10 underrated Bruce Springsteen songs

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10 underrated Bruce Springsteen songs

Bruce Springsteen songs
Words by Christopher Hockey

In the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Springsteen sings of working class struggles in the American heartland in a style that is uniquely his own, a style that helped to define an era.

There are very few songwriters in the American music canon as respected, with Bruce Springsteen songs speaking to the very hearts of America.

Bruce Springsteen songs

But, as revered as his songbook may be, it is also vast, and thus inevitably includes some great tracks that haven’t yet received the attention they deserve. Here are ten underrated tracks by ‘The Boss’ that perhaps you haven’t heard, or haven’t heard enough. 

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Drive All Night (The River, 1980) 

The River, Springsteen’s esteemed fifth album, was envisaged as an attempt to capture the E Street band’s energetic live sound and spawned several hit singles for the group. Not included amongst these hits however, was the oft overlooked ballad “Drive All Night”, a beautiful, piano-driven tale of lost love that features a positively spine tingling vocal performance. Playing the part of a man yearning for his estranged lover, Springsteen’s simple and gut-wrenching lyricism is in full flight on this song. 

My Father’s House (Nebraska, 1982) 

Nebraska, 1982’s sparse, haunting follow up to The River, was recorded by Springsteen alone as a demo tape on a four track recorder. Initially planning to re-record the songs with the E Street Band, Springsteen ultimately decided to release the songs as they were. “My Father’s House”, an incredibly moving deep-cut from the record, touches upon the complex relationship between father and son, and laments man’s inability to change the past in a sombre, folky style. 

Shut Out The Light (Non-Album B-Side, 1984) 

Serving as the B-Side to Springsteen’s mega-hit “Born in the U.S.A.”, “Shut Out The Light” is a delicate acoustic number inspired by Ron Kovic’s book Born on the Fourth of July. Alongside a fantastic performance by violinist Soozie Tyrell, Springsteen’s lyrics on this track speak to the harrowing psychological repercussions of the Vietnam War. “Shut Out The Light” serves as a perfect foil to its harder, poppier A-Side and showcases a gentler facet of the Boss’s songwriting. 

Janey Don’t You Lose Heart (Non-Album B-Side, 1985) 

The sixth single from 1984’s Born in the U.S.A., “I’m Going Down” is perhaps not one of Springsteen’s finest lyrical moments, but thankfully it did provide us with its upbeat yet gentle B-Side “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart”. A fine example of of one of the Bruce Springsteen songs with an unmistakable melodic sensibility and featuring a more tender, sophisticated message than its somewhat goofy A-Side, this track is well worth a spin. With its seductive, warming lyrics and highly catchy tune, there’s not much to dislike about this under-the-radar earworm. 

Tougher Than The Rest (Tunnel of Love, 1987) 

Featuring heavily reverberated drum machines and spacious synths, the sound of “Tougher Than The Rest” is pure 80s. Lying under the slightly corny sheen of its production however, is one of Springteen’s finest ballads. Whilst not a hit in the United States, this simple tale of the bitterness of love and the inevitability of raw attraction was very well received in Europe upon its release and remains one of Springsteen’s most emotive works. 

If I Should Fall Behind (Lucky Town, 1992) 

A tribute to his wife Patti Scialfa and considered by the Boss to be one of his best tracks, “If I Should Fall Behind” is a beautifully timeless, grown-up love song. Whilst originally somewhat overlooked, this stunning track eventually became a fan favourite and features some of Springsteen’s most moving and poetic lyrics. With its enchanting Latin feel, lush instrumentation and gorgeous melody, this song truly is a highlight of Springsteen’s catalogue.Whilst these days it’s perhaps not so underrated, it’s never a bad time to bring it up. 

Straight Time (The Ghost of Tom Joad, 1995) 

Folky in its nature and considered by some to be a sister-album to 1982’s Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad marked Springsteen’s return to a mostly acoustic sound and also earned him a Grammy. Despite not being particularly well known, “Straight Time” is a standout track from the record thanks to its refreshingly simple approach and its effective depiction of an ex-con attempting to live a normal life. The stripped back nature of this album allows both Springsteen’s artistic and actual voice to really shine through, and ‘Straight Time’ is a great example of why that’s so valuable. 

Back in Your Arms (Tracks, 1998) 

In 1998, Springsteen released Tracks a compilation box-set of B-Sides, rarities and previously unheard outtakes. Hidden amongst these gems was “Back in Your Arms”, a charming studio outtake recorded in 1995. Featuring a lovely saxophone performance by Clarence Clemons, “Back in Your Arms” is a brilliantly soulful ballad that perfectly encapsulates Springsteen’s unique style. Huskily crying out for the embrace of an ex-lover, Springsteen once again finds a way to lift spirits and tug on heartstrings simultaneously on this little-known tune. 

The Hitter (Devils & Dust, 2005) 

Featured on Springsteen’s somewhat unheralded album Devils & Dust, the third in his unofficial acoustic trilogy, “The Hitter” is a Bob Dylan-esque folk song that showcases his immense gift for storytelling. Spinning the tale of a boxer lamenting his decision to throw a fight, Springsteen’s use of first person perspective in this song is highly dramatic, exemplifying his literary ability to foster empathy for an unlikable character. In songs such as “The Hitter”, Springsteen pays tribute to his songwriting heroes and proves once again why he is often mentioned alongside them. 

City Of Night (The Promise, 2010) 

A soulful deep cut from the Boss’s later period, “City of Night” is a refined, atmospheric number somewhat reminiscent of the stylings of Mink DeVille. Whilst considered by some to be a bit of a throwaway song, “City Of Night” features a brilliantly minimal production style, lovely instrumentation and even contains a hidden track entitled “The Way”. Showing that in 2010, Springsteen’s over forty year career was far from over, fantastic deep cuts like this one remind us why it still isn’t. Springsteen continues to fill the great American songbook with his timeless works today and shows no signs of slowing down. 

Long may he reign. 

Watch Bob Clearmountain’s famous work on Bruce’s “Born in the U.S.A.” here.