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Bruce Springsteen’s 17th studio album, “Wrecking Ball,” comes out March 6 and The Beat Goes On is blatantly stealing a page from our colleague Kris Tapley’s “The Lists” concept. In anticipation of the new set, we’re ranking The Boss’s Top 7 albums. Take a look at our gallery and let the debate begin.
Springsteen’s canon of work dates back more nearly 40 years to 1973’s “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.” While there was a major shift with his third album, 1975’s “Born To Run,” in terms of transforming from a proud Dylan wanna-be who crammed as many words as possible in to a song to someone who found his own identity and voice, what hasn’t changed has been his commitment to his craft and his live show.
At 62, Springsteen has become the chronicler of our times. Or as he says, it has always been his job to write about the distance between the American dream and American reality. Unlike many other artists whose songs aren’t rooted in any specific geography, Springsteen’s narrative spans from sea-to-shining-sea. He is a product of New Jersey and the U.S.A. and the lyrical territory he roams in song seldom extends beyond our shores (despite the fact that he is now a bigger concert draw in Europe than he is here).
But to concentrate on Springsteen’s role as social commentator only shows one part of the story. Over the last several decades, Springsteen has delivered some of the goofiest, most joyous songs ever committed to record, whether it be the rollicking “Ramrod,” the double entendre-filled “Pink Cadillac,” the giddy “So Young And In Love” or the purely jubilant “Rosalita.”
It felt like a cheat to include live albums on here, so I didn’t. (I also chose not to include any bootlegs). However, any Springsteen fan’s collection is incomplete without two sets: “Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Hammersmith Odeon London 75” and “Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Live 1975-1985.” The Hammersmith set, which wasn’t officially released until 2005, captures a moment in time: Springsteen's first U.K. show that has now become the stuff of legend. Springsteen was freaking out beforehand as Columbia’s hype machine was in full effect and he wanted the music to speak for itself. The loose-limbed, sped-up “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” is a frenetic frenzy, and the 13-minute “E Street Shuffle” feels like it traverses space and time. It’s nothing less than revelatory to hear a 25-year old Springsteen, still so early in his career, at such command of his stage craft.
“Live 1975-1985,” if nothing else, shows the tremendous range of the E Street Band and serves as a de-facto greatest hits. It was also the first album to capture the wide-ranging magic of Springsteen's show including such chestnuts as his covers of “Raise Your Hand” and “War” and songs that lay flat on vinyl, like “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” but came alive in concert.
There are high notes on every album released, even the ones I would rank toward the bottom of a list should I have included the full catalog, such as 2009's “Working On A Dream” (though I’m hard pressed to find anything good to say about “Queen of the Supermarket”). As with all such lists, this one is totally subjective. For example, though I find them among his most cinematic works, I find myself seldom returning to largely acoustic, solo albums like “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and “Devils & Dust”
Before you flip to the gallery, if you aren’t a Springsteen fanatic (yet), watch this video, and see what joy he brings millions of us (plus, there are wonderful shots of dearly departed members Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons):