# 10 – Nebraska (1982)
You can’t help but wonder how this album would have sounded if Bruce Springsteen had recorded it initially with the E Street Band. During the Born in the USA Tour, Bruce had performed many of the songs from Nebraska with the E Street Band. “Atlantic City,” and “Johnny 99,” were given the E Street treatment. However, Bruce fans were already familiar with the material before the Born in the U.S.A. electric versions were first performed.
Nebraska was one of the most poetic Bruce Springsteen albums ever released. Nonetheless, there is this feeling that if Bruce had recorded the album with the E Street band, it might have been just as big as the Born in the U.S.A. album that followed a few years later. Then again, the reason so many hardcore Bruce fans loved Nebraska was because of the organic simplicity and focus on songwriting that the album presented. It was an album of songs that were so well written that they have been covered by legendary artists such as Ani DiFranco, Aimee Mann, Steve Earle and Johnny Cash.
# 9 – Greetings From Asbury Park (1973)
The first Bruce Springsteen album released in 1973 contained many Springsteen songs that would become concert staples throughout Bruce Springsteen’s career. The track “Spirits in the Night,” was played in almost every show during the Darkness on the Edge of Town Tour. The song “Growing Up,” became one of the highlights on the Live 17-85 box set. The opening track Blinded By the Light was covered by Manfred Mann in 1977.
Songs like “For You, Lost in the Flood” and It’s Hard to be “A Saint in the City,” have become some of the most loved and iconic songs in the Springsteen catalog. When Bruce first released the album, many writers compared him to Bob Dylan. However, those writers were very unfamiliar with the rock and roll Bruce that had been performing in clubs on the Jersey Shore for the previous ten years. The Dylan reference many have been a sign of respect, but in the end Bruce proved them entirely wrong as his concert performances were the complete opposite of the Bob Dylan persona on the stage.
# 8 – Magic (2007)
As a teenager growing up in the 1960’s, Springsteen was heavily inspired by the protest music of artists like Donovan, and Bob Dylan. At the same time Springsteen was also listening to the sweeping melodies of bands like The Byrds, The Animals, etc.. The Phil Spector wall of sound and the beautiful voice of Roy Orbison also lay at the foundation of Springsteen’s musical upbringing. Those influences have always been mentioned by Springsteen in interviews. They have appeared in parts on all his records. However on Bruce Springsteen’s Magic album, his early influences are more prominent than on any of his previous albums.
The Magic record is a masterpiece of beautiful 1960’s style inspired melodies wrapped in lyrics protesting the politics of the 2000’s. Springsteen never called out anyone by name,but it’s clear when he says the nation had been hijacked, who he was talking about. Great rock and roll has always been inspired by angry rock and roll artists. Springsteen at the time in 2007, seemed very angry. He responded the same way artists like Bob Dylan did in the 1960s. He wrote great songs full of passion, anger and hope. Songs like, “You’ll Be Comin’ Down,” “Your Own Worst Enemy,” “I’ll Work for Your Love,” and “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” sound like they could have been written and recorded in 1968.
Other material on the album such as “Radio Nowhere, Gypsy Biker and Long Way Home,” echoed the style of Springsteen’s work in the 2000’s but still resonated with the album’s concepts of protest and resolve. Bruce Springsteen’s Magic album was released on September 25th 2007.
# 7 – The River (1980)
Bruce Springsteen’s The River album was hailed as the first Bruce Springsteen live album. Even though the record was a studio recording, it seemed at least one half of the album was meant to portray the live Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band experience. And it did not disappoint in presenting fans with the Bruce live party band sound. Songs like “Two Hearts, Crush on You, You Can Look but You Better Not Touch,and Cadillac Ranch,” were pure hand clapping feet stomping juggernauts that worked so well live and on record. The other half of the record defined the Bruce that had grown up through the Darkness tour. Songs like “Point Blank, “The Price you Pay,” Drive All night,” and of course “The River,” exhibited the social and marital concerns that Bruce has written about ever since.
