When I started this blog, I made sure to apologize for the fact that there would be some non-hockey/non-analytics/non-sports content, and I’ve realized lately that I haven’t followed through on…you know…what I apologized for. It’s a well-known fact that many sportswriters like Bruce Springsteen. I don’t know why this is other than to say he’s amazing, so I’m not sure why everybody doesn’t. I’ve had the opportunity to attend one full Springsteen concert (3h45 mins in length) and he’s simply the best there is live. But even beyond that, his imagery and lyrical abilities are both excellent, and having read his biography I can tell you that there are a lot of fascinating stories behind the music he’s written that make me appreciate him even more as an artist. With that, for those interested, here are my picks for the Top 10 Springsteen songs. These are objectively correct and beyond reproach, but feel free to comment/tweet your own faves so that I can tell you whether or not they are acceptable choices.
10. Hungry Heart
Hungry Heart was Springsteen’s first real “hit” but it almost wasn’t even his. Bruce had initially agreed to donate the song to the Ramones, because he didn’t like how “poppy” it sounded. His manager and bandmates desperately pleaded with him to keep it, and finally he surrendered. The song put Bruce on the map, and the first time he played it in public, the crowd already knew all the words so well that Bruce couldn’t even get out the first few words without being drowned out by the crowd. Since then, he’s always let the crowd sing the first verse on their own.
9. Thunder Road
Thunder Road has always been a song I’ve had a hard time appreciating because it doesn’t have the same arena appeal that classifies some of his other huge hits. But the imagery is so poignant, and it’s so unlike any other song that’s ever been written, that it just has to be on this list. Thunder Road itself is such a great metaphor, and it really extends through all of his work.
This song is pure energy; I’m not sure there’s a song in the history of the world that tops it in that category. The opening riff is genius; you could hear it faintly anywhere and know immediately what it is. Just soak it up.
7. The Rising
The Rising became an anthem for many Americans following the 9/11 attacks, and the underlying melody and lyrics are well thought-out and relevant but still subtle and symbolic.
6. The Promise
Some of Bruce’s best work comes on the piano. His upbeat stuff gets more praise, but his ballads are in some cases even more meaningful and well-written. Bruce was first discovered by a young record label employee named Mike Appel who fought for him and quickly became his manager. The two in many ways grew up together, finding their way in the industry, but following the success of Born to Run, Bruce found out that Appel had betrayed him, giving Springsteen an unfavorable contract and taking much of his money and music rights. Following a long drawn-out court case, Bruce split with Appel, and wrote this thinly-veiled song about a promise to him that was broken, one which obviously hits him hard.
Possibly the most epic piano opening to a song ever written. ‘Nough said.
4. The Promised Land
This is a song about searching for freedom; it’s the kind of tune you’d yell out driving across the “rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert”. It’s got the perfect mix of catchiness and emotion.
3. The River
The story at the beginning of the video below is a perfect snapshot into Springsteen’s childhood: his fights with his parents, his lust for freedom and rock & roll, and difficulties of the time. The River was a song Bruce wrote about his sister; it very literally tells the story of her life. Fun fact, though, is that his sister had no idea he had written it when he first performed it live at a concert she attended. She was stunned at first, but over time it became her favorite (American spelling is more appropriate for this post) song.
2. Racing in the Street
Another slow ballad, but filled with brilliant piano and guitar solos and evocative lyrics. The song is about the clash between the freedom-searching youth and the domesticated adult. Bruce struggles between childhood and adulthood, and his woman takes the biggest hit, as she worries about him every night.
1. Born to Run
Not much to say here, except that this almost never was. Following luke-warm sales of his first two albums, Springsteen’s record label was set to pull the plug on his funding. Fortunately, his manager worked out a deal where the company would provide the funding to record one single. If the company liked it, then it would fund the rest of the album. If not, he was done. Bruce’s final chance at success became one of the most renowned songs of all time.