There are hundreds of incredible songs in Bruce Springsteen’s library. Trying to come up with a top fifty was not only difficult, but at times painful. So forgive me for leaving off “Glory Days” and “Something in the Night” and “New York City Serenade” and… well, you get the picture. So here goes: The 50 greatest Bruce Springsteen songs of all time. Oh, and please don’t count how many times the words “powerful,” “great,” “haunting,” and “chilling,” are used. After all, this is The Boss.
**EDITOR’S NOTE: Give this a second to load. All the Spotify links need a moment to do their thing.You need to be logged into Spotify to listen to the embeds below. Or, you can go straight to the full Spotify playlist (in ascending order) here. Click on the links in the song titles to watch videos that include live and rare versions of each ranked song.
50. “Hungry Heart” (1980)
If Bruce sounds a little like Boy George on the studio recording, it’s because the record was sped up to give his voice a more boyish, top-40 friendly sound. It worked. “Hungry Heart” became The Boss’ first top ten hit.
49. “Dancing in the Dark” (1984)
After Bruce had completed the tracks for Born in the U.S.A., his manager Jon Landau, felt it was lacking a sure-fire first single. Bruce basically told him to shove it, then went off angrily and wrote one anyway. The result was Springsteen’s biggest selling single and album. Check out the video to see a pre-boob job Courteney Cox getting her big break.
48. “I’m on Fire” (1984)
One of the best organ-guitar openings ever introduces this moody track from Born in the U.S.A. “Sometimes it’s like someone took a knife, baby, edgy and dull and cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my soul/At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of my head/Only you can cool my desire.” This guy is taking horniness to a new level. Meanwhile, in the video, Bruce plays a nice young mechanic conflicted by a rich, married woman’s seductive come-on. The moment of truth arrives and he decides it’s best to resist. Nice save, Boss. The video won the 1985 MTV Music Video Award for Best Male Video.
47. “Magic” (2007)
Now you see weapons of mass destruction, now you don’t. The title track from Springsteen’s best album since The Rising is a scathing indictment of the George W. Bush administration. “Trust none of what you hear and less of what you see.” My son has this lyric tattooed across his forearm. Enough said.
46. “Prove It All Night” (1978)
Springsteen’s message in this song is: success requires sacrifice. To reap the promises dangled in “Thunder Road” and “Born To Run” you gotta work hard for them. It is a feel good song with soaring guitar riffs and Clarence Clemon, a.k.a. The Big Man’s explosive sax. I highly recommend the 1978 live version, which has become a classic.
45. “Gypsy Biker” (2007)
The anguished intro of Bruce’s harmonica heralds the return of another soldier home from war. The family takes out his old cycle and polishes up the chrome. “Our gypsy biker’s coming home”. Coming home in a coffin. The references to the profiteers on James Street, the political divisiveness in the town, and the overall toll of war is all too familiar. Is the Gypsy Biker returning from Iraq… or Vietnam? Have we learned nothing?
44. “No Surrender” (1984)
“We learned more from a three minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school.” Makes all the teachers out there cringe but that’s the message of “No Surrender”, Springsteen’s anthem about the inspirational power of rock n roll. It’s also a tribute to his band as in the lyric, “Blood brothers in a stormy night with a vow to defend, No retreat, baby, no surrender,” which no doubt years later inspired the E Street Band tribute song, “Blood Brothers”. For some reason, Bruce chose to replace the album version on the Born in the USA tour with a slow acoustic number. It wasn’t until years later concert fans were treated to Max Weinberg’s furious drum intro and the full rock out version of the song.
43. “She’s the One” (1975)
Good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll with a wall of sound, Bo Diddley like riffs, and rhythms reminiscent of Buddy Holly. The Bo Diddley influence showed up in concert when Bruce would often lead into “She’s The One” with Diddley’s “Mona.” Then it’s on to the story about that girl you can’t get, no matter how hard you try but she’s way too fine to stop trying. “She’s the One” is part of some rarefied air on Born To Run, but she holds her pretty little head up high.
