The Boss
September 15, 2010 11:56 AM   Subscribe

I've always wanted to dig into Bruce Springsteen's discography. I have complete access to all of his albums. Where should I start? Any specific albums or tracks?
posted by Fizz to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Chronological order.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:58 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd start with a live album, but live is where Bruce truly kills. Try the awesome Hammersmith Odeon show from 1975 that was just released a few years ago.
posted by jbickers at 12:00 PM on September 15, 2010

posted by cuando at 12:06 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

2nd Nebraska.
posted by Ahab at 12:08 PM on September 15, 2010

posted by radiosilents at 12:12 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Start with Born to Run, then work backward chronologically. Then move onto Nebraska -- because it's such a complete tonal shift from the previous, you'll want to know what went before to know how he got there -- and then follow chronologically after that. Don't spend too much time on Born in the USA, but spend more time with Tunnel of Love, the tragically underrated follow-up.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:16 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

my brother hated bruce springsteen - said he had a lot of promise, but that it was just too polished and over produced. i made him listen to nebraska and the seeger sessions. he's a huge bruce fan now. if you're a fan of those sounds, then delve into the live stuff and tracks.
posted by nadawi at 12:23 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, The River. Something changed in his whole approach with that album. I think it's when the dark stuff started coming out, and that's what's got real resonance for me.
posted by Ahab at 12:26 PM on September 15, 2010

Nebraska is a masterpiece. Ghost of Tom Joad is excellent.

Full disclosure, I absolutely love those albums but want nothing to do with Springsteen's rock albums. Much love though, Boss, much love.
posted by mcstayinskool at 12:36 PM on September 15, 2010

Greatest Hits or Essential Springsteen to get your feet wet. Then Born to Run and Darkness. Then Live 1975-1985. Then use what you like on that to go on: to Nebraska or The River, maybe, or way back to Asbury Park, or wherever you like.

Then, at some point, listen to The Rising, Magic, Working on a Dream, and the Seeger Sessions to see what you like from the E-Street Revival.
posted by gerryblog at 12:37 PM on September 15, 2010

He's had a few other live albums besides Live 1975-1985, like the New York album, or the London Hammersmith one. I almost always listen to live shows and bootlegs, though that may be because the studio versions are already in my blood.
posted by gerryblog at 12:38 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: It sounds like you expect to make it through a big chunk, so I would say just start at the beginning and go until you lose interest. If your interest flags before Nebraska, jump ahead to Nebraska. If you want to jump straight to his best work, I would suggest starting with The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle and Nebraska. Other's can speak to the relative quality of his work after Nebraska, but from what I've heard of it, none if it is as good as the first 6 albums.
posted by nequalsone at 12:43 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I came here to generally agree with Cool Papa Bell's approach, but want to specifically mention that if you do that, you skip over two really fine records, Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River.

The River is one of those double albums that probably shoulda been a single album, but it has some great songs on it.

Darkness is, I think, one of his best and the one where the dark stuff, as Ahab put it, really started to come out. Considering the pressure he must have felt to follow up Born to Run, he did an incredible job on Darkness.
posted by pasici at 12:45 PM on September 15, 2010

you skip over two really fine records

Oh, I didn't mean to imply that at all. Sorry. I meant Born to Run, work backward, then work forward from Born to Run. Yeah, you can't skip Darkness.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:51 PM on September 15, 2010

I personally don't care much for the E Street bombast (except maybe when it's cranked up to eleven like Born to Run); the quiet stuff like I'm on Fire and Streets of Philadelphia are exactly why I love the Boss.

I'll also go ahead and throw "Because the Night" into the mix, even though there's not even a Springsteen studio version of it.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:53 PM on September 15, 2010

Born to Run
The River
Born in the USA
posted by KokuRyu at 1:10 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Certain albums keep on appearing in everyone's recommendation, I think that is where I'll start. And I'll continue from there. Thanks for all the advice. I like the sound of his voice and his music but he's one of those artists that just never grew on me (at least while listening to various singles), so I figure spending some time with one of his albums is a better way to give him a chance.
posted by Fizz at 1:23 PM on September 15, 2010

I came in to make sure Tunnel of Love got a fair shake, because I too find it quite underrated. Glad it has been mentioned. "Valentine's Day" is one of my favourite songs.
posted by backwards guitar at 2:05 PM on September 15, 2010

Two things that aren't music, in case maybe you happen to enjoy a bit of nerdery in reading with your listening:

The 33 1/3 volume on Born in the USA is good reading, short, and there's plenty about Darkness on the Edge of Town in it too.

