Bruce Springsteen’s 40 greatest songs

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

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6 Thunder Road
Born To Run album track, 1975

DAMON GOUGH: Some of the bootleg versions of this are amazing. The live version on the box set is incredible. It’s his voice and the power of the song, just with a piano. Solid as a rock. I always imagine how good it must have been to be there in that little club. He was only about 25 or so when he recorded it, but he sounds like such an accomplished performer. People never credit him with being able to sing really well, but he had a great voice right from the start. If you listen to something like “New York City Serenade”, it’s incredibly powerful. The way he holds the notes is technically brilliant. He doesn’t seem to do that any more because he’s evolved into more of a countryesque troubadour.
JEREMY VINE: I think it’s amazing – a cinematic experience, almost; it starts with the phrase “screen door slams” and there’s Mary dancing on the porch. There are so many great lines, I lose count – “Lying out there like a killer in the sun” is one of them, or “Well, I got this guitar and I’ve learnt how to make it talk”, which is the signature to Bruce’s whole career. You can only write that kind of song when you’re 23, so he’ll never do it again, but it doesn’t matter.
STEVE WYNN: “You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re alright.” Oh MAN, who ever wrote a line like that before. One of the best rock’n’ roll lyrics ever. I guess New Jersey in the early ’70s must have been one hell of a bummer.
ADAM DURITZ: “Thunder Road” was simply the first Springsteen song I ever heard. I still remember exactly where I was. I remember I was stoned out of my mind and I remember my friend dropping the needle at the top of Born To Run and I remember this song coming out. I still know all the words. It’s where the guy from “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” decides he has to leave and he wants the girl to come with him. It’s the shift in the two albums. I always associate it with “The River” because “The River” is the obvious conclusion to the story as the disillusioned hero has gotten the girl pregnant and settled down to a life less built on the dreams of the previous albums but still struggling to find joy in the life he has.
ED HARCOURT: This is the pure soul of blue collar America. You might find it strange that a white, middle-class boy from England can relate to this, but I’ve been to bars while touring in America that are populated by the guys who appear in Springsteen songs – real check-shirt wearing Everymen. “The screen door slams/Mary’s dress waves/Like a vision she dances…” – that’s the heart and soul of that nation. The sense of loss, of resignation – “You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re alright/Oh and that’s alright with me” – it’s heart-wrenching. “What else can we do now?” You’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got. I think it’s an extraordinarily honest, open look at real sadness.
ADAM SWEETING: He plays this most nights on stage, and it’s become a Baedeker of how far he and his audience have travelled together. The version recorded live at The Roxy in 1975 is just Springsteen, Roy Bittan’s piano and a bit of glockenspiel from Danny Federici. It’s almost unbearably poignant, freezing the about-to-be-Boss on the cusp of greatness, with one foot still in his early sheets-of-syllables songwriting while the other takes a great stride towards a huge but unknowable future. Bruce admitted he stole the title from Robert Mitchum’s 1958 movie about bootleggers battling the Feds and the Mob. His spellbindingly evocative lyric replaces the Mitchum plot with a picture-show of his favourite myths – escape from “a town full of losers”, jumping in a car and following the signs to Redemption, and one of his various girls called Mary. He also coined the perfect skin-shedding metaphor for the transformation he was going through – “Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet”.
DAN BERN: It’s one of the best songs ever, period.
NICK JOHNSTONE: For some reason, I always think of Audrey Hepburn out on the fire escape in Breakfast At Tiffany’s singing “Moon River” when I hear the opening harmonica and piano. I suppose because the music is so fragile and beautiful and sweet and sad. As love songs go, this one is up there with the best of them. Whose heart doesn’t beat a little faster when Springsteen sings: “As the radio plays/Roy Orbison singing for the lonely/ Hey that’s me and I want you only/Don’t turn me home again/I just can’t face myself alone again.” It’s very adolescent somehow. The redemptive powers of music and love converge over that Phil Spector-influenced sound. You can hear the ghosts of those girl groups – The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Ronettes – in the yearning romanticism. And of course, like all his best songs, it’s about escaping, getting away from everything, even if it’s just for the duration of a three-minute love song or a brief kiss.
CHUCK MEAD: A Technicolor anthem. One of the greatest films of all time.
JULIAN WILSON: Fuck restraint! Gimme some desperation! Some revelation! Fuck verses and choruses too while you’re at it! The greatest song ever written for driving along and singing every word at the top of your lungs to. Bar none! And still the greatest rock’n’roll piano intro ever written.
DANIEL DAVIDSON: A classic. I’m usually totally turned off by brass and saxophone, but they sound totally necessary on “Thunder Road”.
TOM BRIDGEWATER: An epic that opens up one of the albums of the ’70s. It starts with a lonesome harmonica and builds to include every single majestic sound the E Street Band can throw at the tape. Awesome.

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