But to celebrate the release of the remastered and expanded Darkness on the Edge of Town, we take a closer look at the last good rock star to get a decent shake from the record industry.
Now, I've been on record as being a bit critical of the Boss. I didn't care for his Superbowl performance. I once took apart Born in the U.S.A. for a book called Kill Your Idols, and it seems like everytime WNYC needs someone to be the "anti-Springsteen" guy, they give me a call.
Which isn't entirely fair or accurate.
The fact is, I LIKE Bruce Springsteen. In fact, I LOVE many of his songs. It's just not always what I hear other people choosing. (And I think Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon, for obvious starters, deserve the same amount of critical respect, even if Costello records too much music these days).
But let us not dwell on what we do not like (that sounds like a Sinead O'Connor album title) but on what brings us joy.
These twenty-five are just the beginning of what I consider the good ones. Believe me, I could go another fifty, at least.
Let the arguments around the bar begin!
25) "The Wrestler": Yes, I know there are no one-legged dogs making their way down the street, but if I need proof that Bruce can still write a tune for the disenfranchised, this is it. I wish they all could be this despondent.
24) "Wages of Sin": Like Bob Dylan, many of Springsteen's best songs don't even make it to a proper album. I finally heard this with Tracks, that four-CD box set of outtakes. You feel your blood raising its pulse to this one. Or maybe I have too much salt in my diet.
23) "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)": He gave this one to Dave Edmunds, but then Bruce's version appeared on the third disc of The Essential Bruce Springsteen. I've never heard Max sound like he's having such a good time. Did they get him high?
22) "Adam Raised A Cain": Darkness on the Edge of Town has some of Bruce's best music, no doubt. Choosing individual songs is incredibly difficult and should only be handled by a skilled technician. Me? I'm getting blood all over the place. I'm taking this one for the guitar solo!
21) "Tougher Than The Rest": I think when the final tally comes up on The Career of Bruce Springsteen that we're going to remember the album Tunnel of Love as one of his strongest achievements. Whatever complaints I might have about the sound are minimal compared to the emotional wallop of these songs. Maybe I should've taken "Brilliant Disguise" for that final line where he kinda hints that his first marriage — the one he was in when he was recording the album — was possibly a mistake.
20) "State Trooper": Any song inspired by Suicide's "Frankie Teardrop" is bound to be a good one. One guitar and some echo. And the record company wasn't sure it was releasable? Look at those savings!
19) "Murder Incorporated": Sometimes four chords gets the job done. I always find it amazing when artists put a "new" song on a "Greatest Hits" collection and it actually sounds like it belongs there.
18) "Incident on 57th Street": This song lasts forever and includes the immortal line, "Puerto Rican Jane, oh won't you tell me what's your name?" Uh, someone needs to listen.
17) "Candy's Room": Another great tune from Darkness where the guitar solo is as good as the song. Plus it's short enough that you can play it like five times in a row before that "Incident" song is over once.
16) "Spirit in the Night": From the first album, originally titled Greetings From Hazlet, NJ until they asked Bruce to move, it's one of those great story-songs where Clarence actually had a real part written for himself and he didn't have to find a place to squeeze in.
15) "Valentines Day": This is one of those dreary album closers (Tunnel of Love) that sounds really swell when you're driving down the highway late at night wondering what it would feel like to crash into the concrete wall. You know what I mean.
14) "Backstreets": Born to Run was such a dense sounding album. On purpose, of course. Meant to emulate Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound." You can barely hear the vocals here because the piano, guitar and organ are all getting louder as the song goes on. A song about friendship that's supposed to last forever. Except forever is often defined as something "less than several years."
13) "Brothers Under The Bridge" (later version on Tracks): There are two versions of this song. One is from 1983 and is OK and the other is somewhat later with a solid synth and the kind of brooding that Bruce made pretty popular with that "Streets of Philadelphia" song.
12) "Cindy" (bootleg): Someday when they release the great expanded, deluxe, definitive, The River box with real water from the original river, this song will be included. According to reports, it was planned for the original version of the album when it was going to be a single disc. Then Bruce dumped it, like it was a girl he wasn't interested in anymore, Sorry, dear.
11) "The River": That stuff in this song about there not being much work on account of the economy sounds like Bruce could be singing it today. Except the Johnstown Company surely outsourced all its jobs sometime in the 1980s after a hostile takeover from corporate raiders forced the company to downsize and boost profits for shareholders. All that was in the final verse Bruce cut from the song.
10) "Racing In the Street": One version of this song has Bruce driving a '32 Ford, which would make for some pretty subpar racing. I love the fact that he blows a Camaro off his back and steals the girl and puts her in a labor camp in Poland. These songs always turn out awesome.
9) "Prove It All Night": One of the main reasons many of the characters on the Darkness album ended up in Sloan-Kettering is because they hung out in the fields behind the dynamo, which we now know was not the wisest choice. "I wanna live and die," he sings. Well, lots of people have.
8) "The Ghost of Tom Joad": Like most people, the first time I heard about this song I thought it was "The Ghost of Tom Jones," which seemed a little odd, but if Bruce wanted to ramp up the sex appeal like he was Rod Stewart that sounded OK. Then it turned out he was writing a song about a guy who stands up for the little guy against all those nice rich people who deserve generous tax breaks because they just might create jobs for all those people the cops keep beating up! Are we up or down with socialism here?
7) "I Wish I Were Blind": You'll notice not many tracks showed up here from that superb double release, Human Touch and Lucky Town. Hmmn, actually just this one, which is super, since it corrects all the grammar of all those old blues songs that say things like I Wish I WAS Blind. The line about the grace and beauty of God's hand is pretty much a reason to live.
6) "Atlantic City": Nebraska is a great Springsteen album since it was guaranteed to sell only to people who really cared. Screw the drunks in the parking lot, it's time to hunker down and get serious. A great move, since Springsteen is actually at his best when he's really depressed and really serious. May no man prescribe him Prozac.
5) "Darkness on the Edge of Town": The lesson here is simple: never date a woman with a house up in Fairview. High maintenance. Rent yourself a shack somewhere on the crappy side of town where you can pretty much roam anonymously and one day climb up to the top of the hill and…I don't know, do something!
4) "Lost in the Flood": Sometimes I take my little boy out to the mean streets of the city and say to him, "Kid, you think that's oil? Man, that ain't oil, that's blood." And my boy says back to me, "Daddy, there is no such word as 'ain't.' Use proper English. Your editors would expect that of you." God, I hate that kid.
3) "Thunder Road": (acoustic bootleg) Sometimes I really wonder what they're doing over there at Springsteen, Inc. All those unreleased tracks over the years and they're still sitting on the great acoustic version of "Thunder Road"? The one where it's Christine's and not Mary's dress that waves. I guess it's the Dylan strategy. Save a couple for future reissue projects when all you've got left is this and a handful of outtakes of a studio hand trying to wake up Clarence without making him mad.
2) "For You" (slow piano version on bootleg): I've got this incredibly slow, solo piano version from a vinyl bootleg from a show in Atlanta, I think. It's not great quality, but the performance is top-notch. How can we help get this stuff released? Is there a charity or a blood-bank we can donate to?
1) "The Promise": I didn't just suddenly pull this out because it's the name of the new documentary or anything. I chose it because it's always been my favorite Springsteen song. For real. I've got barely audible piano versions, full band run throughs and even a version where I've had to ride the fader myself to make sure the volume remains stable because once the bass guitar kicks in, it wipes out most of the band. "Born to Run" is good, even great, but this is the best.