Bruce Springsteen has released 20 albums and hundreds of songs. He’s been active since 1973 and is now in his early 70’s, but that hasn’t slowed his pace.
When someone has so many great tunes, it’s hard to keep track of them. Fortunately, we were able to revisit some of Springsteen’s greatest songs.
Let’s count down the hits that made Springsteen The Boss!
About Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen is an iconic American singer-songwriter. Along with the skillful music he makes with the E Street Band, Springsteen is considered a cultural figure.
Springsteen grew up in a working-class family in Freehold, New Jersey. He watched how hard his parents worked while struggling to provide for them, and he never lost sight of that or his New Jersey upbringing. On his 16th birthday, Bruce’s mom took out a loan so she could get him a $60 guitar, perhaps the best investment ever.
After high school, Springsteen spent most of his time playing shows in Asbury Park. He performed with different bands while he worked on his sound and songs. In 1973, he released his first album, Greetings From Asbury Park. The album got good reviews and comparisons to Bob Dylan, but it didn’t put Springsteen on the map.
Born to Run
However, he exploded onto the scene two years later with the release of Born to Run. He and the band spent a year in the studio perfecting it, and it was worth it. Bruce became a household name overnight.
People couldn’t get enough of his portraits of romantic rebels in New Jersey. His powerhouse guitar and gravely baritone helped. And, his band, the E Street Band, has long been considered one of the best backing bands.
Bruce’s star only glowed brighter from then on. In addition to putting out music that people loved, his commitment to fans and bandmates only bolstered his reputation. They’d often play 3 to 4-hour high-energy shows.
Word got out about his studio perfectionism, and people began to admire his work ethic as much as his music. His nickname, The Boss, came from times when he’d divvy up tips and pay his bandmates equally.
The Boss Goes Solo
However, he dissolved the E-Street band in 1989, deciding to be a solo artist. In those years, as he dealt with a divorce and a new romance, he wasn’t in the limelight as much. But he rebounded with the acclaimed The Ghost of Tom Joad, a stripped-down album inspired by writers like John Steinbeck.
Around the same time, Springsteen won an Oscar for Streets of Philadelphia, a song he’d written for the movie Philadelphia.
The Boss has shown no signs of slowing down in the past decades, constantly releasing music in new styles and still giving rousing performances. In 2008, he supported presidential candidate Barack Obama, and Obama later gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Recently, he’s been performing a solo show called Springsteen on Broadway. These shows feature him doing solo acoustic performances and telling stories.
To date, Springsteen has released 20 albums. If you count b-sides, soundtrack contributions, EP’s, and even plays, the number would be much higher and almost impossible to count. He also released an autobiography that details some of the songs we’ve picked as his seven greatest.
#7 Darkness on the Edge of Town
About the Song: This is the last track on the album of the same name. It tells the story of a hard-luck man whose only joy is in street racing.
Springsteen and the E-Street Band reworked this song for a few years. In fact, it wasn’t even on the album at first. Bruce finished it on his own and called the band back in to record it, getting it sent off just in time.
Where no one asks any questions Or looks too long in your face In the darkness on the edge of town In the darkness on the edge of town.
First Appearance: The album and the song, Darkness on the Edge of Town came out in 1978.
#6 Atlantic City
About the Song: Rolling Stone voted Atlantic City one of the best 500 songs of all time. In the song, Bruce Springsteen describes a couple going to Atlantic City for a getaway, but it’s not a vacation.
The man is going to get involved in organized crime upon arrival. In fact, Springsteen acknowledges the Mafia in nearby Philadelphia, referencing a crime boss who died in a bombing.
Springsteen wanted the song to be a full-band rock number, but he recorded a solo demo that his producer loved. This is what ended up on the album, although the band sometimes accompanies him at concerts.
Well, now, 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.
First Appearance: You’ll find Atlantic City on the Nebraska album released in 1982.
#5 I’m on Fire
About the Song: This song is a classic primal, slow-burn lust covered often by everyone from Johnny Cash to Tori Amos.
Part of what makes I’m On Fire so sexy is that Springsteen doesn’t over-sell it. He doesn’t need to reference body parts or sex acts. He even mumbles.