42. “The Fever” (1974)
Originally slated for Bruce’s second album, this cult favorite didn’t make the cut. He played it live for the first time in concert in Houston in 1974. Two years later he gave it away to good buddy Southside Johnny and it helped launch Southside’s recording career. Clarence’s “He’s got the fever for a girl” solo is precious.
41. “Outlaw Pete” (2009)
Leave it to Bruce to have a rollicking fun song about a cowboy desperado who can’t escape his past really be about his “favorite” prez, George W. Bush. “We had a historically blind administration who didn’t take consideration of the past; thousands and thousands of people died, lives were ruined and terrible, terrible things occurred because there was no sense of history, no sense that the past is living and real.” He’s Outlaw Pete. Can you hear him?
40. “Jack of All Trades” (2012)
Told from the viewpoint of a broken man trying to lift the spirits of his wife, “Jack of All Trades” describes the courage and resolve of the common man as he fights to survive the economic peril perpetrated upon them by the “fat” cats of our society. In concert when Bruce sings the line, “If I had me a gun/I’d find the bastards and shoot ’em all down”, the crowd cheers, not in the name of violence but in the name of justice.
39. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” (1973)
A goodbye to Bruce’s adopted hometown and the life he lived there before he got a record deal. Sandy isn’t one girl but a composite of some of the ones he knew along the Shore. The boardwalk and the closing down of the town was a metaphor for the end of a summer romance and the changes he was experiencing in his life. My favorite lyric, “Did you hear the cops busted Madam Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do.”
38. “Born in the U.S.A.” (1984)
Originally cut for Nebraska, it became the title track for what is Bruce’s least favorite, though largest selling album. A soldier returning from Vietnam finds the country he loves and defended with his life, would rather forget than honor him. President Ronald Reagan “misconstrued” the song’s meaning calling it patriotic, then referenced it and Springsteen in his campaign. Bruce had to publicly refute Reagan’s position on stage.
37. “Candy’s Room” (1978)
Is Candy a prostitute? “Strangers from the city call my baby’s number and they bring her toys.” Sure sounds like it. But “Candy’s boy” is confident (and perhaps delusional) that Candy loves him and they will eventually find happiness together. This is a great rock ‘n’ roll song with a ferocious Bruce guitar solo that is up there with his best. “Candy’s Room” begins slowly then, helped by Max Weinberg’s furious drumming, intensifies faster and faster until it ends abruptly, leaving you breathless and spent. Kinda like sex.
36. “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” (2007)
This song from Magic is deeper than it’s breezy sound might suggest. It’s about a guy devastated by losing the only love he’d ever known. “She went away/She cut me like a knife/Hello beautiful thing/Maybe you could save my life.” He searches to fill the void in his heart but the “girls in their summer clothes” just pass him by. He has become too old to recapture the romance of his youth. This song won the 2009 Grammy for Best Rock Song. Bruce said he didn’t even know it had been nominated. Stop lying, old man.
35. “Meeting Across the River” (1975)
The jazzy trumpet intro and Roy Bittan’s piano throughout sets the mood of this story of a small time hood trying to restore his girlfriend’s faith in him. Bruce seems to be talking rather than singing and makes it feel as if we’re actually listening in as he entices Eddie to go with him across the tunnel for a “meeting” with a “guy”. He cautions that there will be drastic consequences if they screw up, but instead of dwelling on the negative, Bruce infuses him with optimism. “And tonight’s gonna be everything that I said/And when I walk through that door/I’m just gonna throw that money on the bed/She’ll see this time I wasn’t just talking/Then I’m gonna go out walking.” Cue “Jungleland.”
34. “Point Blank” (1980)
Once again we find the recurring theme about the failed dreams of everyday people. In desperation, a girl turns to a life of prostitution and/or drug addiction. However, as Bruce does on so many of his songs that portray desperate lives, he leaves a smidgen of hopeful encouragement. “Girl, did you forget how to fight?” “Point Blank” is both intensely powerful and very depressing. Maybe that’s why Bruce has it followed by “Cadillac Ranch” on the album. So people don’t kill themselves.
