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March 21, 2017

Here’s what happened when I scored Bruce Springsteen’s first seven albums like a track meet

By almost all metrics — emotional sophistication, physical maturity, reaching key sexual milestones — I was a late bloomer. But in terms of events contributing to my becoming the man I am today, no development took hold later in life than my awakening as a fan of Bruce Springsteen. Likely because of this, I feel the need to overcompensate, and use my soapbox here at Citius Mag to shout and holler my way into the discourse surrounding The Boss and his impressive catalog.

A lot of folks who fancy themselves fans of Springsteen can confidently cite their favorite album of his. I can’t – as I like plenty of them about the same. But what if I told you I figured out a way to fairly scientifically prove which album is the best in his arsenal? That’s just what I did, by scoring his first seven albums like a track meet.

The rules of engagement that I have entirely pulled out of my ass are as follows:

Each of Bruce’s first seven albums shall be considered a team. So we’re looking at a meet contested between Greetings from Asbury Park; The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle; Born to Run; Darkness on the Edge of Town; The River; Nebraska; and Born in the U.S.A..

(Why just the first seven albums? Well, Springsteen’s discography is massive, and if you asked diehard fans what’s considered canon, I’d imagine you’d get very different answers. As for me, I like these seven the most, and they were released chronologically so it made sense. I like Tunnel of Love slightly less than the next guy, and a line had to be drawn somewhere.)

Given that albums are teams, you’d be correct in assuming that individual songs are now individual athletes. And since you have at least a rudimentary understanding of how track meets work, you know that different athletes compete in different events. To continue stringing along this tenuous metaphor, I’ve decided the following “events” will be contested:

Singles (songs released in the U.S. as singles), Deepish Cuts (songs that weren’t singles, but are still recognizable to casual fans), Ballads (songs that make you wanna cry; can be singles too), Bangers (songs that make you wanna dance; can be singles too), and Odds-and-Ends (songs that are really good but don’t fall into any specific category; to keep the metaphor alive, think of these songs as multi-event athletes). Could many of Bruce’s songs fall under several of these categories? Absolutely. So I took it upon myself to decide where each one belongs, through a process that was purely arbitrary.

As for scoring, each “team” can field as many “athletes” in each “event” as they’re able to. (Sorry for all the air quotes!) Points are awarded as follows: 1st place, 10 points; 2nd place, 8 points; 3rd place, 6 points; 4th place, 4 points; 5th place, 2 points; 6th place, 1 point.

Because scoring only goes down to 6th place, not every song from these albums will get a mention. Also note that I’m probably a bigger fan of Bruce’s first two albums than most of you, and less of a fan of The River than you, too. Also, how each track “places” is a reflection of how much I like it, only. I’m not awarding points for being influential or important or popular. Are a lot of great songs being left out? Oh buddy, you bet! Such is the nature of competition. This is my blog post and ya’ll are all just living in it.

So with that, let’s go to the results:

Singles

  1. “Dancing in the Dark” – Born in the U.S.A. – 10
  2. “Born to Run” – Born to Run – 8
  3. “Hungry Heart” – The River – 6
  4. “Atlantic City” – Nebraska – 4
  5. “I’m on Fire” – Born in the U.S.A. – 2
  6. “Glory Days” – Born in the U.S.A. – 1

It’s no surprise that the album that features seven singles dominated this category. What might be surprising, though, is that “Dancing in the Dark,” the song whose music video launched Courtney Cox’s acting career, beat the dang song with “run” in the title. After one event, Born in the U.S.A. holds a commanding lead with 13 points, to Born to Run’s 8, The River’s 6, and Nebraska’s 4.

Deepish Cuts

  1. “Thunder Road” – Born to Run – 10
  2. “Darkness on the Edge of Town” – Darkness on the Edge of Town – 8
  3. “The River” – The River – 6
  4. “The Promised Land” – Darkness on the Edge of Town – 4
  5. “Factory” – Darkness on the Edge of Town – 2
  6. “No Surrender” – Born in the U.S.A. – 1

Born in the U.S.A., though loaded with singles, falls short in the loosely defined “deepish cut” event. And Darkness on the Edge of Town capitalizes in a big way, scoring three tracks. But the real story here is “Thunder Road” — due to its sheer yell-along-ability — sweeping in to give Born to Run the lead with a huge win over favorites like The River’s eponymous track. Born to Run sits in first place with 18 points, followed by Born in the U.S.A. and Darkness on the Edge of Town (tied with 14 points), The River (12), and Nebraska (4).

