Few artists have so accurately captured American life in all of its nuance and spirit quite as Bruce Springsteen has.
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Unlike many of his rockstar peers, the persona he exhibits on stage is not that of an untouchable force, clad in spandex and imbued with an air of pretense. Instead, he stands on stage as a model of the working class with songs that are such American paradigms they should be right up there with baseball and apple pie.
Springsteen’s poetic turns about being beaten down and losing dreams work two-fold. In one sense, his lyrics are deeply relatable—we’ve all felt that way a time or two. In another, seeing Springsteen in all his glory on stage, belting out the lyrics to “Dancing in the Dark” or “Born to Run,” offers a sense of hope that maybe we too could be that extraordinary by just being…ordinary.
Below, let’s go through just 7 of Bruce Springsteen’s best lyrics that continue to move us today.
1. I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd but when they said “Sit down” I stood up (“Growin’ Up“)
From Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., comes this Dylan-esque ode to rebellion. Springsteen shuns the two-verses and a chorus idea and instead spews out lines of lyrics like a beat poet on a roll. One of the best lines in “Growin’ Up” is featured above. It’s perfectly evocative of the defiance we crave as teenagers moving into adulthood.
2. The screen door slams / Mary’s dress waves / Like a vision she dances across the porch / As the radio plays / Roy Orbison singing for the lonely / Hey that’s me and I want you only (“Thunder Road“)
Arguably one of Springsteen’s quintessential songs, “Thunder Road” tells the story of one couple’s epic pursuit of breaking free from a life that’s gotten you down. Springsteen once said of this song, “What I hoped it would be when I wrote this song is what I got out of rock and roll music—which is a sense of a larger life, greater experience, hopefully more and better sex, a sense of fun—more fun, a sense of personal exploration, your possibilities… the idea that it is all lying somewhere inside of you… just on the edge of town.”
3. ‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run (“Born to Run”)
There is just something about “Born to Run.” While many of Springsteen’s songs talk about “breaking free” and “getting out,” this song remains his most powerful testament to the idea. The chorus above is as straightforward as it is moving, proving that sometimes the simplest ideas hit the hardest.
4. The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive / Everybody’s out on the run tonight / but there’s no place left to hide (“Born to Run”)
“Born to Run” is so good it deserves two spots on this list. We’d bet that at one point and time in all of our lives we’ve found that the only solution to our problems is hopping in the car and taking a long, reflective drive. Maybe it takes our mind off it. Maybe it’s the potential to take a right turn and find ourselves somewhere far away. Regardless, in “Born to Run,” Springsteen knows that moment all too well.
5. Poor man wanna be rich / rich man wanna be king / And a king ain’t satisfied / till he rules everything (“Badlands“)
Someone, somewhere, a long time ago coined the idea that human beings are never satisfied, but I doubt they did it with as much swagger as Springsteen does in “Badlands.” One of his best vocal efforts and featuring some of his most poetic strokes, Springsteen hit a stride while writing “Badlands.”
6. Tonight, tonight the strip’s just right / I wanna blow ’em off in my first heat / Summer’s here and the time is right / For goin’ racin’ in the street (“Racing in the Street”)
In the same vein as “Born to Run,” “Racing in the Street” meditates on the idea that hopping behind the wheel can be an escape, albeit with a balladeer’s sensibility. Springsteen’s voice echoes out of the speaker in this one and similarly reverberates around the mind.
7. I check my look in the mirror / Wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face / Man, I ain’t gettin’ nowhere / I’m just livin’ in a dump like this / There’s somethin’ happenin’ somewhere / Baby, I just know that there is (“Dancing in the Dark”)
Harkening back to the rebellion weaved around his debut album, “Dancing in the Dark” was born out of his producer Jan Landau telling him he thought Born in the U.S.A lacked a hit. Springsteen wrote this song about his “difficulty writing a hit single and his frustration trying to write songs that will please people.” Ironically, the track became the highest charting single The Boss ever had at the time, with audiences across the country finding a connection to the lyrics.
By Rob DeMartin