Bruce Springsteen’s 40 greatest songs

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

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29 Mary’s Place
The Rising album track, 2002

GEORGE P PELECANOS: Bruce returns to Greasy Lake, almost 30 years down the road, and finds salvation in a world gone wrong. There are so many songs one can pick from The Rising (a stone classic), but I have to go with the one that is the least obvious, because I believe it to be most representative of Springsteen’s idea of rebirth and revival through faith, spirituality, friendship, and community. What do you do when nothing makes sense? For much of the song, Bruce himself doesn’t seem to know, asking repeatedly, “Tell me, how do you get this thing started,” the band doggedly responding, “Turn it up.” The answer is at Mary’s (can this be the same Mary from the immortal first verse of “Thunder Road”?) and from the sound of the E Street Band’s exuberance, this party will flat-out rage. Clarence Clemons picks up where he left off on “Spirit In The Night,” Springsteen channels Van Morrison, then goes out with the joyous, repeated declaration, “Let it rain.” “Mary’s Place” will undoubtedly be a staple of the live shows for years to come.

28 Jungleland
Born To Run album track, 1975


MIKE SCOTT: An opera in one song, and a truly great Clemons sax solo.
CHRIS ROBERTS: If that over-used word “cinematic” wasn’t invented for “Jungleland” then it wasn’t invented. The Born To Run album, a punky Spector street opera, broke Bruce in the UK – despite, rather than because of, the historic, hysterical hype – or at least it grabbed him a devoted fan base. And the grand finale of this magnum opus, the nine-and-a-half minutes of “Jungleland”, was a new benchmark in ambition. We’d heard hairy prog-rockers waffling on with pointless keyboard solos and suchlike, but were barely aware that music could walk on a vast landscape with such guile and grace. Again the narrator moved in and out (uptown, downtown) like a camera in a war zone, from the panoramic to the up-close-and-personal (“whispers of soft refusal, and then surrender”). The tempo shifts – and Clarence Clemons’ life-altering sax solo – were inch-perfect, not a second wasted. If the first two albums had sprawled and shuffled charmingly, this one – the big wave – knew precisely what it was doing. Yet the formula was fresh and untired. Springsteen unapologetically sings of “visionaries”, “lonely-hearted lovers” and of course “the hungry and the hunted” who “explode into rock’n’roll bands”. He’s read an (American) author or two, but composes his own Great American Novel here. And in the greatest moment of his career, he recognises that, for thousands of timid poets, the moment they break cover is when “they wind up wounded, not even dead”. It’s his finest, firmest use of bathos, balanced as it is against the music’s magniloquence. He’s beginning to see there’s both flesh and fantasy. Younger, he’d been all about the fantasy. Older, he’d be all about the flesh. Born To Run, the album, catches him as a bona fide rock’n’roll genius, peaking.
SHANNON MARY McARDLE: I’ve always been drawn to it because I don’t understand it! This is just such a perplexing and truly insane song, it had to make the list. I mean, what in the world is it about?
RUSSELL SIMINS: When Born To Run first came out I used to listen to “Jungleland” 20 times a day. Sometimes I just enjoyed the song, sometimes I was trying to work out how it was put together. It’s like a rock opera without all the fanfare. The lyrics are really poetic and inspiring – “And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all/They just stand back and let it all be” – and the music is just real music played by great musicians.

27 Kitty’s Back
The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle album track, 1973

GEORGE PE PELECANOS: The original E Street Band, with David Sancious on keys and Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez on drums, swung as hard as they rocked. This was never more evident than on “Kitty’s Back”, a big rave-up that goes from quiet to thunderous and back again, and features one of the band’s most feverish performances. Springsteen loved to reference girl’s names in his songs (Sherry, Sandy, and especially Mary), but there was never a sexier object of his (our) attention than Kitty, who has returned to her (our) home town in the middle of one of those long hot summers where “the tin cans are exploding out of the ninety-degree heat” and young men slink across the sidewalk with animal-like intent. Toward the end of the song, our protagonist catches a glimpse of her, asking, “Well, who’s that down at the end of the alley? She’s been gone so long.” The background singers whisper back, “Here she comes, here she comes, here she comes, here she comes, here she comes,” as the track builds, with Springsteen finally exclaiming, over and over again, in unbridled ecstasy, “Kitty’s back in town!” It is one of the most thrilling moments in rock’n’roll.
RUSSELL SIMINS: The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle was given to me by my brother when I was fairly young and I was completely blown away by it. Every track on the album has a realness and complexity that makes you believe in Springsteen as a songwriter and storyteller, but “Kitty’s Back” is still my favourite. I saw him perform it live in ’78 and ’79 and it was an absolute show-stopper. He performed it on The Dave Letterman Show again quite recently and it blew all the other songs away.
CHRIS T-T: This is another brilliant song with a really sexy love story and a blinding brass section. A lot of artists write really blatant love songs, but Springsteen is never patriarchal or sleazy. If anything, his love songs are always quite romantic and suggestive. “Kitty’s Back” is about a young, grimy boy triumphing over the city slickers and winning the girl that’s come back.


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