When discussing America’s hopes and dreams, Bruce Springsteen embodies that working man spirit. Although he may not have had the same upbringing that he sang about in his songs, ‘The Boss’ understood that everyone needed to go the extra mile to go the distance as one of the greatest in their field. While Springsteen has had many albums that have painted vivid pictures of the misfits on the wrong side of the tracks, he believes one record has meant the most to him throughout his career.
Before he had secured his big break, though, Springsteen’s future in the industry was looking dire in 1974. After being heralded as the 1970s answer to Bob Dylan, Springsteen was quickly given a mantle of pressure that he didn’t need, being thrust into scenarios he wanted no part of. Once his second album, The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, sold poorly, he knew his next album had to be more than another jam band album.
Working the E Street Band to the bone, Springsteen came through with the most impassioned songs of his career on Born to Run, painting a picture of the neighbourhoods he had called home for years. Although the visions of the New Jersey boardwalk gave fans a look into what Springsteen saw daily, the next few years would see him become more desensitised to his fame.
Across albums like Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River, Springsteen began to play with what made his sound so good in the first place, including many songs where the characters were just as unsure of their lives as adults as they were when they were innocent teenagers. By Springsteen reached the 1980s, though, Nebraska was the darkest left turn he had ever taken.
Armed with just a guitar and his voice, much of the album was assembled from demos of the songs he had been working on, only to be released bare without his signature band. Being the first proper Springsteen solo album, ‘The Boss’ would turn in some of the most haunting lyrics of his career on the record, including the family drama of ‘Highway Patrolman’ and ‘My Father’s House’.
While the band’s absence was surely felt, Springsteen remembered being enormously proud of the results, telling Jann Wenner, “I was confident it would find its audience and have a life of its own. It’s ended up being one of the most meaningful records I’ve ever recorded and is the record mentioned the most to me by young people. Maybe it’s the do-it-yourself nature of the sound or something. But obviously, it was a big departure”.
Aside from the raw sound of the record, Nebraska depicts Springsteen as being just as fallible as his audience, following the lead of Dylan and John Lennon before him by allowing his songwriting to explore the darker sides of the human condition. While Springsteen would quickly trade in his dark songs for synthesised perfection on Born in the USAonly a few years later, Nebraska remains one of the most haunting records ever released by a mainstream artist.