33. “I Wish I Were Blind” (1992)
Neil Sedaka said breaking up is hard to do. Bruce takes it one step further. To see his ex with her new man is so painful he wishes he were blind. Well, not really, but you get what he means. “The music plays you take his hand/I watch how you touch him as you start to dance/And I wish I were blind/When I see you with your man.” How he can turn a wish for an affliction into a poignantly beautiful song of lost love is beyond me. My only other selection from the Imposter Band years reminds me of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” sans the happy ending.
32. “Dead Man Walkin'” (1995)
This chilling song written for the movie of the same name earned Bruce his second Academy Award nomination in 1996. The lyrics attempt to give insight into the mind of a brutal murderer awaiting execution on death row. “Once I had a job I had a girl/Between our dreams and actions lies this world/In the deep forest their blood and tears rushed over me/All I could feel was the drugs and the shotgun/And my fear inside of me.” Sung in the first person, Springsteen’s voice trembles with the shame of his horrific act.
31. “Rendezvous” (1998)
“Rendezvous” was written in 1977 around the time Bruce was penning the Darkness album. Because it’s a raucous feel good song, it didn’t fit with the tone of that album, but became a favorite of fans the rare times it was played in concert. It showed up years later on both Tracks and The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story. “Because I had a dream our love would last forever/I had a dream tonight my dream comes true/And if you’ll hold me tight/We’ll be riders, girl, on the night/Ooh, ooh, rendezvous.” Sometimes it’s nice to hear Bruce happy.
30. “My Hometown” (1984)
One of only three songs Bruce really likes on Born in the U.S.A.is another that is part autobiographical. The decay and racial strife portrayed through Bruce’s lyrics is what he experienced in Freehold. Bruce chose to leave, but his message here is clear. Leaving isn’t the solution. Staying is. “Last night me and Kate we laid in bed talking about getting out/Packing up our bags maybe heading south/I’m thirty-five we got a boy of our own now/Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good luck around/This is your hometown.” I know why you like it, Bruce.
29. “Kitty’s Back” (1973)
As an opening act in 1974, Bruce didn’t have much time to make an impact. So he wrote long pieces that were arranged to leave the audience exhausted and gasping for breath. When you thought the song was over, he’d surprise you with another section, taking the music higher. His goal was when he left the stage, he’d be remembered. “Kitty’s Back” makes you not only remember, it doesn’t let you ever forget. David Sancious on keyboards and Clarence Clemon’s sax really cook on this rockin’ tale of Kitty who had her ambitions but wound up coming “back in town”. You want epic? Try the eleven-minute version.
The second of two covers on the list is from a Jimmy Cliff song. It reminds me of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie Mae” in that they are both about guys trying to extricate from the hold of an evil woman. “Trapped” is a rare treat in concert and every time I hear Patty Scialfa’s “oo-yeh-heh-yeh” crescendo, I realize why Julianne Phillips never had a chance.
27. “Drive All Night” (1980)
This beautiful love song is derived from one of the interludes during the live performances of “Backstreets.” The song contains a hauntingly beautiful Clarence Clemons solo and, after his death in 2011, it seemed the song, like “Jungleland” was too painful for Bruce to ever sing again. He finally sang both at Gothenburg in 2012 with Clarence’s nephew Jake on sax. Why Gothenburg? Clarence had a special bond with the city having met his wife there. It is unclear to me whether the woman in the song has left or has died but what is clear is he will never love like that again.
26. “One Step Up” (1987)
“One Step Up,” one of Bruce’s most moving songs, focuses specifically on a guy reflecting on his failing marriage. “When I look at myself I don’t see the man I wanted to be/Somewhere along the line I slipped off track.” But just acknowledging the role he has played can’t change things. All he has left are memories of when it was good. The Boss displays some pretty damn good acting chops in the video.
25. “Jersey Girl” (1984)
Springsteen said, “When I first heard this song, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t write it.” He feels the character is the same guy from his earlier songs “Sandy” and “Rosalita,” who has now grown up and landed the Jersey Girl. By adding more lyrics to the Tom Waits song, Bruce has made it his own. “Go in the bathroom and put your make up on/We’re gonna take that little brat of yours and drop her off at your mom’s.” Every single mother’s dream guy.
