A beginner’s guide to Bruce Springsteen

How to get into the heartland rocker - and fast

For a man who started releasing albums in 1973, it’s no surprise to find the heft of Bruce Springsteen’s back catalogue somewhat daunting. But as one of US’s greatest ever songwriters, he’s a talent worth putting some time aside for – and NME is here to guide you every step of the way.

A musical giant, his brand of heartland rock digs deep into the soul of America, paying tribute to blues and soul greats. You can hear 1960s girl groups like The Ronettes, the hip-shaking spirit of Elvis Presley and the swampy sounds of the Delta in his music, which has moved people across the world for almost half a century. Born in 1949 in New Jersey, he’s not just a songwriter, but a storyteller, spinning tales of everyday love and loss, the good times and the bad. Reader, we have wept while listening to the music of Bruce Springsteen, and hopefully you will too (in the best possible way).

Start with this song

Thunder Road (1975)

If there’s one tune that serves as the perfect introduction to the emotive, heartstring-tugging nature of Springsteen, it’s this classic. Folksy and hushed to begin with, ‘Thunder Road’ ramps up into a propulsive rock classic packing one hell of a punch. It is Springsteen’s Mona Lisa, a masterpiece of songwriting that features on his third album and mainstream breakthrough, 1975’s ‘Born To Run’. Young love, fast cars and Roy Orbison, it’s a devastating slice of small town Americana that manages to be thrillingly universal, and applies as much to growing up in Ilford as it does New Jersey.

 

Listen to this album first

‘Born In the USA’ (1984)

Bruce Springsteen, 'Born In The USA'

Sure, it’s the one Springsteen album a beginner to his music has probably heard of before, but there’s a reason for that. A dozen good reasons, in fact. There’s not a duff song on here, and, madly, the ubiquitous title track may even be the weakest. ‘Downbound Train’ is sad, ‘I’m On Fire’ is saucy, ‘Glory Days’ is fun, ‘No Surrender’ is rousing, ‘I’m Goin’ Down’ painfully relatable and ‘Dancing In The Dark’ just one of the biggest, best tunes of all time. No biggie. “We took a lot of different types of pictures, and in the end, the picture of my ass looked better than the picture of my face, that’s what went on the cover,” says Springsteen of the iconic butt-shot album artwork.

 

Then watch this steamy live performance

Part of the brilliance of Bruce is in his live shows, which regularly hit the three and a half hour mark. A sensational showman, he’s as energetic now as he was in the mid 1970s, but if you want to see him oozing sex and soul, then this intimate live rendition of ‘Fire’ – a song he wrote for Elvis in 1977, but who died before the demo reached him – is hard to beat.

 

Next, listen to this new-ish tune

Radio Nowhere (2007)

Springsteen is one of those artists who, put simply, never got shit. For proof, we feel the need to direct you to some of his more contemporary work. ‘Radio Nowhere’ comes from 2007’s ‘Magic’, and is basically Bruce’s take on mid-period Green Day. And awesome.

 

Try this moody album next

‘Darkness On The Edge of Town’ (1978)

Bruce Springsteen, 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town'

His fourth album is bookended by two of his best tracks, ‘Badlands’ and ‘Darkness On The Edge of Town’, and offered his fanbase a deeper, moodier look at Springsteen. We here at NME called it 1978’s Album of The Year, and we stand by it, for sure. ‘Prove It All Night’ lets his backing group the E Street Band wail and groove with impunity, ‘The Promised Land’ gives us Springsteen’s own take on the American dream and ‘Adam Raised A Cain’ is one of his hardest rockers.

 

After that, go deep with his Desert Island Discs

Who better to tell you about Springsteen, his life and the music that shaped him than the man himself? In 2016 Bruce Springsteen recorded an episode of BBC Radio 4’s iconic Desert Island Discs and revealed all about his youth and his love of Bob Dylan, Elvis and more. Click here to listen to it in all its glory (days).

 

Then soak up this folksy treat

In the mid-2000s Springsteen paid tribute to old school American roots music with his Seeger Sessions project, interpreting the songs of folk singer Pete Seeger and transforming the E Street Band into the rootsy Sessions band, with banjos, fiddles and brass. They played his own songs too, including this rousing version of 1982’s ‘Atlantic City’. Hoe-down-tastic.

 

Now listen to the rest of his records – in this order

Nebraska (1982)

Born to Run (1975)

The River (1980)

Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ (1973)

The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (1973)

The Rising (2002)

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)

Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)

Tunnel of Love (1987)

Magic (2007)

Wrecking Ball (2012)

Working On A Dream (2009)

Human Touch (1992)

Devils and Dust (2005)

High Hopes (2014)

Lucky Town (1992)