“He’s won audience and critical acclaim, but is still unknown to the bulk of the public.”
That’s Rolling Stone talking about a 26-year-old kid from Freehold, New Jersey, back in 1975. His name was Bruce Springsteen, and his third album, “Born to Run,” had just been released.
When Springsteen’s first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park N.J.,” was released in early 1973, his record company promoted him as “the new Dylan.” Though the album included such now-classics as “Blinded by the Light,” “Growin’ Up,” and “Spirit in the Night,” it was folky and wordy, giving us such Dylanesque lyrics as “[T]he gallows wait for martyrs whose papers are in order” and “Madison Avenue’s claim to fame in a trainer bra with eyes like rain.” It sold about 120,000 copies upon release.
Late that same year, album number two came out — “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.” Influenced by Van Morrison’s groundbreaking “Astral Weeks” (which “was like a religion to us,” according to longtime Springsteen guitar player Steve Van Zandt), it was more diverse and rock-and-rolling than its predecessor. It gave us “Rosalita” and of course “The E Street Shuffle,” but sold only slightly better than “Greetings,” and according to a record company PR man at the time “it was pretty much dead on arrival.”
As a measure of Springsteen’s renown up to that point, in July of 1974, he was the opening act for Dr. John at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium — and when saxman Clarence Clemons played a long solo introduction to one song, kids in the back started yelling “Boogie!!!”
Then came “Born to Run,” and that changed everything. Springsteen reportedly said that he wanted the album to sound like “Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan, produced by [Phil] Spector.” Indeed, the production is lavish and the songs are superb: “Thunder Road,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Meeting Across the River,” and more, not to mention the iconic title track, which became the anthem of its era — much like “My Generation” in the ’60s and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in the ’90’s. More than one critic has hailed it as “the greatest rock and roll album ever made.”
That was just the (real) beginning, of course. On came “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The River,” “Nebraska,” “Born in the U.S.A.,” and on and on up through (so far) this year’s “Western Stars” — 19 studio albums in all.
Along the way, Springsteen has given us such indelible creations as (besides those mentioned above and the title songs from many of his albums) “Badlands,” “Racing in the Street,” “Back Streets,” “Atlantic City,” “The Promised Land,” “Jungleland,” “Prove It All Night,” “I’m on Fire,” “State Trooper,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Streets of Philadelphia” — the last of which won Springsteen a Song of the Year Grammy in 1995 (one of a stunning 20 he has accumulated altogether since 1984). This is every song of the year since the Grammys started.
Springsteen got his nickname, “The Boss,” back in his Asbury Park club days on the Jersey Shore, because he was the one who collected money at his band’s gigs and distributed it to the group. (New Jersey has spawned numerous celebrated musicians, including Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Dionne Warwick, Whitney Houston, and Count Basie, but Springsteen might be the best-known of all. These are the most famous bands from every state.)
That “unknown to the bulk of the public” 26-year-old turns 70 on September 23, and in the course of his brilliant 44-year career, he has become indisputably “The Boss” of modern American popular music.
To determine the 50 best Bruce Springsteen songs, 24/7 Tempo generated an index based on the total number of plays each song has received on streaming service Spotify as of September 20, 2019, popularity on Apple Music, and performance on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart when applicable. Songs that only appeared on live albums were removed from consideration.