Bruce Springsteen's career was launched amid much hype about the 'new Dylan' and 'the future of rock'n'roll'. That he was able to overcome the scepticism this generated was due to the fact that, when everybody had calmed down, there was actually more than a modicum of truth to both claims.
His first couple of albums included some fine songs and he was already undeniably a stupendous live performer. But it was 1975's Born To Run that finally presented the material to match the hype, establishing both the heroic conviction and the abiding symbols that characterised his work - the highway, the girl and the guitar. It was the American Dream reinvented for the Vietnam generation, still full of hope for deliverance, but angry, too, that the 'tramps like us' had been betrayed.
He peopled his widescreen, heartland rock with a cast of characters struggling against despair and clinging on to fragile dreams, giving authentic voice to small-town America a world removed from New York sophistication and Californian hedonism. The acoustic Nebraska (1982) was a brilliant change of pace. But like all truly great artists, by now almost every album was radically different. His most low-key effort was followed with the resilient but often-misunderstood Born In The USA (1984). Then he showed he could also get up-lose-and-personal on Tunnel of Love (1987).
The '90s brought just three studio albums - and two of those were released on the same day. But by now he was not so much The Boss as the alternative voice of America, and after 9/11 his was the response everyone wanted to hear. The result was The Rising (2002), on which he intuitively got the tone just right. The failure of his strenuous efforts to stop Bush in the 2004 election raised questions he has yet to answer and we await his next move with fascination.
Born To Run
To call Born To Run overblown is to miss the point - it was meant to be. The music is delivered with a verve and punch that has never dated and the lyrics, not least those from the title track, have an enduring power.
Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Full-bloodied but less self-consciously so, the delayed follow-up to Born To Run was the album on which Springsteen emerged as the voice of the people. His songs are populated by losers rather than heroes - yet he somehow makes their struggles seem heroic
With the E Street Band on vacation and recorded on a four-track cassette at home in New Jersey, this is Springsteen unplugged on a collection of stark and sparse ballads about killers, gamblers and desperados and the uncontrollable destiny that shapes them.
The Ghose Of Tom Joad
Perhaps recommending both of Springsteen's acoustic albums unbalances this list. But no apologies, for Tom Joad is an enthralling, rootsy masterpiece, an update on the America once described by Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie and delivered with a maturity that is breathtaking.
A four-CD, 66-track plundering of the vaults that presents an engrossing, alternative history of Springsteen. Only Dylan has more great, unused songs, and many of the ones that got away here prove to be every bit as potent as the ones he released