The Top 5 Bruce Springsteen Albums

As Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s 2007-2008 world tour comes to a close, this seems like a good time to look back over Bruce’s 35-year career and pick my Top 5 Springsteen albums. As with the list of the Top 15 Springsteen songs I wrote last year, there might be a few different albums listed if I wrote this six months from now, and I understand at the outset that my choices will likely be debated by hardcore fans. One man’s coffee….

His newest CD, Magic, was not considered when making this list because it hasn’t really been out long enough to look at it objectively. But Bruce himself may have shown his own feelings about Magic as the tour has progressed: at the start of the tour eight songs in the live set were from Magic; by last night’s show in Spain, that number had dropped to four. I have also excluded CD collections like Tracks even though there was much new material on them.

Long introduction aside, here are my Top 5 Springsteen albums of all time:

1. Born to Run. Anyone who would argue with the selection of Born to Run as Springsteen’s best album is, frankly, an idiot. At 25 years old, he not only recorded his best album, but one of the Top 5 albums ever. Try as he might, Bruce has never been able to replicate the interconnectedness of the eight songs, and four of the tracks (“Thunder Road,” “Backstreets,” “Born to Run,” and “Jungleland”) are classics by themselves. The way the mood actually moves from morning at the start of “Thunder Road” to night by “Jungleland” is a feeling I’ve never experienced with any other CD by any other artist.

2. Nebraska. This was Bruce’s big risk, especially following the huge success of The River. It’s a unique style of folk/rock that really doesn’t fit in either genre. This disc, with just Bruce and his guitar recorded in his kitchen, paved the way for his later Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils and Dust, neither of which comes close to the power of the songs on Nebraska. From “Johnny 99” to “Open All Night” to the title track, Bruce simply opens a vein and lets the pain, anger, frustration, and ultimately hope run out onto the album. This one’s not for the shallow or faint of heart.

3. The River. This double disc is really two different albums, one part frat-rock beach songs and one part brooding ballads (almost like releasing Nebraska and Born in the USA as a set). With rockers like “Sherry Darling” and “Out in the Street” mixed with the much more haunting “Point Blank” and “Wreck on the Highway,” The River can be both an uplifting and jarring experience, but jarring in the best possible way. If you only know this album through the single “Hungry Heart,” stop reading this right now and drive to your nearest record store…I just said “record store”…I’m officially old.

4. Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. The one that started it all back in 1973, Bruce’s debut effort would contend for the number-two spot if the production quality wasn’t so poor. But it is obvious from “Blinded by the Light” all the way through “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” that Bruce threw everything he had into what he had to think might be his only album. The street poet in him is turned loose like never seen again, although “I’ll Work for Your Love” for the Magic CD would have fit well on “Greetings.” The songs haven’t lost any power in 35 years either; “Lost in the Flood,” written about returning Vietnam veterans, is eerily relevant as Iraq War vets return in 2008.

5. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Bruce’s take on classic American folk standards was a huge surprise hit in 2006, and it’s also a great introduction for kids to both Bruce and the musical history of our nation (apparently they don’t sing “Erie Canal” or “John Henry” in music class anymore). The two songs that stand with the best of Springsteen’s classics are “Pay Me My Money Down” and “Oh, Mary, Don’t You Weep.” Try listening to it all the way through four or five times in a row on a long road trip…it doesn’t get old.

It was hard leaving off Darkness on the Edge of Town and The Rising, but there you have it. And for anyone who wants to know why Born in the USA isn’t on the list, go to the chalkboard and write “the highway’s jammed with broken heroes” five thousand times, repent, and listen to Nebraska.

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