Ranking Bruce Springsteen’s albums in order of greatness
With a brand new album confirming Bruce Springsteen is once again a record-breaker as he charts a top five album for the sixth consecutive decade, the most impressive feat of it all is that he hasn’t relied on his legacy to do so and, in actual fact, has gained the place at the top through an esteemed collection of songs. Letter To You is proof that The Boss is still very much the chairman of the board—but what about the rest of his records?
Over 20 studio albums, Springsteen has left no stone unturned and provided a searing group of works which not only outline his lown life but acts as a chronicle of the American people too. So, when the country decides its future, what better time than for us to decide the definitive ranking of Springsteen’s incredible collection. Below, we’re ranking the albums of Bruce Springsteen from worst to best.
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 with which 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 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, 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, as we’ve ranked his records in order of greatness, we can give you a great place to start.
Ranking Bruce Springsteen albums worst to best:
20. High Hopes (2014)
Unfortunately, High Hopes didn’t quite live up to the name and saw Springsteen’s collection of old songs, revivals, covers and even older covers fall a little flat. This is perhaps the only record, The Boss’ 18th, all told, that he seemed to be tired and there was certainly some fear that Bruce had lost his mojo for music.
Naturally, we’d all be wrong, but in 2014, High Hopes suggested that something was a little laboured about Springsteen’s delivery.
19. Lucky Town (1992)
After dissolving the E Street Band and moving out from his treasured East Coast to California, Springsteen changed not only his band and his location but his output too. 1992’s Lucky Town is most certainly the worst of the two records that followed the upheaval.
The rockier side of the double release, Lucky Town felt like a stinking pastiche of what made Springsteen so great in the first place. It’s one of the few times Bruce has felt inauthentic.
18. Human Touch (1992)
Of course, we simply had to include Lucky Town’s other half, Human Touch. The album just about squeezes past the preceding record because of it’s somewhat more palatable melodies. Synth-heavy and certainly moodier than the previous record, Human Touch was The Boss trying to break free.
In fact, we’d say that the title track just about brings the whole album together. An underrated classic from his collection, the record is worthy of its spot just for that song alone.
17. 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 one 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.
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 their most recent outing and, therefore, isn’t worth too much time.
16. Wrecking Ball (2012)
One of Springsteen’s most ferocious albums, The Boss takes aim at his beloved America on ‘We Take Care of Our Own’ while also adding some extra fuel to the fire on ‘Death To My Hometown’.
Prior to this album, despite what you may think of Springsteen the artist, much of his work had been melancholy in tone. It belied the fact that Springsteen is such an enigmatic performer. That said, it was on albums like this that The Boss really let some shots off.
15. The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)
After the aforementioned car crash double release of Lucky Town and Human Touch,it was a tough job to rekindle the magic. However, the singer managed to do so by taking things back to where he first started on The Ghost of Tom Joad.
Prior to this moment, The Boss had often sung about the plight of America’s working-class and the lack of dedication to its blue collar culture. But on this album, Springsteen turns his attention to refugees and migrants — those who haver arguably suffered worse for less. It’s some of the singer’s most visceral work.
14. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)
One thing that simply 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 the 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.
13. Magic (2007)
It’s the first Springsteen album to feature his beloved E Street Band since The Rising and the LP is simply bursting with fully-fledged R&B guts. There’s a gurgling of bounce on ‘Livin in the Future’ while a bittersweet tone to ‘Girls in Their Summer Clothes’, which can make you feel a little uncomfortable but, overall, the album is a great one.
Another potshot at the American dream comes in the form of ‘Magic’, ‘Last to Die’ and ‘Long Walk Home’ a decisive triumvirate of pointed barbs at the country’s ideals of life, liberty and the inevitable pursuit of happiness.
12. The Rising (2002)
Neatly enough, The Rising naturally fits in the midpoint of our list with not only a commendation on Bruce’s incredible canon of work but also the big reunion with him and the E Street Band. The album could have gone terribly wrong, not only because of the reunion, 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.
11. 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.
10. Devils and 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.
9. Letter To You (2020)
Perhaps the point of this whole exercise was just to reiterate how good Springsteen’s latest album Letter To You truly is. 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. It’s a triumph that will likely shoot up this list with the more plays it gets.
8. Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ (1973)
When a debut album opens up with the words “Madman drummers, bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat,” you know you’re on to a winner. Springsteen’s debut LP was a shot in the arm of the hard rock heroes of the day. Zeppelin and their prog-rock counterparts were trying to take rock ‘n’ roll to a new unassailable spot. Springsteen had other ideas.
With the E Street band, the singer told a different story. This one wasn’t concerned with the fantastical themes that had become so popular over the previous years but the stories of the American people. The record is jam-packed with charming moments of genuine enthusiasm and hope. For that, it is irreplaceable.
7. The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (1973)
As Bruce has thankfully created things in a nice little order for us, fresh on the heels of the debut comes the band’s sophomore record. It was an advancement on the album that preceded it too, the focus here was sharper, more incisive and certainly more ready to leave you in two. It also boasts one of the singer’s live staples.
‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight’ Bruce and the band deliver a bouncing and beautiful track full of verve and swagger, the likes of which can still be heard in their current setlists too as the song remains present all these years later. “Tell him this is his last chance,” sings Bruce, “To get his daughter a fine romance / Because the record company, Rosie, they just gave me a big advance!”
6. 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 is 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. Nebraska would prove to be an album imbued with collective hopelessness that was far-reaching in those years. It’s part of what makes the song and the album The River as well as Nebraska, so vitally important today.
5. 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 the bubbling classes of America, something so expertly entangled in American folk music, was left bare and exposed on this LP. As he tries to recoup the lost souls of the US, he does so through his bone-chilling assessment in his songs. It’s one of his most potent pieces of work.
4. Tunnel of Love (1987)
After Born in the USA 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.
3. Born in the USA (1984)
This is the album that changed everything for Springsteen. Simply put, everything after this album had a chart-topping universally loved LP to match up to—no easy feat. It’s an album that has also suffered a great deal from its popularity. Sounding like Independence Day on crack, the songs on the album are intensely buoyant and supercharged with the red, white and blue.
However, to think that Springsteen had written the album only to gain such popularity would be to miss key indicators hidden in the album. There are certainly moments of his wry wit and unflinching honesty but, it is easy to see how this one is pulled out every July 4th, we just think it deserves some more airplay for the rest of the year.
2. Born to Run (1975)
The album represents a climactic moment for Springsteen as he finally achieved the superstar status he so badly craved. The Boss only really took his title after the album sold thousands and thousands of copies across the globe. An album propped up by legend-making hits is a critical moment in Springsteen’s impressive career.
Springsteen’s third studio album saw the singer make a giant leap for the top of the pile and went on to sell six million copies. Though he kept his lyrics deliberately squared at the working man’s everyday struggle, he also began to add the air of optimism to his sound and an album full of radio-ready rock songs meant the singer was looking toward American mythology for his greatest inspiration.
1. 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. Though he, across the songs, tries to deliver a sincere message of redemption, what he actually provides is a reminder that if you scratch the surface you will always be rewarded. Just as you will be if you listen to this one from front to back and once more again. A triumph.