“The audiences are there as a result of my history with the band but also as a result of my being able to reach people with a tune.” — Bruce Springsteen
Over 20 studio albums, Bruce Springsteen has left no stone unturned when it comes to songwriting and provided a searing group of works that not only outline his own life but acts as a chronicle of the American people too. His is a canon that defies belief and has broken records too, becoming the first artist to have a top five album in six consecutive decades. But that doesn’t mean every single album is full of gold. Below, we’re collating the best song from every studio album as a stark reminder of his power.
The American Dream wasn’t something Bruce Springsteen could easily obtain. So, through his extensive musical career, he wielded his songwriting prowess which acted as a weapon to carve his own. His New Jersey, working-class roots enhance every bit of his much-revered brand of lyrical storytelling. For music fans everywhere, Bruce created the real voice of Heartland America; it’s the very thing that has seen him become a pillar of the music industry, one which we can all lean on from time to time.
It may have been a long time since Springsteen stepped on to the stage for the first time and brought his Bob Dylan-effected folk-rock to the masses but, in that time, it feels as though The Boss has become ubiquitous with the music scene, as inextricable as the air we breathe. However, perhaps what’s more important is that he is still as vital as that oxygen, still as potent and purposeful too.
Springsteen is a prolific maker of music and, with that in mind, there’s a hell of a back catalogue to get through. Luckily, for you, we’re bringing you the best song from each of those albums to work as the perfect introduction as to what makes Bruce Springsteen The Boss.
The best song from every Bruce Springsteen album:
‘Lost in the Flood’ – Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)
Debut albums are usually complicated things to get right. If they go well, it is usually because they contain everything that made the band great over the previous years distilled into one burst of energy. For Springsteen, it was a little bit different. Having been playing songs for such a long time before the record’s release, he approached it with the laidback charm of a seasoned pro. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have some serious songs on there.
Our favourite has to be the brilliant and visceral protest anthem ‘Lost in the Flood’. Taking direct aim at the Vietnam War, which had ravaged a generation, Springsteen enacts the working-class ethos that would underpin his career in his very first moments. Rather than focus on the war itself, Springsteen turned the mirror on the America a Vietnam vet was returning to, the reality he fought for.
‘Rosalita’ – The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973)
Once labelling ‘Rosalita’ one of his favourite love songs, Springsteen clearly holds this track in high esteem. It’s an effervescent number too, positively bristling with intent and demanding attention the only way Springsteen knew how. This song is all about young love and the excitement it brings, making this easily our favourite moment on the album.
It’s a song that sets the scene for the escapism of the forthcoming album Born To Run, as the world dreamed of setting sail across the oceans and heading on the road to nowhere with the one you loved. Its innocence is neatly juxtaposed by the excitement of proceedings. It’s a pure joy.
‘Thunder Road’ – Born to Run (1975)
One of Bruce Springsteen’s most popular songs has had many transformations over the years. From ‘Angelina’ to ‘Chrissie’s Song’ and on to ‘Thunder Road’, the song is a composite of Springsteen’s view of the American culture.
Standing as the album’s opening track is always a tough thing to do, and it seems as though Springsteen had recorded the song with this in mind. Seeing Born to Run as a series of Americana vignettes, ‘Thunder Road’ acted as the “invitation” to the entire record. Opening with Bittan’s piano and Springsteen on harmonica is a gentle reminder of the songs’ soul. And the message is as old as time as Mary and her boyfriend try to give it “one last chance to make it real”. Springsteen works as the perfect narrator, full of charm and heartbreak, hell-bent on love.
It may well be the first song on the album, but it’s about all you need to hear of the record to know what it’s all about—mythology, love, loss and living for the American Dream. It is the distillation of everything that made Bruce Springsteen a star.
‘Badlands’ – Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)
Listening to music is a dying art form. When Springsteen released Darkness on the Edge of Town, he would have been fairly confident that when his audience picked up the record, they would listen to it straight-through, then, almost inevitably, they would play it again. It meant that his songs were given the time and space to properly develop something, which, on Darkness on the Edge of Town, is a must.
That’s because, wrapped in the myriad of songs on the 1978 record, are dark and twisted moments coupled with shining beauty. Like a flattering dream which could turn at any moment, Springsteen is unpredictable and courageous. The greatest distillation of this ethos comes on ‘Badlands’ which sees the down and out protagonist’s fears begin to unfurl in front of him.
Potent, punchy and undeniably powerful, it remains one of Springsteen’s greatest songs of all time.
‘The River’ – The River (1980)
An album split in two will always have a habit of dividing fans and, on The River, Springsteen has certainly done that. Half of the songs on the LP are full of rock tracks, ready to get the dancefloor is dripping in sweat, while the second half is chock-full of simply breathtaking ballads. For our money, this gives you the best of both worlds.
