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Who’s the boss? For many lovers of classic rock, it’s Bruce Springsteen. The undisputed King of Heartland Rock has released countless iconic songs and albums for almost 50 years. On our list of the 17 best Bruce Springsteen songs, we cover all his biggest hits and highlight a couple lesser-known fan favorites.
“Growin’ Up” (from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., 1973)
Springsteen’s first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, solidified him as a working man’s songwriter. Heralded “as the next Bob Dylan,” their songs of life, love, and everyday life immediately resonated.
A perfect example of this is “Growin’ Up,” a rebellious upbeat rocker about, well, growing up. “When they said sit down, I stood up” he sings defiantly, and we feel it.
Though not a single from Greetings from Asbury Park, it’s still a fan favorite. Even David Bowie covered it.
“Born to Run” (from Born to Run, 1975)
What is Bruce Springsteen’s most famous song? Most would say “Born to Run,” the title track from his breakout third album.
Like “Growin’ Up,” and so many other classic Bruce Springsteen songs, the confidence of the lyrics can get anybody pumped up: “we’re going to get to that place/where we really wanna go/and we’ll walk in the sun.”
Springsteen’s vocal performance on “Born to Run” is so driving that it practically jumps out through the speakers. Crank it up!
“Thunder Road” (from Born to Run, 1975)
“Thunder Road” was the third single from Born to Run. Though it didn’t chart, it still went platinum in the United States, and is widely considered one of the best Bruce Springsteen songs to hear live.
As always, the lyrics are instantly relatable: “maybe we ain’t that young anymore/show a little faith, there’s magic in the night/you ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright.” “Thunder Road” is Springsteen’s first classic epic track.
“Badlands” (from Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978)
When it comes to Bruce Springsteen songs of the 70s, it’s hard to top “Badlands,” the blistering opening track from his fourth album. It’s a true scorcher, from E Street band drummer Max Weinberg’s beginning drum fill to its repeated chorus at the end. Fans have fun singing along with this one at Springsteen shows.
The second single from Darkness on the Edge of Town, “Badlands” hit #42 on the Billboard charts in 1978.
“Hungry Heart” (from The River, 1980)
“I got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack/I went out for a ride/and I never went back” So begins one of the most instantly recognizable Bruce Springsteen songs, “Hungry Heart.” At his concerts, the Boss will often let the crowd sing the entire first verse on their own.
His first megahit, “Hungry Heart” was the first single from The River. One of his surprisingly few top 10 hits, it reached #5 on the Billboard chart.
“The River” (from The River, 1980)
When it comes to Bruce Springsteen songs about life, it hardly gets better than “The River,” the title track from his landmark 1980 double album.
The track tells of a young couple who get married young and can’t quite find their place in the world. The narrator reflects on the good times he had with his now-wife, specifically the times spent by the river. By the end, it’s insinuated that he jumps in to escape his life in the doldrums. Heavy stuff.
“Where the Bands Are” (outtake from The River, 1980)
Now we’re getting to the good stuff – the fan favorites!
Famously, Springsteen wrote over two albums of extra tracks for his already double album The River. They’re all great, but this high-octane rocker might be the very best. The buildup at the end is priceless.
“Where the Bands Are” finally saw the light of day on the 1998 compilation Tracks, and we’re glad it did.
“Atlantic City” (from Nebraska, 1982)
Many Bruce Springsteen ballads could make this list, but perhaps the most affecting is “Atlantic City.”
The story of a man struggling to make ends meet – a common theme in Bruce Springsteen lyrics – comes to a dark climax: “I’m tired of coming out on the losing end/so I met this guy last night/and I’m going to do a little favor for him.”
“Atlantic City” was released on the stripped-down Nebraska album, but Springsteen often plays a full band version live. The Band used that arrangement on their famous cover version.
“Born in the USA” (from Born in the U.S.A., 1984)
Though often used as a patriotic anthem, Springsteen megahit “Born in the U.S.A.” is actually the sad story of a Vietnam veteran who comes back home and finds only hard times.
One of the most widely known Bruce Springsteen songs, it catapulted him into stardom, hitting #9 on the Billboard charts in America.
