I LOVE rock music.
Let’s just let that sentence float through the ether, allowing it to resonate, reverberate and, quite possibly, regurgitate.
Now, is this love the same “love” that I use for my wife. No. For my boys? No. For my daughters-in-law? No. For my granddaughter? No. Nor for my parents, extended family, in-laws and friends.
Is it an equal love for rock music that I once had for running or basketball or coaching or teaching? Simply, no.
Yet, I do find the study of the history of rock music quite stimulating, which when combined with my love of listening to this very inclusive form of music, stimulates endorphins in my brain that I interpret as love. And, few artists have impassioned me as Bruce Springsteen has. Perhaps, it is the inherent love of music that Springsteen expresses through his music that I have latched on to since this time of the year in 1975, when, as my family and I were decorating our Christmas tree when I heard “Born to Run” for the first time. For the first time, I heard someone who LOVE rock music has passionately as any human being could love an inanimate object or ideal. Yet, for that four minutes and 31 seconds of that rock & roll bliss, I was hearing the passion of a pastor for his savior. Or, was Bruce a shaman? Who cares! This was the sound of a man who was actually putting all of his money on the hand he was holding, and he was holding an all-inclusive version of rock & roll in his soul that he HAD to pass on to us.
Although I held onto my Kiss fandom a bit longer, that very day I heard the man whose music would one day help me survive the latter days of high school, college and my initial ventures into manhood. The only person whose passion for the gospel of rock music came close to equaling Springsteen’s was Tom Petty. Where Kiss, Queen and Cheap Trick were invested in entertainment nearly as equally as their music, Springsteen and Petty believed in the spiritual transforming quality of rock. They represented the gospel of rock music, with Bruce playing Peter to Tom’s Luke.
Now, I will NEVER claim to be an expert of any rock artist, specifically. Nor, am I like Dick Clark and know the flipside of every single he ever played, along with the running times for said songs. I am a generalist, though I do have way more books on Prince and Power Pop than any other artist or genre in my personal library. Quite possibly I have as wide-ranging of a rock music knowledge base as anyone who does not write for a major rock magazine. So, when I decided to celebrate Bruce Springsteen’s music today, I wanted to warn my Springsteen-fanatics that I have no personal relationship with The Boss, though I would love to shake hands with the man. And, I have no special tidbits to offer my Boss-fanatics. I simply want to rank his studio albums, according to my tastes in music. Certainly, I expect some blow-back from the Springsteenologists out there. Please remember that I am a simple man just attempting to rank this rock deity’s albums from my least favorite to my most favorite.
So, Springsteen fans, let’s do this thing! Finally, I will honor the man that my wife and I saw back in October of 1985 put on one of the best concerts we have ever seen. Now, start the countdown!
20. Human Touch (1992). Back in the early Nineties, Guns N’ Roses released two CDs simultaneously, and the stunt was profitable for the band. So, Springsteen tried the same thing, releasing Human Touch and Lucky Town at the same time. Big mistake! This album was the weaker of the two, filled with nothing but substandard songs performed without his brothers in arms, the E-Street Band. Outside of the title song, this thing is a mess.
19. Lucky Town (1992). Here’s the other album Bruce released in 1992, and to me, it’s only marginally better. Unfortunately, Springsteen is still not using the E-Street Band, and the music is still flat like Human Touch. Let me add my voice to the litany of writers and fans who have said that maybe these two albums should have been pared down to one.
18. The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995). You know, this album is not that bad, it’s simply a statement about the great quality of Bruce’s catalog. Some have said this is his follow-up to Nebraska, but other than the folkie style, this album is a completely different statement, with The Boss simply trying to find his way through celebrity, which is what the Nineties seemed to be for the man himself.
17. Devils & Dust (2005). This is an intense and stark album musically and lyrically. I find this album to be a difficult yet rewarding listen. Until recently, I hadn’t listened to this album for a decade. Unlike the previous three, which I haven’t listened to since their releases, this album does have some great songs on it.
16. Tracks (1998)/18 Tracks (1999). Yes, Tracks is a box set of unreleased material, while 18 Tracks is the single disc distillation of the box. But, I love these songs. I just cannot believe many of these gems were left off the albums, but this box just proves how brilliant a songwriter Bruce is.
15. Working on a Dream (2010). Bruce catches hell about this album, but for some reason I just love it. I love the simplicity of the music and lyrics, as if this were created as a children’s record, although The Boss does drop an F-bomb during “Queen of the Supermarket,” a song so sweet that it just might be his most personal love song he has ever written. Plus, “Outlaw Pete” has become a children’s book, which reminds me that I gotta get it for my grandchildren to read at my house.
14. Magic (2007). This album was the bright light during a very dark time in my life. I was in the midst of battling physician after physician attempting to find a method of pain relief. And, this album of anthems of humans forcing their ways through life was one of my musical solaces from that time period. I couldn’t believe that I could still turn to Bruce’s music to help me through life just as he had since 1975.
