Bruce Springsteen’s 40 greatest songs

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

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17 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle album track, 1973

ADAM DURITZ: This is my favourite by a mile. It comes from my favourite album by far. In fact, I could have just listed the whole album. I almost did. It’s the album where all the lyrical explosion he exhibited on his debut crystallises into something unique and spectacular. Suddenly we are treated to a view of the dying carnival boardwalk world whose nights are populated by the magical denizens of Springsteen’s moonlit New Jersey nights. It’s dying all throughout this album, and by the next album he’ll be dreaming of escaping, but for the moment you can still see the magic as it must have been. “Oh Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us/This pier lights our carnival life forever/Love me tonight and I promise I’ll love you forever.”
HOWE GELB: For me personally, “4th Of July, Asbury Park” is one of the best songs that Springsteen ever wrote. It has a really unique sound and it captures both the band and The Boss at their peak. They sound so focused and exuberant and gleeful.
JACKIE LEVEN: There’s a sort of Leonard Bernstein/ West Side Story greatnxess to the whole album, but this song in particular is the sound of a man really into his craft and working hard. I used to live in Berlin with a load of young American guitarists, and what amazed me was the sheer hard work they put in. And there’s a kind of intensity to “4th Of July…” that makes you think he spent a long, long time writing that song.
JULIAN WILSON: Beautiful, laid-back, ‘Boardwalk’ Bruce, taking a fond, nostalgic last look over his shoulder at the run-down resort town he called home. It wasn’t his first and it wasn’t to be his last ‘last look’, but he never sounded this sentimental doing it again, lyrically or sonically. The accordion’s days were, accordingly, sadly numbered.
CHRIS T-T: I love every song on The Wild, The Innocent & The E-Street Shuffle, but “4th Of July…” sticks out because of its fairground, after-dark imagery. On the Live 1975-85 version Springsteen goes on about angels and heaven, but the original is just this romantic little song about a waitress.
RUSSELL SIMINS: When I was about 17, I left Long Island and went to the Jersey shore in search of Springsteen. I got a job on the Boardwalk cooking burgers and I’d sit on the beach after work trying to teach myself Springsteen songs on the guitar. It sounds ridiculous, but “4th Of July…” was the first song I learnt, and I loved sitting there singing about the beach and the boardwalk and the rollercoasters. I haven’t seen Springsteen play live for a while now, but the last time I caught him this still sent shivers down my spine. It’s an incredible song, with an incredible jive to it.
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16 State Trooper
Nebraska album track, 1982

KRISTIN HERSH: Scary melody. I’ve never liked the word ‘haunting’ when it’s used to describe music, but this song is haunting with a capital ‘H’. And that swoop at the end – whew. Nothing I like better than a fast Beach Boys-style fade either.
HOWE GELB: I haven’t listened to this song for years, but I still remember the rawness of Springsteen’s vocals and the “woo-hoo” at the end of the song. To me, “State Trooper” is up there with Little Richard, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and all the singers with a wealth of emotions in their voices.
STEVE WYNN: Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison – all obvious influences. But who would have ever figured that Springsteen would manage to evoke Alan Vega and the best moments of the first Suicide album. Was he really trying to channel “Rocket USA?” Who knows, but this is the darkest moment of a very dark record.
RUSSELL SIMINS: Every time I think of “State Trooper”, I remember the line, “The only thing I’ve got has been bothering me my whole life.” It’s such an honest and depressing line that it always makes me think, however many records he sells, Springsteen will never become phoney. His honesty and integrity shines through everything he does, and “State Trooper” has to be one of his most naked songs.
JIM SCLAVUNOS: What distinguishes Springsteen from other songwriters is his ability to write brilliant songs about real people. Like “Highway Patrolman”, “State Trooper” depicts a man trying to reconcile his feelings with the ambivalent and inadequate morality dictated by law. You can’t tell if he’s planning to do something bad or has already done it – all you know is he’s burnt out and on the run from the law.
THEA GILMORE: I think Nebraska is an incredible album. To release an album so inhabited by oppressed and dispossessed protagonists when the drum was banging so hard for nu-capitalism makes a pretty powerful statement. “State Trooper” is one of the key songs on the album for me. There’s this total, disturbing sense of space and disconnection about it, it’s a really wild sound, sort of a strangled little cry coming from the far reaches of the night and the psyche. When he sings “Deliver me from nowhere,” I think he sort of sums up all the characters from all the songs with that line. The whole of Nebraska seems to be stories about people either running too hard or standing too still, and “State Trooper” feels like the lynchpin that connects them all.
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15 Candy’s Room
Darkness On The Edge Of Town album track, 1978

STEVE WYNN: One of the best guitar solos ever, and a definite testament to the switchblade-like power of the Telecaster. The song is fine, but when the solo begins and Bruce channels the frenzy and abandon of The Yardbirds, he ends up with guitar brilliance that surpasses anything that Jeff Beck ever did.
TOM BRIDGEWATER: Springsteen was losing his spots, I was just getting them. To me this song was very, very sexy, and I can recite all the lyrics from start to finish.
CHRIS ROBERTS: If the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album shows realism, maturity and disillusion already seeping into Springsteen’s increasingly weathered world-view, “Candy’s Room” remains unique among his entire canon – twitchy, inventive, fragile, artily structured. Its impact is made all the greater for being so un-Springsteen in style and gait and voice. The mumbled, semi-spoken opening suggests he’s been introduced to Patti Smith’s Horses (hence, obviously, “Big Horse The Night”. Sorry.) Lyrically, it’s one of the finest ever crystallisations and expressions of the dysfunctional-beauty myth which has obsessed male songwriters since, say, “Runaround Sue.” They say that culture’s guilty of presenting women only as Virgin or Whore: pop music’s always had them down as angels who break your heart or bitches who break your heart. Springsteen extends this noble tradition heroically here, with insane, besotted conviction. Candy, with her many rich suitors, has a whiff of Truman Capote’s (as opposed to Blake Edwards’) Holly Golightly about her, and, more murkily, a touch of Edie Sedgwick. Our working-class-hero narrator protests that “what she wants” is him, because he’ll give his all. As if the mysterious hearts of women are so easily legible. You’re left thinking: “Good luck, dream on, buddy.”

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