Bruce Springsteen’s 40 greatest songs

An all-star cast pick The Boss' best moments…

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11 Dancing In The Dark
Born In The USA album track, 1984

RODDY WOOMBLE: I know Springsteen is a really gifted songwriter with a lot of subtleties in his work, but the songs I like best are the really obvious ones like “Dancing In The Dark”. Everything about it, from the bombastic chorus to the loud stadium guitars, is pure Springsteen. Listen to it on headphones and you can almost see him standing in front of you, dressed in tight denim, playing his battered Telecaster.
RUSSELL SIMINS: “Dancing In The Dark” is a typical Springsteen song in that it fuses self-deprecating lyrics with really uplifting music. A lot of artists write songs about feeling low, but they’re not always songs listeners can relate to. When you listen to a Springsteen song, however, you feel like he’s in the room with you, nodding his head and identifying with your problems. Amazingly, it was written and recorded during one long night in 1983.
NICK STEWART: Some people deride this wondrous pop tune. Can’t understand why. A great dance track and brimming with power, romance and joy.
JIM SCLAVUNOS: A lot of people thought “Dancing In The Dark” was one of Springsteen’s most uplifting songs because of the chorus, but it’s really about struggling with boredom and inertia. In retrospect, I think it’s one of his most enduring songs, and the more I hear it the more I think it was about Bruce starting to feel his age. With most icons, it’s hard to believe anything they say, but when Bruce sings lines like “Can’t start a fire without a spark”, you know they’re metaphors for how he really feels about things like mortality. I’ve never seen him live, but the thing I noticed about the Live 1975-85 box set is he always comes across as a very natural and earnest performer, and, as a result, people identify with him.
BARNEY HOSKYNS: We have the canny Jon Landau to thank for his “Where’s the single, Bruce?” afterthought that kick-started the Born In The USA phenomenon. (The real point: Born is one of the great pop albums of the ’80s.) The Boss’ very own “Miss You” or “Heart Of Glass”, “Dancing…” is actually built on an archetypal ’80s sequencer groove, chugging away very atypically for him. But what a huge, uplifting thing it is – the all-American fantasy of dolling yourself up on Saturday night, heading out to wow the world, looking for (and how ’80s is this) some “love action”! “They say you gotta stay hungry… hey baby, I’m just about starving tonight!”
RICHARD WARREN: I don’t care what anyone says, “Dancing In The Dark” is just an awesome pop song. Every time I listen to it, it takes me back to the mid-’80s when I would sit in the kitchen at me mum and dad’s house taping the Top 40 off the radio. I was only about 10 at the time and I had no idea who Bruce was. I just knew it was a brilliant pop song.
NICK JOHNSTONE: We’ve all had this feeling – when you stop running and stand still for a moment and you realise your life is going nowhere and you want to pack up everything you own and quit your job and find a new career and move to a new home in a new place and meet new people and change the way you dress and eat and live and maybe, just maybe, if you do all these things then the love of your life will be waiting for you. It’s a song about spring-cleaning the soul. When he sings, “Man I’m just tired and bored with myself”, he captures this feeling 100 per cent. This is the song I put on when I want a kick in the ass and I’m procrastinating.
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10 Backstreets
Born To Run album track, 1975

GEORGE P PELECANOS: “One soft infested summer/Me and Terry became friends/Trying in vain to breathe/The fire we was born in/Catching rides to the outskirts/Tying faith between our teeth/ Sleeping in that old abandoned beach house/Getting wasted in the heat…” This is the song that hits me in the gut harder than any other in the Springsteen catalogue. At the time of Born To Run’s release, I had dropped out of college to run my father’s downtown diner after he suffered a debilitating heart attack. I would get up at 4.30 every morning, many times still feeling the alcohol from the night before, and drive down 16th Street in DC, the windows open, a cigarette burning between my fingers, my eight-track deck turned up to maximum. This was my anthem, an ode to alienation and confusion. One day that year, my friends and I drove one of our buddies to the airport, where he was to fly to an Army boot camp and report for duty. We must have smoked an ounce of pot on the ride there. One of the songs we listened to in the car was “Backstreets”. At the airport, the Time magazine with the famous Springsteen cover was on the newsstand. I stared at it stupidly, feeling vaguely betrayed by the notion that the mainstream had stolen our boy. And now the military was going to take one of our crowd away, too. We put our pink-eyed friend on the plane without incident, and Springsteen went on to make music just as vital as ever, despite his growing popularity. But at the time I couldn’t help but feel that something had ended. As for “Backstreets” itself, the performance is outstanding. The track builds slowly after a long Roy Bittan-led introduction that cascades dramatically into the body of the song. Springsteen really works up a head of steam here, playing some incendiary guitar, going off like a man possessed in the last verse. “Remember all the movies, Terry/We’d go see/Trying to walk like the heroes/We thought we had to be/Well after all this time/To find we’re just like all the rest/Stranded in the park/And forced to confess/To hiding on the backstreets.” To this day, those lines never fail to move me.
ADAM SWEETING: The breakthrough Born To Run album sounds, with hindsight, like a compilation of several of Springsteen’s early stylistic experiments, but “Backstreets” successfully fused the burgeoning power and confidence of the E Street Band with the full operatic scope of which the leader’s writing was capable. Like West Side Story ramrodded with a dose of On The Waterfront-style tenement grime, this epic depiction of faith betrayed found an existential Bruce haunting the streets and shorelines of New Jersey, trying to comprehend where it all went wrong. In the end, it’s the roar of the band and the singer’s anguished bellowing that gives the story its fullest expression.
STEVE WYNN: Heartbreaking, beautiful, proud, wounded, majestic and crumbling. When I first heard the song at 14, it broke my heart before I even knew what love was all about. But it sure made me want to find out.
JESSE MALIN: It reminds me of friendship, betrayal, loss. I like the way the song doesn’t really tell you if it’s a lover or a friend. It’s just somebody that is gone. And it reminds me of the anger of when you’re a kid and you believe in so much together and you’re such a team and when one person drops off how much you hate them and how you feel left holding the bag. It reminds me of those kinda days, growing up and hanging out in the summer in Queens, New York. And it reminds me of early love, early friendship.
PATTY GRIFFIN: He’s saying stuff here no one has ever said outside of really great novels.

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