Discography Deep Focus - Bruce Springsteen

Opinion/Story posted February 3, 2023 in Arts & Entertainment by Matt Zwiercan.

Over a 50 year career, Bruce Springsteen carved his name in the pantheon of American songwriters through hauntingly real stories about love, loss and the pursuit of the American dream.

Springsteen is the result of giving a poet a beat up six-string and letting him go wild, and his first seven albums showcase his rapid ascension from playing at bars in Asbury Park, New Jersey to gaining worldwide notoriety as “The Boss.”

Greetings From Asbury Park. N.J. (1973)

In 1973 the world was introduced to the future of rock and roll - and his name was Bruce Springsteen.

“Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.” is a glimpse into the mind and life of a young Springsteen, with moments where listeners can see the frontman in him break through.

The album opens with “Blinded by the Light,” Springsteen’s only No. 1 hit - just not his version. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s cover of the song reached No. 1 of the Billboard Top 100 in February of 1977.

“Growin’ Up” is the true star of this album, however. An almost theatrical rendition of Springsteen's childhood, this song centers around his adolescent and rebellious nature.

Reviewer’s Favorite Songs: “Growin’ Up” and “Spirit in the Night”

The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (1974)

It seems impossible to have an album containing only seven tracks in the 21st century, however Springsteen’s sophomore record cements him as a master of the “long song.”

Four songs on this album have runtimes of over seven minutes, each being musical marathons of the highest degree.

“The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle” starts out fun and lively, and ends on arguably the best three track run in Springsteen’s career, encapsulating his range as a songwriter, frontman and artist.

Reviewer’s Favorite Songs: “Incident on 57th Street,” “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” and “New York City Serenade”

Born To Run (1975)

Springsteen’s third studio album is a masterclass in lyrical imagery, using music as his canvas and his life as the pen to craft relatable yet riveting works of modern poetry.

The album starts with an invitation. “Thunder Road” is a metaphor for the unknown, as Springsteen shows his desire for companionship, promising nothing but independence.

Lines such as “they haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets” and “barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge, drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain” highlight the legendary word play used throughout the album.

Springsteen himself said that he doesn’t know what a “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” is, however the second track of the album is a definition of why people enjoy the sound of The Boss.

The titular track is an ode to the dreamers. An anthem for those yearning to break the chains and become who they truly are. “Born To Run” is the climax placed right in the middle of the album, with an explosion of the powers of the E-Street Band.

Last but certainly not least is “Jungleland.” An epic 10-minute journey with one of, if not the most iconic saxophone solo in modern music performed by the late Clarence Clemons.

Reviewer’s Favorite Songs: “Thunder Road,” “Backstreets” and “Jungleland”

Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)

A common theme throughout this album is “The Promised Land.” Not only is there a track with the same name, but the idea of this place is seen throughout the record.

“Badlands” starts out the album with a man wanting control over his life, working to reach “The Promised Land.”

Other tracks that are deep cuts that fans of The Boss adore are “Candy’s Room,” “Prove it all Night” and “Adam Raised a Cain.”

“Racing in the Street” is a deep, meaningful ballad about chasing cheap thrills with a muscle machine. Its organ solo and piano base make it one of Springsteen’s best in his entire catalog.

Reviewer’s Favorite Songs: “Racing in the Street,” “The Promised Land,” “Badlands”

The River (1980)

“The River,” Springsteen’s fifth album was, to this point, his most commercially successful, peaking at the top position on the Billboard Top 200.

With many songs centering on the prototypical character work of Springsteen, the definitive song on this album is the title track.

“The River” is a dark yet hopeful story about high school sweethearts whose lives are changed due to an unexpected pregnancy, yet have a deep desire to escape.

The live renditions of this song (Glastonbury in 2009, specifically) are haunting, with Springsteen giving his all into his performance. The lyric “Is a dream a lie if it does not come true, or is it something worse,” is one of the truest reflections of human nature, questioning the reality we live in.

“Hungry Heart” was Springsteen’s first big hit, with the sounds of the E-Street Band in the background of a story about a father abandoning his family, dealing with regret yet keeping hope.

Reviewer’s Favorite Songs: “The River,” “Two Hearts,” “Hungry Heart”

Nebraska (1982)

Bob Dylan was the gold standard for singer-songwriters to draw inspiration from in the 1970s and 80s. His influence on Springsteen’s folk album “Nebraska” is palpable.

“Nebraska” is a beautifully raw and stripped down version of Springsteen’s poetry, allowing readers to focus more on the messages and stories he is telling, similar to his debut.

While very different to the rest of his discography, “Nebraska” reached No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200, cementing Springsteen as a star in American music.

Fans of Springsteen’s unique, raspy voice and his relatable stories about life will find this record to be an absolute delight.

Reviewer’s Favorite Songs: “Atlantic City,” “Mansion On the Hill”

Born in the U.S.A. (1984)

While “Born To Run” is arguably his most important project in terms of musical prowess, “Born in the U.S.A.” is undoubtedly Springsteen’s most commercially successful album.

Known for the Jersey Shore sounds of the E-Street Band, Springsteen goes all out in the 1980s fanfare, opting for synthesizers instead of a typical horn section.

The titular track takes a look into the lives of Vietnam veterans and their reception by the American public, often being mistaken as a patriotic anthem by some Americans.

Just like “Born To Run,” Springsteen further explores his upbringing with songs like “My Hometown,” “Bobby Jean” and “Glory Days.”

“Dancing In The Dark” was not just a smash single for the album, but it was the launching pad for “Friends” star Courteney Cox, appearing in the music video.

The video, directed by Brian De Palma, also inspired Alfonso Ribiero’s iconic “Carlton” dance from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”

Additionally, “Dancing in the Dark” was written about Springsteen’s struggle to create radio hits. Ironically, it was his highest charting solo track at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Reviewer’s Favorite Songs: “I’m on Fire,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “No Surrender,” “I’m Goin’ Down”

5 Essential Bruce Springsteen Songs:

“Thunder Road”
“New York City Serenade”
“Growin’ Up”
“Racing in the Street”

Matt Zwiercan is a third-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mzz5317@psu.edu.