The defining song on the album is, of course, the title track. The song was also one of three on the record, including ‘Stolen Car’ and ‘Wreck on the Highway’, which hinted at the direction Springsteen was taking his songwriting.
‘Atlantic City’ – Nebraska (1982)
One of Bruce’s darkest moments came from a rejected pile of E Street Band songs. The group had struggled to match what Springsteen was looking for and so he took them elsewhere. We’re glad he did as Nebraska proves to be The Boss at his most arresting and yet compellingly delicate.
Springsteen’s growing fascination with America’s bubbling classes, something so expertly entangled in American folk music, was left bare and exposed on this LP. One moment that saw Springsteen’s disdain for those forgetting America’s middle class was ‘Atlantic City’.
The song is dripping with authentic moments and has become a key part of Springsteen’s rich iconography.
‘Born in the U.S.A.’ – Born in the U.S.A. (1984)
We just couldn’t look past the titular track as our favourite form the 1984 LP Born in the U.S.A.. Springsteen wrote this song from a place of anguish, a time when he was hugely disappointed and aggrieved about the issues Vietnam veterans encountered when they returned home after valiantly serving their country.
The Boss was adamant that veterans deserved a hero’s welcome for putting their body on the line for the country when, in reality, the actuality was anything but. As Vietnam was the first war the US didn’t emerge from victoriously, those who fought in Vietnam were mostly ignored when they returned to their homeland and this made Springsteen feel disheartened with a nation that he thought he knew.
As a result, ‘Born in the USA’ has become one of the most misinterpreted songs in existence, with people taking the track on the surface and believe it as an ode from The Boss to his country. It’s an easy mistake to make, without digging deeper the song does appear to be about American pride, which is the antithesis of the song’s true meaning. Springsteen still believes that it is one of his best songs, but the fact that it is so often misinterpreted does irritate him and that his reasoning for writing the anthem is lost on so many.
‘Brilliant Disguise’ – Tunnel of Love (1987)
After Born in the U.S.A. confirmed Springsteen as the biggest musical act in the world, Springsteen did what any credible artist would do and tried to get as far away from the chart-topping album as he possibly could.
The follow-up album, Tunnel of Love, was about as far as Springsteen could jump in one leap.
While Springsteen had spent much of his previous albums sharing the stories of those he had crossed paths with, both imaginary and in real life, on this record he offered more of himself than ever before. It’s an understated LP that reeks of a master at work. However, the best moment on the album is a sheer love song that needs no extra dissection — ‘Brilliant Disguises’ sounds like Springsteen channelling Roy Orbison and expressing himself more personally than ever before.
‘Roll of the Dice’ – Human Touch (1992)
There weren’t many great moments on 1992’s Human Touch, the album is often considered one of The Boss’ worst. But one song on the record did pop its head above the precipice — ‘Roll of the Dice’.
Written alongside the wonderfully talented Roy Bittan, the song is a classic piece of E-Street band sonics. Bustling and unabashed, ‘Roll of the Dice’ hangs heavily on Bittan’s piano and glockenspiel combo, only truly offering Springsteen as a sideshow role.
Naturally, The Boss takes it with both hands and provides the best song on the album.
‘If I Should Fall Behind’ – Lucky Town (1992)
‘If I Should Fall Behind’ is one of the most sincere moments Springsteen has ever delivered. A promise of fidelity delivered with the utmost respect, skill and expressive honesty that it can defy belief.
It’s not only the kind of love song that can make you weak at the knees but also nod your head in agreement.
Unlike some of his earlier work, ‘If I Should Fall Behind’ approached the classic love song with a far more mature head. This is not a song dripping in head-spinning passion but one that is methodical — planned and perfected. “I’ll wait for you / Should I fall behind, wait for me,” sings Springsteen knowing that, at its essence, this is all love is.
‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ – The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)
Sometimes the answer to which is the best song of the album is staring you right in the face, and, more often than not, it’s the title track. That is certainly the case for Springsteen’s 1995 LP The Ghost of Tom Joad, with the eponymous song landing with aplomb.
The album is a sparse moment in Springsteen’s canon and works as a perfect refresher if trying to listen to The Boss from back to front. Taking its name from the John Steinbeck novel The Grapes of Wrath, the song was aimed at reminding all those flying high during the economic boom of the 1990s that the little man was still being trodden on.
‘Let’s Be Friends’ – The Rising (2002)
The album could have gone terribly wrong, not only because of the reunion with his former group the E Street Band, but Bruce’s cutting lyrics in a post 9/11 world could have been fatal.
However, as only Springsteen can, The Boss tells the stories of those affected during and in the aftermath of the tragic events. He does it with affection, care and dutiful solace. It’s the kind of album which shows off the many facets of the esteemed singer and we think the best moment comes form the unifying anthem ‘Let’s Be Friends’.
