It’s hard to say which Bruce Springsteen songs are the best because, frankly, they’re (mostly) all works of genius. Springsteen writes songs that plough deep into the American spirit and show the fragility, heart and heroism of the working man. Not to mention the fact that quite a few of them are total dancefloor bangers. So after much thinking, head-scratching and soul searching, we have whittled down this definitive list of the best Bruce Springsteen songs of all time. Use it wisely.
1. Thunder Road (1975)
This one’s a no brainer. Indisputably the finest of Springsteen’s career, ‘Thunder Road’ is a tour de force, a powerhouse of a song that takes the theme of small town romance and lifts it to the status of high art. From Springsteen’s mournful harmonica to Clarence Clemons’ belting saxophone and the indelible words; “So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young any more/Show a little faith there’s magic in the night/You ain’t a beauty but hey, you’re alright/And that’s alright with me”.
2. The River (1980)
Springsteen sure knows how to write a sad song. ‘The River’ is ‘Thunder Road’ with all the hope sucked out of it. Two young lovers find themselves up shit creek thanks to pregnancy and poverty. There’s no way out, but Bruce makes something striking from their fate. As harrowing as ballads come.
3. Darkness On The Edge of Town (1978)
Springsteen does write happy songs. Honest. But this isn’t one of them. The final track from his fourth album of the same name, ‘Darkness On The Edge of Town’ borrows equally from Motown and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, crafting a majestic sound set against lyrics that show Springsteen deep in the throes of a highly shitty time. “I lost my money and I lost my wife/Them things don’t seem to matter much to me now,” he wails. U ok hun?
4. I’m Goin’ Down (1984)
It might sound like an upbeat country-rocker, but ‘I’m Goin Down’ is the breakdown of a relationship set to a toe-tapping beat. Losing the spark and the fading of fizzling passion is Bruce’s gripe here – and fair enough. We’ve all sat there while the dying embers of a relationship burn out in front of our very eyes, but have we ever a written a brilliant song about it? Probably not. Bruce has.
5. Jungleland (1975)
At almost 10 minutes long, ‘Jungleland’ makes for one of Bruce’s most epic masterpieces – and one where E Street Band member Clarence Clemons whips out one of his finest ever sax solos. This one’s got it all; fast cars, gangs, death, police, thwarted love and Bruce at the head of it all, narrating the dreams and despair of another one of the best crafted characters – ‘the Rat’ – in his cannon.
6. Atlantic City (1982)
The stand-out track from Springsteen’s stark 1982 acoustic album ‘Nebraska’, ‘Atlantic City’ is one of his most haunting compositions, full of ghost-like layered vocals, harmonics, finger-picked guitar greatness and perhaps his most affecting lyrics. “Everything dies, baby that’s a fact/But maybe everything that dies someday comes back/Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty and meet me tonight in Atlantic City.” Awesome.
7. Badlands (1978)
Often voted the greatest ever Bruce Springsteen song by fans, the opening track of ‘Darkness On The Edge of Town’ is a perhaps one of his most hopeful tunes. Rather than dwelling on the doom, he urges the listener to “don’t waste your time waiting”. Since its release he’s admitted to stealing the opening riff from the song from The Animals’ ‘Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’.
8. I’m On Fire (1984)
Otherwise known as ‘the sexy one’, ‘I’m On Fire’ is Bruce Springsteen on heat. As slow-burning as they come, this x-rated tune is so steamy that you shouldn’t be allowed to listen to it until after you’ve graduated high school.
9. Brilliant Disguise (1987)
The first single to be taken from ‘Tunnel of Love’, ‘Brilliant Disguise’ is peak 1980s Springsteen. Directly addressing matters of the heart, it sees Bruce questioning his relationship over smooth but gritty guitar lines. Turns out he was right to think something was up – he and actress Julianne Phillips divorced the following year.
10. Hungry Heart (1980)
The lead single from ‘The River’ is another one of those Springsteen songs where the tune is outrageously upbeat but the lyrics are glummer than a wet weekend in Wigan. Broken relationships drive this jangly sing-along smasher. Trust Bruce to make running away from your responsibilities the most fun in the world.
11. Glory Days (1984)
This twanging, honky tonk barroom belter sees Springsteen looking back on his school days with a mixture of longing and relief. A hefty slice of Americana, it’s full of references to baseball, dive bars and high school and man, does it slap.
12. Growin’ Up (1973)
One of Springsteen’s earliest solo tunes – it’s the second song on his debut album ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ’ – this is the ultimate in coming of age rock’n’roll. The jazzy, tinkling piano lifts this autobiographical tune into something spectacular.
13. Born To Run (1975)
What’s a Springsteen ‘best of’ without ‘Born To Run’? A karaoke classic, a tune made for stupid dance moves, this is one hell of a song. Uplifting without being naff, it nails that feeling of wanting to shake off your dead end town and make something of your life. In other words: “Tramps like us, baby, we were born to run.”
14. Born In The USA (1984)
Forever confused with being a nationalist, flag-waving anthem, ‘Born In The USA’ is anything but. It is in fact an anti war song, specifically railing at America’s treatment of Vietnam veterans. Nevertheless, it remains the song Springsteen is most well known for.
15. Human Touch (1992)
Notable not just for the fact that a bare-chested Bruce wears a leather waistcoat in the song’s video, but for its crashing chorus. 1990s Bruce took one look at Bryan Adams, Meatloaf and the like and showed them how it was done. Glorious.
16. Dancing In The Dark (1984)
Well it wouldn’t be a ‘best of Bruce’ list without it. The iconic ‘Dancing In The Dark’ is Bruce with the posi-vibes turned on full blast. He’s getting out of this dead-end town, he’s taking his baby with him and he’s going to make something of himself. Get in there, man.