Bruce Springsteen’s 40 greatest songs

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

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5 Racing In The Street
Darkness On The Edge Of Town album track, 1978

SEAN ROWLEY: Along with “Don’t Worry Baby” by The Beach Boys, this has to be the greatest ballad about car racing ever penned. There’s nothing too deep about the song, just an everyday story about everyday folk trying to reach their dreams and failing. I look on the character of this song and see desperation – he’s reappeared in many songs over the years, which gives you a feeling that you’ve grown up with him, he’s like your hard luck mate that you’ll always buy a pint for.
JESSE MALIN: To me, it’s like a movie. In six or seven minutes, it’s like a whole movie. It’s a great story I think, a great road song about friendship. I don’t even drive cars or know anything about cars but it makes me wanna go racing! And the line about the girl sitting on the porch of her daddy’s house and she stares off into the night with the “eyes of one who hates for just being born”. And that bit about driving to the sea – “Me and my baby, we’re gonna drive to the sea and wash these sins off our hands.” Sometimes that really just feels good to hear that line and think about that. When you start to feel really toxic and full of your sins and the stuff that life inflicts you with and the purity of that and the cleansing of that. I find it very romantic and liberating.
TIM EASTON: It’s the consummate story song.
CHUCK MEAD: Bruce is as hillbilly as they come. This song is his black-and-white docudrama.
JACKIE LEVEN: A lovely song. It starts with the stillness of an Edward Hopper painting, then moves into fluid graveyard observation about life in the margins. Personally, I think that’s his forte and where and how he is best. There’s two great American books about carnivals – Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury and Theodore Sturgeon’s The Dreaming Jewel – which both explore the idea of when the carnival lights fade and the darkness starts. It’s something I’ve come to call ‘carnival dark’. And I really feel that Darkness On The Edge Of Town thing is something Springsteen completely understands. Although it’s supposed to be about working-class geezers doing things, I think it’s about understanding, just standing in that incredibly important space where light ends and darkness begins. For me, that’s Springsteen at his very best. In Celtic philosophy, that’s called “the betwixt and the between”. Springsteen fully understands the importance of that to himself. I’ve always thought you experience music in a very impressionistic way. It just comes into your consciousness while you’re doing other things. What’s interesting about Springsteen is you can suddenly experience this in his narrative moments, which can be hugely emotionally loaded, and then you investigate the rest of the song. For me, his best moments are always in the collision between mood and narrative.
THEA GILMORE: This is more like a little novella in song form. It’s quite a stark character sketch of a guy with a real sense of hopelessness about him. The narrator has a real inarticulate rage about his life and where it’s been and where it’s going, someone pushing down the accelerator hard but never really getting anywhere. All the time, the ghostly tug of lost youth, Martha And The Vandellas and a more innocent time… It’s a sign of greatness in a piece of work where the writer depicts – through the minutiae of one guy’s life – a huge canvas of human endurance, the immaculate fuck-ups and clumsy miracles that make up an existence.
SAF MANZOOR: The car and the road are both regular features of Springsteen’s work; usually they represent the promise of freedom, a way out from the tortures of a mediocre life. In “Racing In The Street”, however, the drag strip is where those who have – in Springsteen’s words – started “dying little by little, piece by piece”, don’t have to confront whatever domestic horrors lie behind closed doors. The car is still an agent of escape, but it only offers temporary refuge for men who have nothing to do and nowhere to go. With its aching, fragile piano figure and sorrowful organ, the music is the perfect aural backdrop for Springsteen’s grim portrait of a generation racing to a dead end. Set during a muggy summer, the song tells the story of two friends who fill the emptiness of their lives by racing their cars on the streets of their anonymous town. These are hollow men in love with girls filled with hidden sadness. In one of the song’s most haunting lines, Springsteen describes a girl who “sits on the porch of her daddy’s house but all her pretty dreams are torn/She stares off alone into the night with the eyes of one who hates for just being born.” Only three years earlier, that same girl might have been dancing across the porch as the radio played. Beautifully sad and compassionately elegiac, “Racing In The Street” is Bruce Springsteen’s evocation of what happens when you miss the turning for “Thunder Road”.
BRETT SPARKS: This is one of the greatest couplets ever written:“I got a ’69 Chevy with a 396, fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor/She’s waiting tonight in the parking lot/Outside the 7-11 store.” Alliteration with numbers, man. It’s just fun to sing.
RENNIE SPARKS: This song proves that anything can be the fodder for beautiful art. No one need be a cowboy or soldier to feel the world turning under their feet. Simply drive down Main Street at night and feel the tragedy of parking lots.
TOM BRIDGEWATER: Classic Springsteen. Cars, summer heat and young love, made all the better by the somewhat hazy and drunken memory of The Handsome Family performing this song at a barbecue at South By Southwest in Austin.

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