The River album was originally intended to be a single record called The Ties That Bind. However, Bruce changed his mind and delivered to Columbia Records an album that many fans would argue is one of the greatest double albums ever released. Furthermore, Bruce was so prolific during The River recording sessions he produced more outtakes than any other album in his catalog. Outtakes from the album appeared for years on so many bootleg recordings. Finally Bruce decided to release all this outtakes himself in much better quality than the bootleggers had. The outtakes were first released as part of The Tracks 4 CD Box set in 1995. In 2015, Bruce reissued The River album with even more previously unheard of songs recorded for the record.
# 6 – Born in the U.S.A. (1984)
Born in the U.S.A was released on June 4th 1984. The album catapulted Springsteen beyond the levels of popularity than anyone would have ever imagined only a few years earlier. Springsteen was a huge rock star from 1975 to 1984, but the Born in the U.S.A album transformed him into a mass cultural phenomena. The album was a huge economic success. Seven top 10 singles were released from the album. The Born in the U.S.A album landed as the Number one album for the year 1985 on the Billboard Top 100 album charts. Springsteen’s popularity had soared to such extreme heights that the popular national newspaper USA Today ran a front page headline asking if Bruce had become more popular than Elvis Presley. However, many longtime Bruce Springsteen fans resented the mass cultural popularity of the album. Many longtime fans accused the new audiences that they were just along for the ride. Even some critics lambasted the album as a sellout.
But as time as passed, it is become very apparent that the record was a brilliant collection of short rock and roll masterpieces that have stood very well the test of time. Songs like the title track, “Glory Days, No Surrender, I’m on Fire, Cover Me and My Hometown” have become part of the deep fabric of rock and roll history. Seven hit singles is a pretty amazing feat for a record.
# 5 – Tunnel of Love (1987)
Bruce Springsteen’s much anticipated follow up to his life altering and career changing Born in the U.S.A album was released on October 9th 1987. The success of the Born in the U.S.A album took everyone by surprise. The madness that followed seemed to have a direct impact on Springsteen’s personal life. The album Tunnel of Love was a clear reflection of the issues that Springsteen faced under the microscope that his personal life had been subjected too. His failed marriage, the blooming relationship with his female vocalist Patti Scialfa, and simply the onset of his thirties clearly resonated in the writing of the Tunnel of Love album.
The album’s stripped down arrangements took the Born in the U.S.A fans by surprise. However, it was welcomed with open arms by hardcore Springsteen fans who were longing for Bruce to shed the mighty muscle bandanna appearance that so many of them misinterpreted as selling out. The album is warm, romantic, and yet still explored the issues of broken relationships and missed opportunities.
# 4 – The Rising (2002)
It’s hard to believe that it took eighteen years for Springsteen to record another album with the E Street Band after the release of Born In The U.S.A. The release of Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising album on July 30th 2002 was a welcome return of the E Street Band sound. It also marked a new creative period for Springsteen in which fans saw the Boss releasing albums on a more consistent basis than he had ever done in his career.
Springsteen’s The Rising album was a response to the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States World Trade Center and Pentagon. It was a record that was written with the greatest respect in regard to the thousands of lives that were affected by the attacks. Songs like “Into the Fire,” “Lonesome Day,” “Empty Sky,” and “You’re Missing,” dealt directly with the events in a first person narrative. They were painful to listen too at times, yet they were songs that had to be written and performed. But it was songs like “The Rising,” “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” and “My City of Ruins,” that offered the helping hands of Springsteen’s powerful voice and music. It was one of Springsteen most important works of his career and an album that we all needed desperately at that moment in time.
# 3 – The Wild Innocent and E Street Shuffle (1973)
Many Bruce fans would nominate The Wild Innocent and E Street Shuffle their favorite Bruce album. There are two major reasons for that. First reason would be called “Rosalita,” and the second would be called “Incident on 57th Street.” And if you need more reasons, well there’s “Kitty’s Back, New York City Serenade and Sandy.” The Wild Innocent and E Street Shuffle followed Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park.