‘Reno’ – Devils & Dust (2005)
This is about as ‘typical’ as the dark side of Springsteen gets. An acoustic guitar, some twisted licks and a steaming pile of lyrics are usually all it takes but, on Devil and Dust, The Boss kicked things up a notch and made one of his more musically diverse LPs.
Of course, there are hopeful moments, such as on ‘Long Time Comin’’ and ‘Maria’s Bed’ but otherwise, the record is bleaker than most—but that doesn’t mean Springsteen can’t gild the odd black cloud in a bit of silver. The greatest song on the record, however, has to be ‘Reno’.
Visceral and perhaps even vulgar, the song details the story of a man meeting a sex worker and their interactions. The track’s main charge arrives with the final line that answers the question of whether solicited sex made the man feel any better: “Not even close.”
‘We Shall Overcome’ – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)
One thing that cannot be denied about Bruce Springsteen is that he loves to play music. It may seem silly to say, but underneath it all, that’s all that really matters to The Boss. It means whenever he’s given a chance to loosen the reins and let himself go; he is at his most happy.
The same can be said for 2006’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Covering songs of Pete Seeger and those associated with him, Springsteen played a dangerous political game but he came out on top with a groove-filled jam of the highest order with the titular track acting like our favourite of the bunch.
‘Girls in Their Summer Clothes’ – Magic (2007)
A Grammy-winning single is usually a safe bet for taking the accolade of ‘best song on the album’ and, sure enough, ‘Girls in Their Summer Clothes’ steals the award. A gentle, summer-drenched number that sees us return to the halcyon days of yore and the summer evenings of chasing girls and playing ball. It’s a welcomed piece of nostalgia and one that certainly has it place among Springsteen’s more visceral works.
“Love’s a fool’s dance / I ain’t got much sense but I still got my feet,” sings Springsteen as his main protagonist Bill. Through Bill we not only get a view of the past but also a hopeful vision of the future too.
‘My Lucky Day’ – Working on a Dream (2009)
The 2000s were a weird time for everyone and it was during this period that The Boss spent getting his hands dirty. During the decade, he was on one of his most prolific runs of releasing material.
While sadly, quantity doesn’t always equal quality, some of the moments on these albums acted as a reminder of his talent and ‘My Lucky Day’ is the shining moment of this record.
Working on a Dream is certainly the weakest of these albums and, although it does come through with some serene moments, the Western fantasy stylings pale in comparison to his most recent outing and, therefore, isn’t worth too much time aside from this song.
‘Land of Hopes and Dreams’ from Wrecking Ball (2012)
Every so often, Springsteen is able to dabble in brand new areas of music, find a new sound and yet still imbue it with the dirt-under-your-fingernails charm that he possess in bucketloads. One such moment comes on the gospel sounds of ‘Land of Hopes and Dreams’ from 2012’s Wrecking Ball.
A song that had been floating around in The Boss’ back catalogue for some time was given the ample room to breathe it needed on this record and shines brightly because of it. It sadly also includes Clarence Clemons’ final sax solo which deserves its spot on our list alone.
‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ – High Hopes (2014)
Springsteen’s heart on his sleeve anthems have helped shine a light on important social issues through his god-given gift of storytelling. Perhaps, The Boss’ most vital hour was his civil rights anthem ‘American Skin (41 Shots) which immortalised Amadou Diallo, who was brutally killed by New York City police officers.
The track was originally released in 2000 but found a studio home on 2014’s High Hopes providing one of the few bright moments on the record. Shared shortly after the officers were acquitted of all charges in the case, which helped bring Diallo’s murder back into public discourse and made sure that people didn’t forget about the brutal, needless death he suffered at the hands of NYPD.
‘Western Stars’ – Western Stars (2019)
Who’d have thought some of the most intensely Americanised visuals Springsteen has ever conjured with his music would be backed by the lushest of orchestras and a remarkable change of pace for Springsteen. It was one of the few albums in his career that he really ditched everything he knew and went in pursuit of something different.
What he found was an album like no other in his canon and the kind of record that makes you wish for Springsteen to take some more stylistic alternative routes whenever he possibly can.
The titular track from the album works, not only as the purest distillation of the LP but a reflection of Springsteen in his new role of aged rock ‘n’ roller.
‘Last Man Standing’ – Letter to You (2020)
The album was live recorded and, because of it, is imbued with a sense of veracious authenticity that is utterly compelling. Of course, as the name suggests, the LP acts as a love letter and, as it appears, a bit of a goodbye note too.
In the album, he pens songs to his friends and family thanking them for their time and appreciating what they had done so he could live his dream. There’s euphoria, sadness and being released in 2020, both of those emotions are needed and then some. Perhaps the most sincere reflection of those times is ‘Last Man Standing’ which uses Springsteen’s cherishable vocal to devastating affect.