Ballads

  1. “New York City Serenade” – The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle – 10
  2. “Bobby Jean” – Born in the U.S.A. – 8
  3. “Incident on 57th Street” – The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle – 6
  4. “Backstreets” – Born to Run – 4
  5. “Jungleland” – Born to Run – 2
  6. “Nebraska” – Nebraska – 1

The biggest takeaway from this section is that my definition of a ballad is probably not that technically sound, but who cares? “New York City Serenade” takes top honors as it’s one of maybe four songs that cause me to cry regardless of the context in which I listen to it. So we have Born to Run clinging barely to its lead with 24 points, while Born in the U.S.A. (22) narrows the deficit to two. The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle emerges as a viable challenger (16) alongside Darkness on the Edge of Town (14), while The River (12) and Nebraska (5) are on the outside looking in. Greetings from Asbury Park has yet to score, which surprises even me, as the author.

Bangers

  1. “Spirit in the Night” – Greetings from Asbury Park – 10
  2. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” – The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle – 8
  3. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” – Born to Run – 6
  4. “Two Hearts” – The River – 4
  5. “Blinded by the Light” – Greetings from Asbury Park – 2
  6. “Streets of Fire” – Darkness on the Edge of Town – 1

Hey-hey I spoke too soon! Asbury Park surges onto the scene in the Bangers category, and in hindsight, I was a dumb-ass for being surprised. This is where the album shines. While we all gawk at its sudden appearance onto the standings, Born to Run maintains its lead (30), The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (24) overtakes Born in the U.S.A. (22). The River picks up four to make 16 points, and passes Darkness on the Edge of Town (15). Greetings from Asbury Park (12) bumps Nebraska (5) into last, which saddens me, as I like to pretend it’s among my favorite Bruce albums, and that I like songs on it besides “Atlantic City.” (And if I’m truly being honest with myself, I prefer the Hold Steady’s cover of it, anyway.)

Odds-and-Ends

  1. “Point Blank” – The River – 10
  2. “Badlands” – Darkness on the Edge of Town – 8
  3. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” – The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle – 6
  4. “Growin’ Up” – Greetings from Asbury Park – 4
  5. “Downbound Train” – Born in the U.S.A. – 2
  6. “Open All Night” – Nebraska – 1

At the end of the day, I added this category out of guilt. Guilt for neglecting to recognize good songs, and guilt over my own probably mediocre-to-bad taste. And now, guilt for this dumb category causing a tie between a critically acclaimed, iconic rock ‘n’ roll album, and a much less known one that was way more popular in Sweden than in the states. But alas, here are the results:

Final Team/Album/Whatever Standings

  1. Born to Run (tie – 30 points)
  2. The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (tie – 30 points)
  3. The River (26 points)
  4. Born in the U.S.A. (24 points)
  5. Darkness on the Edge of Town (23 points)
  6. Greetings from Asbury Park (16 points)
  7. Nebraska (6 points)

Not surprisingly, Born to Run performed like a juggernaut. It’s a classic, hard-hitting, yet poppy Bruce album, that rocks and rolls, and features many a gratuitous sax solo. But The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle shocked the world, as well as this idiot writer, by tying with it. It’s way more sprawling and less conventional of an album, and with the exception of “Rosalita,” lacks the sing-along status accorded Born to Run. But as they say, “that’s why they write the contrived think piece!”

I suppose I enjoy The River more than I thought, or at least I have come to appreciate it as a very impressive, very lengthy pseudo-concept album. Bruce may have written it for the Ramones, but he absolutely crushes “Hungry Heart,” and even if The River were just that song plus 11 tracks of farting sounds, it’d still be a classic. (As a shameless plug, this minimally viewed video of Titus Andronicus covering it, then transitioning into “No Future Pt. III is my favorite thing online.)

Born in the U.S.A. severely underperformed based on my expectations. It took some getting used to, but synthed-out Springsteen is a very good Springsteen, and this album owns. I think the fact that “Born in the U.S.A.” the song is kind of annoying, kept the album from faring better.

Darkness on the Edge of Town and Nebraska are both probably best enjoyed while driving across a desolate landscape. And had I written this article while driving, it not only would have been extremely dangerous, but these albums might have ranked higher. I would give my life to blogging. But I won’t die for it.

And honestly, who knows about Greetings from Asbury Park? I enjoy a few songs off it a great deal, but primarily because of misplaced positive associations I have with the bad movie Big Daddy, and out of disdain for the Manfred Mann Band, whose better known cover of “Blinded by the Light” is comparatively shitty.

Listen to the entire track meet below on Spotify:

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