The album sounded completely different form the first great Bruce album. While many people felt the first album sounded a bit like Bob Dylan, the second album sounded a great deal more like Van Morrison. Listen to the similarity between Springsteen’s “Kitty’s Back,” and “Moondance.” The phrasings that Springsteen used in his vocals very much echoed the same Morrison vocal inflections that were a hallmark of Van’s career. The bass line and chord changes to Kitty’s Back also paid tribute to the legendary “Moondance,” composition.
# 2 – Born To Run (1975)
While it was the Born In the U.S.A album that made Springsteen a household name, it was the Born to Run album that cemented Springsteen’s legacy as releasing one of the greatest albums ever in Rock and Roll History. John Landau was incorrect when he said he had seen the future of rock and roll in 1975 when he first saw Bruce perform. What he should have said was that he had just witnessed one of the greatest moments of all time in rock and roll. There’ not much more that can be said that has not been written already about the Born to Run album. So here’s our review….”Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, Night, Backstreets, Born to Run, Meeting Across the River, She’s the One, and Jungleland.” Do we really have to write anything else ? Well, I guess we can because we can’t help it.
The impact of Born to Run on popular music was astonishing. Much like The Beatles had impacted a generation of artists, Born to Run would serve as an inspiration for so many classic 1970’s albums. Record albums like Tom Waits’ Blue Valentine, Bob Seger’s Night Moves, Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, were all heavily inspired by the Born to Run record.
The impact of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run influenced more than just individual albums, it had an impact on molding or at least influencing artists themselves. It is very easy to hear the Springsteen influence in artists whose careers began after the Born to Run album was released. Artists such as John Mellencamp, Lone Justice, Bon Jovi, Melissa Etheridge, and U2 all released music that displayed elements of Springsteen, lyrical ideas, melodies and arrangements. Bruce Springsteen always cited his influences as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Roy Orbison, Phil Spector and The Beatles. You can hear all those influences in the Born to Run Album. However, Bruce Springsteen created an entire new sound incorporating the best of his heroes while synthesizing his experiences growing up as a loner who eventually evolved into a club musicians lighting it up on stage night after night on the Jersey shore.
As possibly the most anticipated follow up album of all time, Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town was released on June 2nd 1978. I purchased the record the day it was first released and sat in my room listening. I remember at first being very disappointed because there were no epic songs like “Jungleland,” or “Backstreets.” It was a completely different record from what many people like myself were expecting. We were were waiting for Born To Run II. We had not yet realized that Springsteen was an artist that would grow with every new record never looking back.
Perhaps more than any other album in Bruce Springsteen’s catalog, Darkness on the Edge of Town is the album that resonated on the most personal level with the lives of his most dedicated fans. We all loved Born to Run to death, but Born to Run was a work of art that entertained us on cinematic level that was beyond our normal lives. Just like Terry in the song “Backstreets,” we tried to act like the characters in the movies or songs that we were never going to be. Darkness on the Edge of Town was our true story.
Most of his hardcore fans were too young to realize that at the time. But time is the ultimate wake up call. As we grew up song like “Factory, Racing in the Streets, The Promised Land,” all took on significant meanings. Struggling through jobs, relationships, loss and gain, the music of Darkness on the Edge of Town became the soundtrack to our own lives. While we really could not relate with the Magic Rat, we could understand the sound of the factory whistle or punch clock. We did not live in Jungle land, we lived by the 7 Eleven store.
We all faced that Darkness on the Edge of Town multiple times in our lives. It’s how we stood on the ledge and screamed back learning how to survive. Bruce Springsteen taught us that, and that is why Darkness on the Edge of Town is the most important record of his career. At least to us it is.
Updated Nov 26, 2020
Bruce Springsteen Best albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2013
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