24. “Roulette” (1988)
Beginning with the pulsating pounding of drums, “Roulette” races off with an intense urgency and never lets up. The song is about the meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in 1979. The lyric, “There’s a shadow in my backyard” is both eerie and frightening, representing the danger of nuclear contamination’s intrusion into our daily lives. There are hints of government cover-ups and collusion as well. Bruce’s frantic singing is so quick, he can barely fit the lyrics in. “Roulette” concludes with the authorities announcing “no present danger.” All is well… for now.
23. “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” (1975)
The autobiographical story of when Bad Scooter (B.S. Get it?) met the Big Man has taken on deeper significance since Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons died. On the Wrecking Ball tour, Tenth was played at the end with Bruce going deep into the crowd as he sang, “They made that change uptown and the Big Man joined the band.” Then he stopped. The crowd took its cue and the result was an outpouring of heartfelt cheers in memory of the Big Man. Bad Scooter may start out with his “back to the wall,” but when the Big Man arrives it’s time to bust the city in half. The little pretties raising their hands don’t hurt either.
22. “American Skin (41 Shots)” (2001)
The most controversial of all of Springsteen’s songs, about the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo, led to a call for a boycott by the Patrolmen Benevolent Association of New York City. Springsteen countered that the song is not anti-police, citing many of the lyrics are from the officer’s point of view. He said the song is about, what systemic racial injustice, fear, and paranoia do to our children, our loved ones, and ourselves. Here is the price in blood. Can that explanation really be captured musically? Yes.
21. “Badlands” (1978)
I must admit I originally did not have “Badlands” on the list. Bruce sings it at practically every concert and frankly, I got tired of it. When I mentioned to my Springsteen buddies that I had left it off the list, they called me names I won’t repeat here but most of them ended with a “ck”. So, I revisited. What was I thinking? This song has a lyric that sums up everything in life. “Poor man wanna be rich/rich man wanna be King/and a King ain’t satisfied till he rules everything.” Gee, maybe I should move “Badlands” even higher up on the list…
20. “Highway Patrolman” (1982)
The story of two brothers in conflict over their lifestyles and choices they’ve made but bound forever by the blood they share. You don’t hear “Highway Patrolman” so much as you see it. Sean Penn did. He made a movie based on it called “The Indian Runner.” Now here’s the kicker: As good as this song is, the Johnny Cash cover may be even better. Blaspheme.
19. “Land of Hopes and Dreams” (2012)
Originally debuted during the E Street Band Reunion tour in March 1999, Bruce decided to use a newly revised version on Wrecking Ball, but it was bittersweet because Clarence had recently passed and his sax had been such an integral part of the original composition. Producer Ron Aniello surprised the Boss by playing a cut he had mixed with Clarence’s solo from 1999. This is the version on the Wrecking Ball with Clarence’s posthumous sax. Springsteen said of Clemon’s presence on the track, “When he comes up, it’s just a lovely moment for me.” And me, as well. I should be tired of saying, “This is a great song.” This is a great song.
18. “Atlantic City” (1982)
“They blew up the chicken man in Philly last night” isn’t Bruce writing a lyric. It’s Bruce reporting the news. The “chicken man” was mafia boss Philip Testa who was blown to smithereens in 1981. The song is about a guy who has been making an honest living but is falling deeper and deeper into debt. He leaves with his girl for the promise of Atlantic City where “the sands turn to gold”. When he gets there he realizes the allure is just hype. Tired of always coming out on the losing end he ultimately chooses a life of crime. As with most songs from Nebraska, this one becomes an entirely different animal when played live with the band.
17. “The Promise”
The unofficial sequel to “Thunder Road” is considered by some to be Bruce’s best ever. “Well I built that Challenger by myself/But I needed money and so I sold it.” Although Bruce denies this song is about his long legal struggle with manager Mike Appel, the Challenger could represent Bruce’s music, which he turned over to Appel on a hastily signed contract. In a broader sense, “The Promise” is about what happens when the hopes and dreams of “Thunder Road” have been crushed. There are so many profound lyrics in this song. My favorite is, “Here’s one for the lost lovers and all the fixed games.”
16. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” (1973)
Springsteen called this fun song, “A kiss-off to everybody who counted you out, put you down, or decided you weren’t good enough.” It is autobiographical right up to where Bruce lands his first recording contract. It was either the closing song or the last song before the encore at most of his shows from 1973-1984, often used to introduce the band, the highlight of which was the introduction of “The Big Man” or “The Big Kahuna” or “The Next President of the United States.” The intro was spot on as Clarence Clemons emerged as a musical force to be reckoned with on this record. “Sometimes we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.” I bet Bruce does.
15. “Downbound Train” (1984)
Once again the recurring Springsteen theme of economic hardship is at play here. “Now I work down at the car wash/Where all it ever does is rain.” This guy has lost everything: a meaningful job, his girl and his self respect. One night in his desperation, he envisions she has returned to the house they once shared and he takes off running frantically through the woods to reach her. Because the lyrics are so strikingly visual, we are there with him as he runs into the house and up the stairs only to find her not there..but the whine of the whistle of his downbound train is.
14. “Racing in the Street” (1978)
“I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396/Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor/She’s waiting tonight down in the parking lot/Outside the Seven-Eleven store.” So begins the story of a young guy staving off a spirit-killing manual labor existence by continuing his passion for drag racing. Some guys come home and stop living. Others “go racing in the street”. The juice it gives him is all consuming and while selfishly fulfilled, he is oblivious to what his lifestyle is doing to the woman he loves. When he realizes, he decides to make her happiness his priority by giving up racing. But the lure will always be there as say the last lines of the song. “Summer’s here and the time is right/for racing in the street.” Roy Bittan’s piano on the track is exceptional.
13. “Streets Of Philadelphia” (1994)
At a time when most AIDS victims were shunned by family, friends and society, I’m sure this song helped to bring much needed awareness and empathy. The video hits like a dagger to the heart. Bruce, cold, alone, walking the streets, barely moving his lips to the words as if in a gesture of compassion to those weakened by the insidious disease. Bruce’s first attempt at writing a song expressly for a feature film (“Philadelphia”) won him an Academy Award in 1994 for Best Original Song. It also won four Grammys.
12. “Brilliant Disguise” (1987)
If I ever was going to tattoo a Bruce lyric across my arm it would be “God have mercy on the man/Who doubts what he’s sure of.” Bruce says this song isn’t about his failed first marriage. Boss, methinks thou doth protest too much. It’s too raw to not have come from the heart. “I wanna know if it’s you I don’t trust. ‘Cause I sure don’t trust myself.” In other words, only complete honesty and trust in yourself can lead to true intimacy with your partner. The video on this signature Tunnel of Love track starts with Bruce seated at the kitchen table with his guitar. As he sings the camera ever so slowly pushes in until we are left with an extreme close-up of his face, a face that tells us his marriage is doomed.
11. “Independence Day” (1980)
I am not a fan of “Adam Raised A Cain.” In fact it is my bathroom break song whenever Bruce sings it in concert. To me, “Independence Day” is flat out the best Springsteen father-son relationship song. Whereas ARAC tries to pound the message home, “Independence Day” delivers it softly yet powerfully. The son having matured enough to understand his father’s plight unburdens them both through forgiveness and love. Still, he will not repeat the sins of the father and has chosen to leave. There is a sax solo from Clarence halfway in that epitomizes the soothing tone of this hauntingly beautiful song.
10. “Wrecking Ball” (2012)
Composed to honor Giants Stadium before it’s impending demolition in 2009, “Wrecking Ball” is sung from the point of view of the grand old structure herself. “Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you’ve got/Bring on your wrecking ball.” Sounds like the old girl’s going out with pride and dignity, which we are urged to do as well when it’s our time to turn to dust. But there’s another metaphor at work here. “When your best hopes and desires, are scattered to the wind/and hard times come, hard times go” is a plea to stand strong in the face of a depressive economy. That is what earned this song the title track on Wrecking Ball. Note: The horn section on this one is outstanding.
