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Jackson Browne on Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest Stories

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

As reported by Rolling Stone Magazine, here is Jackson Browne’s Top 10 list of Bruce Springsteen’s greatest stories:

‘This list is the hardest thing I’ve done in a long time. But you have an idea of what’s representative of him and what he means to me. When I first met him, his first album wasn’t out, and I had just released mine. He made two albums before he really blew up. But he’s an artist who has had many major turns and awakenings. A lot of surprising stuff has happened along the way.”

1. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” 1973

This is an avalanche of exuberance. He’s coming for her: “I ain’t here for business/I’m only here for fun.” Which is not true. He is serious. It speaks to what was happening in our generation’s youth — breaking free of all restraints.

2. “Thunder Road” 1975

3. “Born to Run” 1975

4. “Jungleland” 1975

I don’t think of these as escape songs. They’re very ambitious. “I want to know if love is real” [from “Born to Run”] — there’s all this stuff you’ve heard of and you want for yourself. But you have to be honest. You can’t pretend. “Jungleland” has cinematic scope. It’s interesting how many different names he came up with for essentially the same characters who inhabit these songs — people everybody knows.

5. “Badlands” 1975

There is an economy of language that comes in here, in this context he’s already laid down. He’s building a persona, a lexicon of references, as he goes along. That’s him singing the high part, while his other voice, this full-throated thing, continues below. It’s cool and thrilling.

6. “Atlantic City” 1982

This is one of the most intimate things he’s done to date. He’s taking responsibility for the city. He’s not escaping anywhere. He wants to make something good happen.

7. “I’m on Fire” 1984

It’s about fundamental, deep-seated desire. But he lets the muscular playing fall away. It’s astonishing to hear somebody who relied so much on physical power be understated.

8. “My Hometown” 1984

It’s the same thing happening in “Atlantic City,” a song about recognizing that you’re in this place with these other people — that where you’re from will always be with you. That had to happen. You couldn’t go on being the outsider, rejecting everybody.

9. “Dancing in the Dark” 1984

When he says, “I ain’t nothin’ but tired/I’m just bored with myself” — the frustration and desperation are real. That was always a triumph, when a record that said something about your life was on the radio.

10. “Streets of Philadelphia” 1994

This required great empathy and understanding. To write from the perspective of someone who is emaciated, with AIDS, is to forsake all of the strength Springsteen had staked his career on previously. It is quite a feat.

11. “Sad Eyes” 1998

It’s understated and confident but dark. It alludes to the idea of people who are lonely, what they are looking for in each other. It’s another one of his melodies that you can walk around singing for days.

12. “American Skin (41 Shots)” 2001

The refrain is a question: How did this happen? What is heartbreaking at the center is the admission: You can get killed for the color of your skin. It’s not a preachy song or a diatribe. It’s a quest. And for a live song, it is masterfully recorded and performed.

13. “The Rising” 2002

It’s more universal than 9/11. The “dream of life” litany is wonderful — this open-armed thing pulling people together. We’re only here for a short time, so make it count, make it good.

14. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” 1995

This song is about a condition that was with us in the Dust Bowl era but is with us again. He appropriates this character from John Steinbeck to talk about the many people who, once again, with us and yet outside of us, are not part of our prosperity.

15. “Your Own Worst Enemy” 2007

This is a surprising turn musically, with a Pet Sounds approach. At the same time, he’s discussing our integrity, our capacity for self-examination — telling the truth and doing the right thing.