Is Bruce Springsteen really the Boss?
By Chris Shea and Callum Leemkuil-Schuerman
Point: We all know he’s the Boss
Is Bruce Springsteen really the Boss? Does Springsteen’s music still have relevance way out in 2019? Should I be listening to “Nebraska” right now? The answer to all of these questions is a loud, resounding yes, screamed at the top of my lungs.
That’s right—Bruce Springsteen is the Boss and there are no two ways about it. One simple listen to “Nebraska” should be enough to prove that. From the gentle opening harmonica strains of the album’s first and title track, you know you’re in for one hell of an emotional journey. If you’re not in tears by the time “Johnny 99” is over, then I don’t know what to tell you. The hopeless, austere misery of “Nebraska” shows America’s favorite rock-and-roll poet channeling the misery of the United States under Reagan—can you name a stronger refutation of Reaganomics than “Used Cars?” I sure as hell can’t.
That’s not to denigrate any of his other work—“Born to Run” is arguably the greatest rock album of all time, and it certainly resonated hard with young working-class Americans. With Max Weinberg joining the Boss on drums, you can find the E Street Band rocking and rolling in style on every track. And of course, I’d be remiss not to mention “The River,” an album that foretells much of where Springsteen would go in the 1980s.
But if we’re trying to show exactly what Bruce has to offer, you can’t go wrong with “Dancing in the Dark,” off the incredible album “Born in the U.S.A.” While some might complain about the heavy pop sound, “Dancing in the Dark” shows that the Boss retains his lyrical depth even when he’s dressed up in pop clothes, and the mellow sax of Clarence Clemons coming in at the end proves this is the same old Springsteen.
To put it as simply as I can—popular music today has nothing on what the Boss was putting out in his heyday.
Counterpoint: Bruce Springsteen, truly the Boss of all music
While “Nebraska” has great story-telling in what is essentially Springsteen’s darkest album, I would not list it as the album you should listen to right now. Instead, I would suggest “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” Following a three year legal battle with his former manager, the Boss returned to carry on the message of his previous album, “Born to Run” (arguably the greatest rock album of all time). That message? Getting out and that you can’t escape your problems. Really deep stuff.
Of course, everyone should still listen to “Nebraska,” for it has such a great stripped-down sound.
You also completely undersold how great of an album “The River” is. This album very much shows Springsteen growing up and adapting his sound to what his 80s music would become.
And if we’re talking albums that effectively refuted “President” Reagan, then it is easily “Born in the U.S.A.” Yes, it was created to be more commercially successful, but that is because it was filled with such great songs. I mean, we can all agree that “Dancing in the Dark” is an absolutely fantastic song that showcases the Boss’ ability to hide his rage and frustration under a glossy pop sheen. Plus, Springsteen very much told Reagan, and other presidential candidates such as Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan, to stop co-opting his music from this album.
Also, did I highlight just how great “Born to Run” is? This album was make or break for Springsteen’s career, and he saved that career with a collection of tracks which spoke to working-class America and the challenges of youth. Just listen to “Backstreets”; you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Simply put, Bruce Springsteen is the greatest thing to ever happen to music. Nothing will ever come close to his musical genius.