP with an “alternate rock version.” Don’t waste your time with that version – the acoustic rendition of ‘Greatest Hits’ is where the emotion and fervor of the song lies. The song is a perfect ode to friendship; running up a long, winding road as brothers amidst the hardships of the world. There aren’t a whole lot of songs about friendship. (That aren’t love ballads, anyway.) ‘Blood Brothers’ is one of the best.
‘Blood Brothers’ also marks one of Springsteen’s most lovely compositions. The screeching harmonicas, fingerpicked acoustics, and droning saxophone are superb. It’s a tiny bit reminiscent of Bob Dylan stylistically, which of course, would be the highest of compliments to Springsteen.
# 2 – ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ – ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ – 1995
‘The Ghost of Tom Joad,’ the title track of its album, may be one of Springsteen’s most enduring bouts through songwriting. It was horribly underappreciated upon its release, and because of that, it’s grown into a cult classic over the years amongst fans. Springsteen’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’ inspired song is an admirable trek through Dust Bowl era songwriting with a contemporary twist. (It also pulls inspiration from Guthrie, as aforementioned above about this album.)
Now, this song is included on this list since it was written and released in 1995. It would be a disservice, however, to not acknowledge and credit the ultimate incarnation of the song. In 2014, Springsteen teamed up with Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello to give the song the treatment it was begging for. The result, which is on the album ‘High Hopes,’ eclipses its predecessor in nearly every way.
# 1 – ‘If I Should Fall Behind’ – ‘Lucky Town’ – 1992
‘If I Should Fall Behind’ is an interesting track of Springsteen’s. Firstly, let it be said that it may not only be one Springsteen’s best ballads, but one of the most enduring and stunning ballads ever written. The song has three notable renditions: its ‘Lucky Town’ debut, the live performance on MTV’s live album, and Springsteen’s re-working in the early 2000s, which appears on ‘Live in New York City.’ This order represents Springsteen continuing to craft the song for the better. The final product is undeniable the strongest.
Thus, let’s touch on why that is. The final version of ‘If I Should Fall Behind’ incorporates the whole E Street Band, which was estranged from Springsteen during the song’s release. Uncharacteristically, Springsteen allows each member of the band to sing. As it turns out, they all have enchanting voices – even The Big Man. (Clarence Clemons.)
The vulnerability of the song’s lyricism is exquisite, and at the end of the day, it evolved into the product it was supposed to be. It’s the epitome of Springsteen’s soft side. Its execution in the later years of its ongoing development is simply jaw-dropping. During this time, Springsteen also stripped down the instrumentation heavily, which served it extraordinarily well. Check out the video below to fall in love with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band all over again…