Runaway Dream is about Born to Run, written by an American Studies professor. One thing that really helped me to love Bruce is looking at the shifts in his representation of journeys/the road ('Racing in the Street', 'Born to Run', 'Thunder Road', 'Darkness on the Edge of Town', a bazillion more) and it starts to tie lots of his work together, but place and geography is a big thing lyrically anyway.
posted by carbide at 2:08 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Darkness on the Edge of Town.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:08 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: Sys Rq, there will be come November 16. It'll be on the expanded Darkness box set. Woo!

It's such a hard thing, where to start. His career has spanned so much. Nebraska I think can be either a trap or a gateway—I know folks who like only Nebraska and folks who started there and ended as die-hards.

As a lonely high school Dylan lover, Bruce's first album Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ was my gateway, though you'll note nobody has mentioned it here yet. It's confessional or personal in a way none of his later stuff is.

If you drive or are driving somewhere soon, put Born to Run on and listen straight through and don't stop. If you're still feeling it, follow up with Darkness. This is my true advice.*

Bruce's discography is one that continues to reward the more you explore. His songs gains meaning and weight in relation to others. If you find stuff you're into and want more like it, come back and ask or feel free to MeMail me!
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:18 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

With an artist and catalog that is so amazing and so expansive I feel the only way to go is chronologically. Though, the idea of starting with a live show is not a bad idea, The aforementioned 1975 Odeon show or the more recent Barcelona Live would not be bad places to start.

I hated Springsteen as a teenager adn now I love just about every period he has gone through, I just listened to a radio documentary on the Seeger Sessions that is really interesting and enjoyable, but it is by no means a place to start to get to know his catalog.

Most of all, enjoy the ride and you MUST see him live whenever you can. It will make you a lifetime fan, I can guarantee it first hand, there is nothing like a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Have fun!
posted by silsurf at 4:12 PM on September 15, 2010

Bruce Springsteen's music has been a part of the fabric of my life since I was born, because my dad has always loved him so much. So this might be a bit of a strange list, because choosing was like going deep-sea fishing in the depths of my subconscious with a single ball of twine and a mini-Maglite, but here--I think--are my favorite Springsteen songs:

I'm Goin' Down - Born in the U.S.A.

My Hometown - Born in the U.S.A.

Secret Garden - Greatest Hits

Racing in the Street - Darkness on the Edge of Town

Darkness on the Edge of Town - Darkness on the Edge of Town

Reason to Believe - Nebraska

Nebraska - Nebraska

Tougher than the Rest - Tunnel of Love

When You're Alone - Tunnel of Love

Ain't Got You - Tunnel of Love

The Price You Pay - The River

Froggie Went a Courtin' - The Seeger Sessions
posted by colfax at 6:42 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would like to recommend the track --- the track specifically, mind you, though the album is great as well --- 'Darkness on the Edge of Town.' For me, more than anything else he's ever recorded, that one song is a perfect distillation of everything that Springsteen does well.

It is, of course, shot through with that particular Springsteen brand of idealism: it's a story of people existing just outside the boundaries of their dreams, people both tormented by their failure and obsessively driven to overcome it. It's got a really romantic sort of teeth-clenched determination to it which, if you blur your ears, could come across as being inspiring. But there's also a lot of anger over being driven to the margins of society by one's obsessions, and the whole thing is propelled forward by a grim fatalism that may or may not result in the protagonist's death. So you know, all that dark stuff that was alluded to earlier.

Even if you're not all that jazzed about street racing, though, the message becomes deeply personal and deeply moving. There's a few lines from there that jumped out of the song at me the first time I heard them, and continue to haunt me to this day (the verse about some folks having a secret, in particular, and of course, the climactic "tonight I'll be on that hill, because I can't stop...")