9. “Darkness on the Edge of Town” (1978)
“I lost my money and I lost my wife/Them things don’t seem to matter much to me now.” What happens when you arrive at a place in your life where you’re unsure of your fate? Do you give up? Let it consume you? No, you walk straight into the darkness with the hope of rediscovering the light. “Tonight I’ll be on that hill ’cause I can’t stop/I’ll be on that hill with everything I got.” With this compelling 1978 song, Bruce had found the adult voice, which would serve him for the next three decades and counting.
8. “Incident on 57th Street” (1973)
This selection from The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle is the album’s most stunning track. It is the story of a young hood torn between the girl who loves him and the lure of the criminal elements on the street. “Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night.” Through a majestic musical arrangement and lyrics no twenty-three year old should be able to write, Bruce makes us hope Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane make it to Lover’s Lane and find redemption. Will they?… Maybe. Shades of “West Side Story!”
7. “Born to Run” (1975)
The song “Born To Run” took Springsteen six months to write. “I wanted to make the greatest rock record that I’d ever heard, I wanted it to sound enormous, to grab you by your throat and insist that you take that ride, insist that you pay attention – not just to the music, but to life, to being alive.” Mission accomplished. “Born To Run” is one of the all time great rock classics, a “wall of sound” proclamation that there is something better out there if and when we take the leap to find it.
6. “Long Walk Home” (2007)
Springsteen says this is a song about a guy who comes back to his town and recognizes nothing and is recognized by nothing. With your permission Bruce, I’d like to expand. To me, it’s about a soldier returning home from war and realizing that nothing from his previous life, no matter how secure and comforting it was before, is the same. War changes everything and it will be a long walk home before things are ever the same again. Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau told Rolling Stone that “Long Walk Home” is one of Bruce’s great masterpieces.
5. “Backstreets” (1975)
“One soft infested summer, me and Terry became friends.” Some say this is a story of a homosexual relationship. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But the line, “Slow dancin’ in the dark on the beach at Stockton’s Wing”, makes me think ‘girl.’ Not that two guys couldn’t dance together either. The beauty of this song is it doesn’t matter. Bruce’s voice cries out with the pain of youthful friendship broken and the sobering realization “we’re just like all the rest.” Springsteen called it the breakthrough story song that would eventually lead him to Nebraska. The live version with the “Sad Eyes” interlude is simply phenomenal.
4. “The River” (1980)
“Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true or is it something worse?” Can a lyric get any better than this? From the album of the same name comes a deeply moving tale of young love’s hopes and dreams shattered by the reality of life and economic hardship. “The River” has gone through many incarnations but my favorite is a live performance from 1985. It begins with a talk-up about Bruce’s conflict with his father, followed by momentary silence, broken by the anguished intro of Bruce’s harmonica. It never fails to send chills up my spine.
3. “You’re Missing” (2002)
The story goes that shortly after 9/11 a total stranger approached Bruce and said, “We need you, man!” This became the inspiration for The Rising and a song that hits me like no other ever has. “You’re Missing” paints a vivid picture of the heart wrenching loss of a family whose husband and father has been suddenly taken from them. “Children are asking if it’s alright/Will you be in our arms tonight?” Although written specifically about 9/11, its theme resonates for anyone devastated by the loss of a loved one.
2. “Thunder Road” (1975)
“It’s a town full of losers and I’m pulling out of here to win”. And Bruce desperately needed a win at the time. His first two albums were not commercial hits and everything was riding on Born To Run. The lead off hitter, “Thunder Road,” knocked it out of the park and the rest is history. I have probably heard this Bruce song more times than any other and each time I do, it’s like the first all over again.
1. “Jungleland” (1975)
“There’s an opera out on the turnpike.” “Jungleland” is an opera. The story of the Magic Rat and the Barefoot Girl “sitting on the hood of a Dodge, drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain”, is a nine-minute plus journey of hope, despair and apathy culminating in Springsteen’s greatest wail of all. Throw in Clarence Clemons’ epic sax solo and this closing jewel from Born To Run stands alone.