Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’ album: Songs ranked from worst to first
The incredible 20-track double album that is The River would become a launching point for the careers of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. The album's success is so great, that Springsteen and the E Street Band are currently, 36 years later, on The River Tour 2016, and they are putting on a full performance of the album every single night. The concert will also feature outtakes from The River that can be heard on The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, which was released in December. The box set includes The River, the single album The Ties That Bind that Springsteen scrapped the year before making The River, as well as outtakes, a concert DVD and documentary. On Sunday, January 31st, they will be performing their homecoming show at the Prudential Center in Newark.
What songs on The River are your favorite? How about your least favorite? The reason why it's a double album is because Springsteen wanted to balance the highs of songs like "Crush On You" and "Ramrod" with emotional ballads like "Drive All Night" and "Independence Day." They can't all be classics, but they also aren't all duds.
Below is my worst to first ranking of every song on The River.
20: You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
At just over 2:30, this is the shortest of the twenty songs on The River. This tempo and the humorous lyrics feed off each other beautifully. A song that is sure to drive the crowd wild every time it’s performed.
Stand out lyrics: Well I called up Dirty Annie on the telephone / I took her out to the drive-in just to get her alone / I found a lover's rendezvous, the music low, set to park / I heard a tappin' on the window and a voice in the dark / You can look, but you better not touch
Listen to "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" here.
19: Jackson Cage
“Jackson Cage” is the third of the four-part fast-paced opening of The River, but it is often the most forgotten of the group. Danny Feredici’s organ playing shines on this track.
Stand out lyrics: Baby there's nights when I dream of a better world / But I wake up so downhearted girl / I see you feeling so tired and confused / I wonder what it's worth to me or you
Listen to "Jackson Cage" here.
18: The Price You Pay
A Springsteenian take on human sacrifice. This song didn’t see the light of day in concert for years. In fact, the only reason a live rendition of this song surfaced again in 2009, and will on this current tour, is simply due to the fact it has to be played during a full performance of The River.
Stand out lyrics: You can run through all the nights and all the days / But just across the county line, a stranger passing through put up a sign / That counts the men fallen away to the price you pay, and girl before the end of the day / I'm gonna tear it down and throw it away
Listen to "The Price You Pay" here.
17: Point Blank
The first track on part two of The River is also one of Springsteen’s most soul-crushing lyrically. He feels sad, disappointed and angry, and the only thing he has to hold onto isn’t even there at all, as a verse-long dream sequence quietly fades away.
Stand out lyrics: You grew up where young girls they grow up fast / You took what you were handed and left behind what was asked / but what they asked baby wasn't right / you didn't have to live that life
16: I’m A Rocker
It’s almost as if Springsteen challenged himself to see how many pop culture references he could fit into 3:36. James Bond, Kojack, Secret Agent Man - they’re all there, and then some! Sometimes some good old fashioned rock n’ roll is all you need.
Stand out lyrics: So you fell for some jerk who was tall, dark and handsome / Then he kidnapped your heart and now he's holdin' it for ransom
Listen to "I'm A Rocker" here.
15: Cadillac Ranch
The Cadillac Ranch exists as a roadside attraction in Amarillo, TX. One thing Springsteen does really well in his writing is disguise dark lyrics with upbeat rock music. This song is no exception, as the main theme of “Cadillac Ranch” is death. Everyone will eventually die, but Bruce isn't ready to go just yet!
Stand out lyrics: Hey, little girl in the blue jeans so tight / Riding alone through Wisconsin night / You're my last love baby you're my last chance / Don't let 'em take me to the Cadillac Ranch
Listen to the studio version of "Cadillac Ranch" here.
14: Crush On You
A Rolling Stones-esque rocker that will get everyone out of their seats. A lot of songs on The River were recorded on a soundstage and produced to mimic the band’s live act. “Crush On You” may well be the pinnacle of that outcome.
Stand out lyrics: Sometimes I spot a little stranger standing 'cross the room / My brain takes a vacation just to give my heart more room / For one kiss, darling I swear everything I would give / Cause you're a walking, talking reason to live
Listen to "Crush On You" here.
13: I Wanna Marry You
The title speaks for itself. The character in this song loves this woman and wants to spend the rest of his life with her. Instead of promising her the whole world, he takes a more realistic approach.
Stand out lyrics: They say in the end true love prevails / But in the end true love can't be no fairytale / To say I'll make your dreams come true would be wrong / But maybe, darlin', I could help them along
Listen to "I Wanna Marry You" here.
12: Wreck On The Highway
The lyrics to this song are among Springsteen’s most visual. “Wreck On The Highway” is a slow tempo song that describes a moment where the song’s character came upon a hit and run victim on a nearly empty highway. This encounter sticks with him for the rest of his life. This is the haunting final track from The River.
Stand out lyrics: Sometimes I sit up in the darkness / And I watch my baby as she sleeps / Then I climb in bed and I hold her tight / I just lay there awake in the middle of the night / Thinking 'bout the wreck on the highway
Listen to "Wreck On The Highway" here.