What’s more, this hit was an improvisation. Springsteen had some of the lyrics and worked them out while experimenting with the guitar part. His bandmates filled in the rest, including a synthesizer, which Springsteen hadn’t used before.
At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet And a freight train running Through the middle of my head And you cool my desire Oh, oh, oh, I’m on fire.
First Appearance: You can find I’m On Fire on 1985’s Born in the U.S.A.
#4 Born in the U.S.A.
About the Song: As celebrated as this Bruce Springsteen song is, it’s often misunderstood. Many listeners hear the chorus and assume the lyrics are about patriotism.
Conservative pundits praised the national pride, and even then-President Reagan saluted how Springsteen gave America hope.
If you read the lyrics or Bruce’s memoir, you’ll see that wasn’t his intent at all.
It’s hard to believe Reagan paid attention to the verses at all, even. The song concerns a man drafted to serve in Vietnam, only to be forgotten by the government he defended.
Come back home to the refinery Hiring man says, "Son if it was up to me" Went down to see my V.A. man He said, "Son, don't you understand.”
First Appearance: This came out in 1984 as the lead track on the album of the same name.
About the Song: Bruce had the title rolling around a while but didn’t want to waste it on a bad song. He started listening to punk, especially the Animals, which inspired Badlands’ anger and frustration.
Like many Springsteen songs, these lyrics depict a young man feeling unsupported by the world.
Badlands wasn’t a huge commercial hit, but fans love it. And it seems as though Bruce does too. It’s one of the songs he plays most in concert.
Talk about a dream, try to make it real You wake up in the night with a fear so real You spend your life waiting for a moment that just don't come Well, don't waste your time waiting.
First Appearance: Badlands was on Darkness on the Edge of Town, released in 1978.
#2 Thunder Road
About the Song: Believe it or not, The Boss never released Thunder Road as a single, but people consider it one of his best, most successful songs.
It’s hard to imagine anyone disliking this song. Starting with the piano and harmonica riff, the music slowly opens up as the song gains speed. Springsteen rushes through the beautiful lyrics, rich in poetry, making the song feel breathless.
In many of his songs, characters feel trapped by circumstance but find ways to taste freedom. Thunder Road is one of the best examples. Once the couple is away from home and on the road, they’re able to think about possibilities again.
As listeners, we know they probably won’t ever make it out of their town. It is, after all, a Bruce Springsteen song! But we cheer for them when we listen, and we hope there’s magic in the night and up for grabs on Thunder Road.
Well now, I'm no hero, that's understood All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood With a chance to make it good somehow Hey what else can we do now? Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair Well the night's busting open These two lanes will take us anywhere.
First Appearance: Thunder Road was on Born to Run in 1975.
#1 Born to Run
About the Song: This standout also began as a title in Springsteen’s head. He soon realized that the accompanying song would be a love letter to Wendy from a guy who liked her but never took things slow.
He’s the opposite of Bruce, who kept re-recording the guitar part to get it just right. In the Wings for Wheels DVD included with the 30th Anniversary Edition of Born to Run, you can see that. Spoiler alert: This song mixed 72 tracks after recording!
Springsteen was already becoming well known for his live shows, so this song had plenty of fans even before recording. Bruce wanted to get it right, and it paid off. He’s played this at almost every show since 1975.
Oh, someday girl, I don't know when We're gonna get to that place Where we really want to go, and we'll walk in the sun But till then, tramps like us Baby, we were born to run
First Appearance: Born to Run was on Born to Run, released in 1975.
Blinded By the Light was on Bruce’s debut album in 1973 but didn’t get much attention. Until British band Manfred Mann hit number one covering it in 1977.
Their remake of the song featured a piano melody from Chopsticks. It’s also infamous for the lead singer pronouncing “deuce” more like “douche,” which raised many questions. In reality, the lyrics are “cut loose like a deuce,” which Manfred Mann changed to “revved up like a deuce.” Deuce refers to a Deuce Coupe, a Ford model auto.
Which Bruce Springsteen Song is Your Favorite?
Springsteen’s catalog is so vast and diverse that it’s pretty much impossible to choose a favorite.
Now that you’ve read our list and reminisced about the songs, which ones stand out to you the most?
What was your first favorite Springsteen song, and is it still the same? We’d love to hear.