Bruce Springsteen’s 40 greatest songs

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

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26 Promised Land
The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle album track, 1973

GEORGE P PELECANOS: “The dogs on Main Street howl/’cause they understand/If I could take one moment into my hands/Mister, I ain’t a boy, no, I’m a man/And I believe in a promised land…”
Darkness On The Edge of Town is a record of rage and defiance. The heroes of these songs spit in the face of their hard, inherited lives. Inarticulate to some degree, they express themselves, mainly, through their cars (“I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396/Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor”) by alternately racing, riding away, or driving straight into the storm. Darkness has three big singles: “Promised Land”, “Badlands”, and “Prove It All Night”. All have unshakeable hooks. I have to go with “Promised Land” because of its instrumental break. First Bruce plays some sweet, relatively subdued guitar, and then the Big Man comes in, blowing the roof off with his monster, roaring sax. Finally, Springsteen returns with a wailing, Once Upon A Time In The West-style harmonica, bringing the hook back home. Here, he locates the ‘wall of sound’ he was looking for on Born To Run. The acid test: when the first few bars of this one come forward from your car radio, you have to turn it up.
RUSSELL SIMINS: I love “Promised Land” because it mixes inspired instrumentation with memorable lines like “Take this knife and cut the pain from my heart”. I remember seeing Springsteen perform it live in ’79, and he sang that line with such honesty and realness it tore me up.
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25 Bobby Jean
Born In The USA album track, 1984

DAN BERN: It’s got that “Glory Days” thing, but it hasn’t been played at basketball games as much. “We liked the same bands, we liked the same
clothes…” Bittersweet.
JULIAN WILSON: If you like Bruce, guaranteed you love this. Even if you don’t, you’d have to have a hard heart not to be moved by it. There’s nothing like a fond farewell, especially when you think, as I like to, that it’s to Steve Van Zandt, who was then leaving the band. It wasn’t quite the same again until he came back with the others a few years later.
JESSE MALIN: It seems so real. I’ve always thought it’s about Little Steven. It reminds me of a guitar player friend that I had and I really messed up the relationship. He was one of my best friends and I think about him all the time. We went through a lot of stuff together early on. I miss him dearly and this song always reminds me of him.
BARNEY HOSKYNS: At once epic and tender, this glorious slice of rock’n’roll sentimentalism, built on heart-tugging descending major chords, is pure Asbury Park nostalgia – Bruce remembering the high-school sweetheart who “liked the same music, liked the same bands, liked the same clothes” but who suddenly upped and split without bidding adieu. All that plus every aspiring rocker’s secret fantasy: maybe BJ’ll be out there somewhere and this song will come on the radio.
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24 The Rising
Title track of 2002 album

STEVE WYNN: Now, there’s a challenge: write an uplifting and positive song about the sad and doomed task of the firefighters in the World Trade Center. And make it poetic. And fill it with hooks, something easy to sing with in both arenas and solitary rides on the freeway. And don’t slip into cheap and obvious sentimentality or grandstanding. The kind of songwriting challenge that could be pulled off only after many decades of songwriting.
RUSSELL SIMINS: I know The Rising is propelling Springsteen to another level of stardom, but I haven’t listened to the whole album properly yet. I want to take my time and immerse myself in it song by song. I’ve seen him perform the title track a few times, however, and the whole song sounds really intense and spellbinding. The band sound really tight and Springsteen is on top form both lyrically and musically. It’s strong shit. I haven’t seen the new live show yet, but I’m going to check him out next time he plays New York. He’s the best live performer I’ve ever seen, because he’s your friend and your idol and your hero all at the same time.

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