“Dancing in the Dark” (from Born in the U.S.A., 1984)
Has Bruce Springsteen ever had a #1 hit? The answer may surprise you. “Dancing in the Dark,” the lead single from Born in the U.S.A., hit #2, and it’s the closest the Boss has gotten to the top spot.
It was still certified 4x platinum in the US and 2x platinum in the U.K.
Like “Born in the U.S.A.,” the lyrics are deceptively, well, dark, especially in the context of its upbeat rock arrangements. “I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face!” he sings. You can feel the conviction in his voice.
“Pink Cadillac” (b-side of “Dancing in the Dark,” 1984)
In the 60s, bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were well-known for having singles where the b-side was as as good as the single. That didn’t happen often by the 80s, so that one of the most famous Bruce Springsteen songs, “Pink Cadillac,” was the b-side of “Dancing in the Dark” is kind of incredible.
Another in a long line of Springsteen car songs, the groove of “Pink Cadillac” is undeniable.
Glory Days (from Born in the U.S.A., 1984)
This just in: Born in the U.S.A. was a HUGE success. It had eight top 10 singles, three of which are featured on this list. If we had more space, we’d definitely include classics like “I’m On Fire,” “I’m Going Down,” and “My Hometown.”
As it is, we’ve chosen “Glory Days,” which is one of many Bruce Springsteen songs about looking back on the past fondly. The organ lick is beyond infectious.
The dated video makes it seem like the Boss never threw a baseball in his life…
“Brilliant Disguise” (from Tunnel of Love, 1987)
Springsteen struck on his own with 1987’s Tunnel of Love, though most members of the E Street band still played on it. The first single from the album, “Brilliant Disguise,” was a big hit, reaching #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Its lyrics are typical of many Springsteen songs, with a narrator plagued with confusion and self-doubt: “so tell me what I see/when I look in your eyes/is that you, baby?/or just a brilliant disguise?”
“Streets of Philadelphia” (from the soundtrack to the film Philadelphia, 1993)
What is Bruce Springsteen’s saddest song? There are many contenders, but “Streets of Philadelphia,” from the moving film Philadelphia, is the first that comes to mind for many.
The late 80s and early 90s were something of a dry period for Springsteen, but this emotional ballad more than made up for it. His first top 10 hit since 1987’s “Tunnel of Love,” topping out at #9, it’s his most recent as well.
“The Ghost of Tom Joad” (from The Ghost of Tom Joad, 1995)
Springsteen returned to his acoustic roots on 1995’s sparse album The Ghost of Tom Joad. Filled with songs inspired by folk singers like Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, it ranks with Nebraska as one of his finest songwriting albums.
The title track was released as a single in late 1995 and didn’t chart, though that says nothing of its quality. The title refers to a character in John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath.
Perhaps the best version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” is a rocked-out take on it that features Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine.
“Further On (Up The Road)” (from The Rising, 2002)
When you think of top Bruce Springsteen songs, “Further On (Up The Road)” might not be on your radar. That’s a good thing, though, because you can discover one of his best, most underrated tracks.
The Boss made a big comeback with 2002’s The Rising, which found him both reuniting with the E Street Band and reflecting on the state of America after 9/11.
Midtempo rocker “Further On (Up The Road),” like many songs on The Rising, features some of Springsteen’s most affecting, heart-wrenching lyrics: “one sunny morning/we’ll rise I know/and I’ll meet you further on up the road.”
“Janey Needs a Shooter” (from Letter to You, 2020)
“Janey Needs a Shooter” is one of the oddest Bruce Springsteen songs. Not because of the music itself – the love song has a big, classic E Street Band arrangement – but because it’s basically a re-write of one of his older songs…except it isn’t.
In 1980, Warren Zevon (“Werewolves of London”) released a collaboration he did with Springsteen, “Jeannie Needs a Shooter,” on his album Bad Luck Streak in Dance School. Though it has almost the same title, it’s an entirely different song.
“Janey Needs a Shooter” is from the Boss’ underappreciated 2020 album Letter to You, and its epic feel and emotional lyrics fit well alongside the rest of its songs.