Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Masters: Bruce Springsteen - Top Five Studio Albums

RtBE loves listening to new music and prides itself on keeping tabs on up and coming artists but in 2019 we are also going to have a monthly spotlight on legendary artists who we really love. We are calling this series The Masters. It will focus on the best albums, live records, transcendent shows and other odd ways we appreciate the artists and their contribution to music, culture and our formation.
For October The Masters focuses on Bruce Springsteen

The next "new Dylan" Bruce Springsteen had high expectations and early in his career searched for his own sound which would be solidified in the mid 70's as Phil Spector  inspired grandiose rock and roll that goes for it every time.

An artist who recently pulled back the curtain on his craft, Springsteen famously said he never worked a day in his life but yet can craft a song like "The River" or "Factory" which cuts to the heart of a working man. Poetic, bombastic, country tinged and inspired by that sweet soul music, Bruce's sound is his own yet he inspired tons of others. It is impossible for RtBE to listen to Thin Lizzy and not hear Springsteen B-sides and for that matter half of E-Street went over the top with Bat Out of Hell.

The Boss remains an artist striving for the sound, his newest record went all retro-pop country, he is willing to experiment and take chances and his best successes rank up there with the greatest in rock and roll history. He became meticulous in the studio and it shows on the five albums we selected below so let's not waste any more words.

As a reminder these lists are to start conversations not end them, with that in mind let's see all that heaven will allow...

5. The River (1980)

Dylan mentioned that his songs on Infidels sat around too long and got over (or under) cooked on the official album, while The River doesn't have that exact problem, it has always felt like two albums are tussling for dominance here; a lighthearted shore rock record and a depressing as hell small town murder soundtrack. After the legal purgatory that proceeded Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen had a backlog of tunes and all of them seemed to get added to The River.

Overall there are lots of powerful songs here but the juxtaposition of tracks can be a bit jarring...granted this is criticism of a damn solid double record, but transitioning from "Marry You" directly into "The River" is jarring...I mean give us a honeymoon Bruce before the soul crushing blandness of a withered relationship and dead end life!

That said, tracks like "Sherry Darling", "Two Hearts", "Independence Day", "I'm A Rocker" and the late entry smash "Hungry Heart" are fucking amazing (the last was written for The Ramones, RtBE would have loved to hear them play this one). Speaking to sequencing, the albums dark finale works pretty damn well until that fatal "Wreck On the Highway".  A really great album, but like most double albums from the era, it probably could have been edited a bit better.

4. Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)

Following a protracted legal battle and  contractual obligations the boss had to delay the follow up to his break through success. When it arrived Darkness on the Edge of Town became a worthy successor with rocking efforts, insightful tracks and more of what made Bruce the Boss; namely more more.

He moved from Wall of Sound to Film Noir, but the sound was still huge and nuanced with soaring choruses and bang on the down rhythm. Moving away from the jersey shore into more middle America, opener "Badlands" is one of the best songs he has ever put down, while "Promised Land" is even better. Those two alone buoy the album, but tracks like "Prove It All Night" (listen to that ripping guitar solo) and the underrated "Candy's Room" (Jesus, Max Weinberg can drum) keep things at A+ levels.

Darkness is more of a mood record for Springsteen and while it has great mood pieces like "Factory" and "Racing in the Streets" it also sags at times. "Something In The Night" and "Streets of Fire" (both in the middle of their respective sides) drag and play up the over produced side of Springsteen and crew.

Then again "Adam Raised A Cane" and the title track powers up and go for it like few others solidifying Darkness as an all-time great album. While dour Springsteen is good, we always went for comedies over dramas...

3. The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973)

This is a personal one for us, in revisiting Springsteen's catalog it was great to check out some albums that have aged better than we thought (Wrecking Ball) some worse (The Rising) and most what we remembered them as, good (Magic) and others meh (Working On A Dream). Of course most rankings would have Nebraska or if they were twisting and feeling divorce pangs Tunnel of Love in this slot, (or 5th on this list). However upon re-listen Nebraska as a full length seems too one note and as well written as Tunnel of Love is, the 80's production kind of kills it to these doesn't matter though because RtBE would take The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle over either of them every day of the week.

