The parameters of my rankings change depending upon the artist. For Bruce, box sets and live releases are included, with the exception of his live archival releases which are available to order and download from his website. There’s simply too much material there to cover. The same thing goes for his archival studio releases The Promise (from the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions) and The Ties That Band (from The River sessions). Otherwise, this could be a 50 album list, and ain’t nobody got time fer that. As for his most recent three studio albums, Working on a Dream, Wrecking Ball, and High Hopes, they’re all good and very listenable, but in my mind they kind of run together unlike his earlier work and I haven’t spent as much time with them. It takes time for me to make a serious connection with an album.
That said, let’s get rolling…
15. Tracks (Box Set) (1998)
With the release of this four-disc set, I began to understand just how enormously productive Bruce had been over the years. While some of its 66 songs are demos, alternate versions, and B-sides, it’s mostly made up of fully formed but previously unreleased songs that could’ve comprised albums which don’t exist. Among the many highlights for me are the opening four tracks from Springsteen’s 1972 audition with John Hammond at CBS Records, as well as Thundercrack, Brothers Under the Bridge, and the demo for Born in the U.S.A. – the definitive version in my mind. If that song had been released on Nebraska as originally recorded, its meaning wouldn’t have been lost on so many people, and it certainly wouldn’t be hijacked for use at political rallies as it is to this day.
14. Hammersmith Odeon London ’75 (2006)
This concert was recorded November 18, 1975 shortly after the release of Born to Run, and was Bruce and the E.S.B.’s first appearance overseas. It’s a historic performance, and one which Bruce felt a lot of doubt and anxiety about. But you’d never know it from listening to the disc or watching the DVD. They may or may not have been at their peak, but I’d argue they were never better. Young and hungry they were. Spirit in the Night, Lost in the Flood, and the epic 17:14 Kitty’s Back are among my favorites here.
13. Tunnel of Love (1987)
What goes up must come down, so they say. Springsteen’s skyrocketing international fame over the previous couple of years had taken a toll. His marriage had fallen apart, and he had turned very introspective. While members of the E Street Band contributed to the recordings on this, Born in the U.S.A.‘s followup, it’s officially a solo Bruce Springsteen record. It yielded five singles, and among my favorite tracks are Ain’t Got You, All That Heaven Will Allow, Brilliant Disguise, Spare Parts, and the title track. Even Tougher Than the Rest has grown on me over the years. Tunnel of Love is considered by some critics to be one of the best albums of the 1980’s, and I agree. Additionally, I like the live Chimes of Freedom EP that emerged from the accompanying tour.
12. The Rising (2002)
As I mentioned in my introductory post for this series, Bruce has captured some significant moments, periods, and moods in the US with songs that many of us can relate to. One need not have actually been laid off at the lumber yard or auto plant, or have a clue how to rig a junk car in the driveway just to make it run one more day. Daily struggles are daily struggles, regardless of background. And 2002’s The Rising, his first studio release in almost seven years, is one that cuts very deeply for many people.
For better and for worse, this is Bruce’s 9/11 album. It’s full of tracks which allude to that awful day and its aftermath from the perspective of every day people who lost loved ones, while our collective sense of security was shattered. But true to form, Bruce doesn’t leave listeners without hope for redemption (this aspect was more fully unveiled during his live shows on the Rising tour). I listened to this album quite a bit for the first few years after its release, but until recently I hadn’t played it in a long while. Not that I want to forget, but it’s just kind of sad to listen to. I did play it a couple of days ago on the 17th anniversary of the attacks and realized possibly more than ever just how good most of its tracks are.
11. Live in New York City (2001)
As I begin to write about this album, I’m wondering why I have it placed higher than the live Hammersmith Odeon release. I suppose it’s because it represents a Springsteen show I’m personally familiar with having seen him on that tour. For me, the opening four tracks alone make this release worthy of inclusion. My Love Will Not Let You Down->Prove it All Night->Two Hearts->and the rock version of Atlantic City blow me away every time. A couple of other favorites here are Lost in the Flood and the electric version of Youngstown with Nils Lofgren’s incredibly grungy and intense guitar solo that takes the listener up and up, all the way to the end of the song, without letting you back down. I blew out a speaker in my old Geo Prism to that one.
Up next: 10-6