Bruce Springsteen’s greatest songs: 21-30

bs bent Hey look, man, I’m not trying to diminish your favorites or convince you that “Lizard Lips and Chicken Hips” doesn’t contain the purest essence of the man’s philosophy and artistry. But it doesn’t. It really doesn’t.

But whatever. I have no idea what Rolling Stone’s fully tabulated 100 Best Springsteen songs list is going to be, but here comes my ballot, from #30 to #21.

30: I’m On Fire: Quoting Brian Fallon and Gaslight Anthem: “Sometimes I wake up with the sheets soaking wet/That’s a pretty good song, maybe you know the rest/Baby, you know the rest.” Indeed, tense and horny love songs don’t come as spellbound, and spellbinding, as this one. Good enough to write a whole other song about it.

29: Shackled and Drawn: Freedom, son, is a dirty shirt. And as this gospel-folk stomper shouts to the skies everyday labor can, and should, come with just as much joy — and twice the glory — as all the riches raining down on Banker’s Hill.

28: The Wrestler: Spare, aching, frightfully honest. The life of the broken-down fighter sheds light into the darker reaches of his portraitist.

27: Rendezvous: Especially the live version on “Tracks.” No, ONLY the live version. The ’78 outtake — released on The Promise — only sketches what the performance ignites into being.

26: Randolph Street: Written in 1970 or ’71 and demoed twice in ’72, a loving portrait of life in the crumbling home of grandparents Fred and Alice Springsteen. Haunted, surreal and honest portrayal of the long-destroyed house he still calls the place he loved the most. “Love was crazy and I had it in my marrow.”

25: The River: Another heartbroken family portrait, written for — and entirely about — the elder of his two little sisters, whose teenaged pregnancy led to a rough road made worse by social and economic strictures.

24: Badlands: The will to fight as its own triumph. Doubled down with the most precise description of the American power structure ever written: “Poor man wanna be rich/Rich man wanna be king/And a king ain’t satisfied ’til he rules everything.”

23: Save My Love: A Darkness-era tune uncompleted ’til 2010, but still electrified by the realization that the prayers going coast to coast have not only been heard , but also understood. “So turn on your radio and I’ll save my love for you.” Actually, the radio is the real focus of his ardor but there’s meaning and poetry in that kind of love, too.

22: American Land: From deep in his Irish/Italian soul, the American story from the bursting heart of the hardworking, wild-dreaming immigrant. You know, the muscle and spirit of the nation’s future, a/k/a the folks on the far side of the walls and border patrol rifles. But as this musical hurly-burly of drums, fiddles, whistles and shriekback guitar (on the Wrecking Ball version) makes clear, desire trumps hate every time.

21: Long Walk Home: Written in the post-glorious America of the early 21st century, a letter home to the place where nobody crowds you and nobody goes it alone. It’s a long journey back, but as long as you keep moving you know you can get there.

TOMORROW: A special guest appearance from James Young and the Immortal Ones.

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