Ranking the Top 5 Songs on Bruce Springsteen’s Debut Album ‘Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.’

Before he was the future of rock and roll, Bruce Springsteen was a scruffy yet promising singer/songwriter from the Garden State. His debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., didn’t rock so much as soulfully swung, while displaying a Dylanesque tendency to fill every last space in the songs with words.

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Not many checked the record out. (It only made it to No. 60 on the Billboard album charts, and that was only after Born to Run came out and made Springsteen famous.) But it deserves a look now as the first artistic statement from one of the great artists of our time. Let’s rank five songs that stand out.

5. “Blinded by the Light”

The trivia answer to the question: What was Springsteen’s only No. 1 song? But it wasn’t his shambolic version that made it to the top. It took a massive reinvention by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band to get the song to the pinnacle. Springsteen has talked about walking around with a rhyming dictionary to come up with the crazed lyrics. That’s reflects a bit of modesty on his part, because it takes a special kind of songwriter to take all those rhymes and construct something that manages to celebrate youthful abandon in such an exciting manner as “Blinded by the Light” manages to do.

4. “Growin’ Up”

One thing that holds Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. back a bit is the production, as the instruments tend to wash together in a muddle instead of being given a chance to stand out. You hear a little bit of that on “Growin’ Up,” where Springsteen’s nimble lyrics are the clear high point. Live versions have solved this problem (and given him a chance to come up with larger-than-life intros). In any case, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many songs that capture the folly of growing up, as well as the pure exhilaration of it, as well as this one.

3. “Spirit in the Night”

Many people dismiss or overlook the debut, but the three songs to come on this list stand among Springsteen’s very best. “Spirit in the Night” benefits greatly from the presence of Clarence Clemons, who adds just the right bit of sly soulfulness on saxophone to give the track a sense of identity that few of the other songs on the debut achieve. Springsteen was fond of telling tales of reckless youth back in the day, and he often cast them in a kind of supernatural glow, as if the excess of teenagers can’t quite be explained by earthbound laws. Some great character sketches emerge here in just three verses, an impressive display of skills by the young songwriter.

2. “For You”

Springsteen simply didn’t write a lot of songs about romantic relationships in the early stages of his career. (As a matter of fact, he wouldn’t truly broach the subject on a widespread basis until the Tunnel of Love album in 1987.) But here’s an early example with some high-wire lyrics that are a true thrill to hear. The narrator seems at his wit’s end about how to please a girl whose life is surrounded by drama. Suicide is mentioned in the song, but that seems like the narrator’s way of playing up the tumult in which this girl is constantly enveloped. As he moans, I came for you, for you, it’s clear this guy’s best intentions weren’t enough to make a viable relationship with this girl work.

1. “Lost in the Flood”

Many of the songs on the debut record contained an element of humor (which sometimes undercut their impact a bit, frankly). But “For You” is stark and sobering. Musically, the wild organ runs of David Sancious give this one an almost prog-rock vibe that’s unique in the Springsteen catalog. Springsteen is out there on the street telling stories about the folks he sees, like in many other songs of that era. But the subtext here leans more tragic than romantic. The characters seem maniacally driven to bad ends, as if a sinister force is pushing them beyond what their bodies are meant to hold. And when the narrator fails to understand the reasons for their actions, he falls back on the notion they were all “Lost in the Flood,” suggesting a wider malaise sucking an entire generation into the undertow.

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