13. Wrecking Ball (2012). Bruce sped through the first 15 years of the 21st century in what might have been his most creative streak of his career. Wrecking Ball represented the next-to-last album of the burst of creativity, and you could tell he had been saving up for his biggest statement to date as a reaction to the antics of the Tea Party. I sure hope Bruce’s next album is his statement against Trumpism.
12. High Hopes (2013). The last album of Bruce’s 21st century creativity run, High Hopes may have been an album of re-recording of a batch of his songs, but these versions nailed it. And what can I say about the addition of Tom Morrello’s guitar to the electric version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” is a natural amalgamation of Bruce and Rage Against the Machine.
11. Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973). Yes, I never heard this album until I had been a fan of Bruce’s for a decade. But, there are great songs on this album. No, Bruce had not yet found his groove, but you just knew the journey was going to be great just from the music on this album. Thank goodness Manfred Mann had a huge hit with “Blinded by the Light” because those royalties kept him alive during those rough days when he was trying to get his career under HIS control. “Growing Up” remains one of my favorite songs ever by him, as he just nailed what it meant to be changing from a child to an adult.
10. The Rising (2002). This was the right album at the right time by the right artist. Finally, the nation could put 9/11 behind us just get back to being Americans in the world. We were changed, we would NOT forgot, but maybe we shouldn’t be lashing out with vengeance but turning toward each other and showing love. That’s a lesson that our society needs to remember.
9. The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (1973). Bruce’s sophomore was no slump. His greatest song, “Rosalita,” is on this album. You would not believe how many parties in college during which this song became the highlight. And there was nothing like acting like The Boss as my roommate played The Big Man during this song. This album would be great if it were only “Rosalita,” but it’s not. And, that’s why it continues to stand the test of time.
8. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006). So, The Boss follows up the darkest album of his career, Devils & Dust, with an album of Pete Seeger songs performed as if he had just been appointed the new leader of The Band. Springsteen proved that these songs are strong and important and every bit as impassioned as anything he has written himself.
7. Nebraska (1982). I gotta tell you that I was NOT ready for this album when he dropped it my sophomore year in college. I was totally in my angry punk moment and thought I was beyond any kind of folkie record. Then, a little later I realized just how punk Bruce was actually being by making Nebraska. It has slowly been rising up this list of my favorite Springsteen albums. I love the subtle indignation he was showing the Reagan administration by using these songs at that very moment. Brilliant move with a brilliant album.
6. The River (1980). This album was the third album of my Springsteen journey. This was a sprawling ode to the frat rock sound of the early Sixties. Unfortunately, we began to lessen the use of Clarence Clemons sax solos for more reliance upon the previously underutilized use of Bruce’s guitar soloing. This was released during a year when two other double-album classics – London Calling and The Wall – had been released, making the trifecta for 1980.
5. The Promise (1978/2010). This double album was the album that Springsteen almost released instead of Darkness at the Edge of Town. Darkness would not have been such a stark statement had The Promise been released as the segue between Born to Run and Darkness. Still, I am just glad that this album finally found the light of day. Plus, The Promise has two songs, “Fire” and “Because the Night,” that became hits for other artists (The Pointer Sisters and Patti Smith, respectively).
4. Tunnel of Love (1987). This dark yet beautiful take on the underbelly of marriage and love is just beautiful. This is the sound of Bruce honestly telling us his relatively new marriage to actress Julianne Phillips was already falling apart, as Springsteen lyrically studied this dark subject matter. And, man, could any young couple who were struggling to hold their marriage relate to this album.
3. Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978). This is Springsteen’s answer to punk rock. He tightened his songs, he pushed the intensity of the E Street Band’s playing and went after the punks with a passion that most punks only wished they had. Today, I see this album as being the telegram to the world that Bruce was ready to become the voice of a generation. It just took him a little bit longer than I thought it would before he ruled the world.
2. Born in the U.S.A. (1984). Here it is – the album where the promise is finally fulfilled! This album must have been one of the best-selling albums for three straight years. The Boss had seven – YES! I did say seven! – hit singles. “Dancing in the Dark” became his highest charting song when it peaked at number two. But, this album was NOT the sycophantic statement for Reaganomics that many misconstrued it was at the time. As a matter of fact, it was the antithesis of that, showing the struggles of the everyday working man struggling as Reagan dismantled the manufacturing basis of this country in favor of shifting the power toward people who manufactured nothing but somehow created gold from lead, like alchemists in the Middle Ages. I just people would read the lyric sheet and digest them so they can finally stop voting against their best interests.
1. Born to Run (1975). The granddaddy of them all! Here, Bruce expands the lyrics of “Growing Up” and uses it as the album’s theme. Maybe it only truly speaks to my generation, where Born in the U.S.A. might reach across generations, still we all have to grow up and this album shows how to try to age gracefully, so we are ready as young adults to face the troubles of our country in Born in the U.S.A., and subsequently, as older adults with The Rising.
So, Springsteen fans, let me have it! I want to see your lists. But remember, if you are a fan of The Boss, then we are “Blood Brothers.”