It's not subtle, but it's personal and personally meaningful, and that carries over to the music itself. The song stops just short of bombast, but it's clear that he's pulled out all the stops here and is going for full effect. But despite all the melodrama, it never becomes cheesy or something you can dismiss as being purely gaudy --- and that, for me is the essence of his music. It is about dealing with powerful emotions and powerful ideas, going as far with them as they need to and setting them to appropriately powerful music, but never veering off into pure theatre, somehow making them feel intimate.

So, yeah, as far as I'm concerned if you would like to understand Bruce Springsteen's music in 5 minutes or so, that one track is probably the way to go. Plus everything else everybody said here.
posted by Tiresias at 8:25 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I completely agree with nequalsone. Start at the beginning (Asbury Park), go through Born to Run then Nebraska if you're feeling sad and folky and the River if you're feeling poppy. Beyond that, it's pretty hit or miss. But the first 4 albums and Nebraska are compete classics.
posted by saul wright at 8:37 PM on September 15, 2010

sorry, should say go through Darkness on the Edge of Town.
posted by saul wright at 8:38 PM on September 15, 2010

There's SO much. Whoever's advice you end up taking about where to start, please supplement it with Tracks and bootleg live shows, if you can get your hands on them - it's thrilling stuff. If you're really interested, feel free to MeMail me, I have a LOT of boots. Also recommended, if you can swing it: see him and the band live. In Jersey, for maximum awesome. I did this last year and it was... the best.
posted by illenion at 9:08 PM on September 15, 2010

Best answer: I like chronologically, myself, and I agree that at a certain point he became less artistically compelling, with fewer good albums -- but fans will disagree about when that starts. My key point would be to not start with Born in the USA. While I like the album myself, and it's still his most popular, as an album I find it slicker, cleaner, and more minimalist than some of his other work (something like the ur-adult contemporary disc). It has beautiful songs on it like "Dancing in the Dark" and "I'm on Fire", but they are trimmed of all his rhetorical flourishes and specific characters and events, more imagistic and both more and less urgent at once. Best get to that when you can see it as a distillation of his style.

From Greetings: Blinded by the Light (then listen to the Manfred Mann version)
From Wild (probably my favorite): 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) -- an early version of his yearning songs
: Incident on 57th Street
: Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) -- this is my favorite song, with so many change-ups in tempo, key, and schema that you go crazy.
From Born to Run (when his bombast and story songs and pop sensibility and sheer joy all come together just right for the first time): Oh, God, everything. But Thunder Road and Born to Run are thematically linked, one could almost say reworkings of the same song. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out was a single, and I like it, but it's a bit of a harkening back stylistically and today I don't think it would be commercial. She's the One and Jungleland are similarly a bit redundant if you have listened to everything else thus far, but also you can see how he is striving to more accessibility and less lyrical flourish for its own sake.
From Darkness: Badlands (a precursor to Nebraska-era geography-as-destiny), Racing in the Streets (sticking with a theme getting longer in the tooth for him), Prove it All Night (was this a single? I forget, but it's more of a pop song than most else here), and then Darkness, which as Tiresias notes is a haunting epic in its own right.
From The River: Hungry Heart is where he melds the story song and pop structures best, I think. It also seems to portray more than some of his other work up to this point an aging viewpoint, a man approaching middle age with things to regret and unable to reconcile himself with his need to "run" on the "road".
: Cadillac Ranch (was this a single?) is certainly one of his better fun car songs from this era.
: The River (story song, heavy regret, suicidal ideation or spiritual?), another amazing melding of downtrodden, older narrative with songwriting pointed straight at the charts. It seems impossible to do something like this today.

That's a start.
posted by dhartung at 10:59 PM on September 15, 2010

OK, my $.02, agreeing with the general gist of 70s albums first...
two songs that hit it right home to me from the first listen, and did not get much mention here, are Lost in the Flood (on Greetings...) and Jungleland (B2R; no redundancy here IMO, more like the culmination of that fantastic record. B2R is a high-tension, very crowded album and all that gets a magnificent release in Clarence's sax solo about halfway through the song)
Live versions on Odeon Hammersmith are superb as well.
posted by gijsvs at 1:02 AM on September 16, 2010

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