Musician, singer, songwriter Bruce Springsteen is one of the world's best-selling artists, with a career that spans 40 years.
In his book, Counting Down Bruce Springsteen, writer and music critic Jim Beviglia ranks Springsteen’s finest 100 songs. The list is based on the impact of each song and how powerfully the lyrics express people’s fears, hopes and dreams.
Springsteen, nicknamed "The Boss," is known for his poetic lyrics that tackle social and political issues, and his energetic stage performances.
Beviglia says the artist's upbringing in a New Jersey working class family profoundly affected his music.
“The social and the political issues, Springsteen has never been shy about writing about those," he said. "They started to come into play with an album called, ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town,’ (1978) where he started to look at small towns lives
and how people are just sort of doing the same things their parents did, and couldn't get out of that. Then as he goes on, those issues started to expand to some really darker stuff on an album called ‘Nebraska,’ (1982) where a lot of it is people pushed to the edge by poverty, committing crimes and things like that. There is an album called ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad,’ (1995) where he really takes social issues to the forefront, looking at things like immigration and poverty and hunger, right to the present time, just a few years ago, an album called ‘Wrecking Ball,' (2012) which really pointed at that sort of financial leaders and the powers that allowed that dichotomy between the rich and the poor.”
One of Springsteen's best-known songs is "Born in the USA," number nine on Beviglia's list.
“It’s an amazingly complex song, it's got this really rousing music, very patriotic, big drums, it's used with fireworks displays. But when you get to the lyrics, it’s a very sharp criticism of the way America treated its Vietnam vets upon returning home. It came out in 1984, at the time Ronald Reagan was running for reelection and a couple of conservative politicians picked up on the song," he said. "They didn’t hear the criticism part. They talked about how Springsteen reflected the American values. I believe Reagan even mentioned him in one of his campaign speeches. And Springsteen, when he found out about that, he quickly pulled back and said, ‘Wait a second, they’re mistaking the song here. This is more of a criticism. Maybe their values don’t coincide with my values.’”
Springsteen also wrote about personal relationships. Beviglia puts “Brilliant Disguise,” from the 1987 "Tunnel of Love" album, in fifth place on his Springsteen’s 100 finest songs list.
“It’s basically a couple who are putting on disguises for each other because they don’t reveal their true selves," he said. "There is mistrust and the relationship is kind of crumbling."
Beviglia says that was the state of Springsteen's marriage at the time. He and his first wife divorced shortly after.
"Born to Run" tops Beviglia's list. He says, after disappointing sales of Springsteen's first two albums, his label was thinking about dropping him. But "Born to Run" hit the charts in 1975 and saved Springsteen’s career.
“The lyrics, they leave you breathless, this idea that maybe we can never get free from our pasts, our home towns, but you have to give it a shot, take your chance. It cost a lot of money to produce," he said. "He used all these instruments. Had it failed, we might not be talking about Bruce Springsteen today."
But we are talking about him and listening to him. "Born to Run" has become Springsteen's signature song. He plays it at the end of every concert.
Beviglia says The Boss' ability to stay true to himself and express ordinary peoples’ concerns and hopes is what has made him a living legend.