This was the first Springsteen album when we really got it. There is a playfulness, a youthful exuberance, a jamming quality and jazz looseness (complete with tons of horns) which he would abandon for rock solid production very quickly; simply put this is his most fun sounding record.  Springsteen never displayed the playfulness which won him fans in the early days after this, I mean "Elephants dance real funky" on "Wild Billy's Circus Story"?!?

The real jams are the exploratory playing of "Kitty's Back" the white boy funk of "E-Street Shuffle",  and the asphalt jungle drama of "Incident on 57th Street" and "New York City Serenade" both poetically capturing 70's NYC as well as Martin Scorsese would. The cinematic gorgeousness "4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy)" serves a dual purpose by allowing you to listen to and taste the Jersey Shore at the same time.

This is all before the jelly, "Rosalita", a dynamite blast of rock and roll, which would be a recording high-point for any other artist, yet he amazingly topped it on his next record.

The truth is time and places matter, this record originally hit us as a young person free in a big city at the right moment, but in revisiting it, it matches up surprisingly well to the other albums in Springsteen's career and because of the standout tracks, it's fresh uniqueness and freedom pushes it up our list.

2. Born In The USA (1984)

The first two records on this list are both monsters which dominated decades. Born In The U.S.A. was everywhere in the 80's, even though Reagan never listened to the actual lyrics and used it as a campaign song...but RtBE digresses...

From those huge drum beats and electro-keys the album is pop rock protest music for the masses. It sounds so good that people miss the messages in the lyrics as they rebel and strain at the edges. A track like "Cover Me" is a fairly standard Springsteen song, but the production and level to detail is exquisite, in fact none of Springsteen's records sound better than BITUSA upon re-listen.

There are so many god damn great songs as well, "I'm On Fire", "No Surrender" and "I'm Going Down" that the simply good ones can seem lesser like "Bobby Jean" or "Downbound Train" but they are damn fine on their own. The pairing of "Darlington County" a great get away song and the prison line "Working on the Highway" is just fantastic, juxtaposing the party and the punishment phases of a wild life.

We haven't even reached the heights with the hits yet as "Glory Days" and "Dancing In the Dark" are positioned later on the album to get the listener up and moving yet again before the somber "My Hometown" wraps up the fantastic record on reflective note. Whichever Born is your top choice, there is no doubting both are in the upper echelon of great rock and roll records and in re-visiting all of Springsteen's albums Born In the USA only got stronger to these ears.

1. Born To Run (1975)

Here's what Bruce was going for with Born To Run: "Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan, produced by Phil Spector." He nailed it.

One of the most iconic records in rock and roll history it is big, poetic, daring, dramatic, sheltered and yearning for that one true magic moment.  From the opening "Thunder Road" to the closing note of "Jungle Land" Springsteen sets the scene and delivers the goods, while not a concept record, it is thematic and works so well.  Even on the albums weakest track, "Meeting Across the River" a purpose is served, setting the table for the closer while pointing ahead to his film noir style to come on Darkness

The blaring "Tenth Ave Freeze Out" is a blast and hints at the gospel live show rave at it would become, but lesser known tunes like "Night" and "She's The One" stand strong next to towering efforts like "Backstreets". The title track alone could push this record to the top of most lists as it is Bruce's shining achievement, and no matter how often it is heard goosebumps will be delivered; one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time. Period.

This is also one of the best rock and roll full albums of all time as Springsteen became the Boss and the rest is history.

(And so are we!!! Happy 10 year Anniversary to RtBE today!)


  1. “Meeting Across the River” is the weakest track?! Just wait until the editor gets my strongly worded letter! Hoo boy!