11: Sherry Darling
"Sherry Darling" was first written when Springsteen was making the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album, but was later scrapped because he felt the album was too dark for this summer party anthem. Springsteen loves Sherry, but he can no longer stand her mother.
Stand out lyrics: Now Sherry my love for you is real / But I didn't count on this package deal / And baby this car just ain't big enough for her and me
Listen to "Sherry Darling" here.
10: Stolen Car
Similar to what “The Promise” is to “Thunder Road,” music critic Clinton Heylin suggests this song is the dark continuation of the story Springsteen sings about in "Hungry Heart". Springsteen says "Stolen Car" was one of the songs that marked a shift in his songwriting that fans would later be exposed to on his acoustic Nebraska album in 1982.
Stand out lyrics: At first I thought it was just restlessness / That would fade as time went by and our love grew deep / In the end it was something more I guess / That tore us apart and made us weep
Listen to "Stolen Car" here.
9: Fade Away
Danny Federici performance really stands out on this underrated song off of the second disk of The River. Springsteen's relationship is failing because his girlfriend feels trapped. In an effort to prevent heartbreak, he tells her that he misses his freedom too.
Stand out lyrics: You say that you miss the nights when we'd go out dancing / The days when you and I walked as to / Well girl I miss them too / Oh I swear that I do / Oh girl
Listen to "Fade Away" here.
8: Drive All Night
Springsteen belts out a passionate ballad about losing his lover and the great, and ridiculous, lengths he'd go to to get her back. The song slowly builds to a beautiful and unexpected saxophone solo by Clarence “Big Man” Clemons.
Stand out lyrics: Tonight there's fallen angels and they're waiting for us down in the street / Tonight they're calling strangers, hear them crying in defeat / Let them go, let them go, let them go do their dances of the dead
Listen to "Drive All Night" here.
7: The Ties That Bind
The opening track of this double album is a tale of Springsteen challenging his counterpart's view on love. The title of this song was going to be the name for the single album he was set to release in 1979, until he decided that “something was missing.”
Stand out lyrics: You sit and wonder just to who's gonna stop the rain / Who'll ease the sadness, who's gonna quiet the pain / It's a long dark highway with a thin white line / Connecting baby your heart to mine
Listen to the studio version of "The Ties That Bind" here.
Rock and roll at its finest. It's hard to find a song more energetic live than “Ramrod.” To me this is the best “using cars as a metaphor for sex” song Springsteen has ever written. And yes, there is one other: “Pink Cadillac."
Stand out lyrics: Late at night when I'm dead on the line / I swear I think of your pretty face when I let her unwind / Well look over yonder see them city lights / Come on little dolly 'n' go ramroddin' tonight
Listen to "Ramrod" here.
5: Independence Day
Leaving home is a moment everyone remembers. In this beautiful ballad, Springsteen is down, but not out. He knows the challenges he is about to face as he leaves his home and his father for good.
Stand out lyrics: Now I don't know what it always was with us / We chose the words, and yeah, we drew the lines / There was no way this house could hold the two of us / I guess that we we were just too much of the same kind
Listen to "Independence Day" here.
4: Out in the Street
A crowd favorite that is relatable to people of all ages. Springsteen depicts the life of a 20-something who scrapes by while working his heart out during the week so he can take his girl out on the weekend. And when that 5 o'clock whistle blows on Friday afternoon, there is nobody happier in the world.
Stand out lyrics: I work five days a week girl / Loading crates down on the dock / I take my hard earned money / And meet my girl down on the block / And Monday when the foreman calls time / I've already got Friday on my mind
Listen to the studio version of "Out In The Street" here.
3: Hungry Heart
This was Springsteen's first top 10 hit, and he didn't even write this song for himself. He wrote “Hungry Heart” for The Ramones the night he met Joey Ramone. Luckily for Bruce, his manager and producer Jon Landau advised him to keep it for himself.
Stand out lyrics: I met her in a Kingstown bar / We fell in love I knew it had to end / Don't make no difference what nobody says / Ain't nobody like to be alone
Listen to "Hungry Heart" here.
2: The River
The story of two young people who have their entire lifetimes ahead of them before real life takes it course. During the first live performance of this song, Springsteen cited the inspiration of this haunting ballad as his sister and brother-in-law.
Stand out lyrics: Now those memories come back to haunt me / They haunt me like a curse / Is a dream a life if it don't come true / Or is it something worse
Listen to "The River" here.
1: Two Hearts
Perhaps one of Bruce Springsteen's greatest and most underrated songs. Disguised behind the band's fast-paced play is some of Springsteen's most beautiful lyrics. The acoustic version of "Two Hearts" in the video above will give you a much better idea of how passionate Springsteen feels about the importance of love. This song opened most shows during Bruce Springsteen's reunion tour at the turn of the millennium.
Stand out lyrics: There's one thing mister, that I know / That's if you think your heart is stone / And that you're rough enough to whip this world alone / Alone buddy there ain't no peace of mind / That's why I'll keep searching 'til I find my special one
Listen to the studio version of "Two Hearts" here.
Do you agree with my rankings of the tracks on The River? What would your ranking be? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.