- Human Touch
- Working on a Dream
- Lucky Town
- Western Stars
- High Hopes
- Devils & Dust
- Letter to You
- We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
- Tunnel of Love
- Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.
- The Ghost of Tom Joad
- Wrecking Ball
- The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle
- The River
- The Rising
- Born In The U.S.A.
- Darkness On the Edge of Town
- Born to Run
Ranking Bruce Springsteen’s Studio Albums
The pride and joy of Freehold, New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen has rocked the music industry for nearly fifty years. Springsteen’s twenty album catalog is a daunting endeavor for first-time listeners. For an artist that has spanned multiple genres and eras, how can one sort the best from the rest?
Have no fear, dear reader. My taste in music has been weaned on Springsteen since birth, and I’m happy to share my personal rankings to get to the heart of Springsteen’s discography.
I’ve ranked these albums based on their:
- Cultural Influence
- Relevance Today
- Overall Sound
Without further ado, let’s dig into the mammoth that is Bruce Springsteen’s discography.
20. Human Touch (1992)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s “Worst” Album
Human Touch commits a sin rarely seen in Springsteen’s discography: an album that is utterly dated. Springsteen fails to capture his signature sound and impact in this post-E Street Band mess.
Lyrically, Human Touch verges on self-parody. “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” climaxes with a bored rich man shooting his TV in frustration in an act so ridiculous it could have been a Weird Al cover. Where the album isn’t so ridiculous, it’s forgettable.
“I Wish I Were Blind” is a highlight; it feels like an underdeveloped outtake from The River. That’s the best thing I can say about Human Touch.
19. Working on a Dream (2009)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 19th Best Album
Working on a Dream feels like a less ambitious Magic, which in itself feels like a less ambitious The Rising. It’s a messy, uninteresting take on Springsteen’s 2000s sound.
Album closers “The Last Carnival” and “The Wrestler” provide a much-needed restraint unseen on earlier cuts. Alone, they’d make a hell of an EP. Here, they serve as a reprieve from what would otherwise be an utter disaster.
18. Lucky Town (1992)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 18th Best Album
Recorded alongside Human Touch, Lucky Town fares better thanks to its specificity to Springsteen’s life.
A bit folksier than Human Touch, Lucky Town features a few great songs. “Local Hero” is a particular standout, the tale of Springsteen’s first time seeing a picture of himself in a store mirror. A sweeping chorus and riffing harmonica make it a less developed precursor to Springsteen’s sound on The Rising.
Still, despite a few highlights, Lucky Town fails to leave a mark amongst Springsteen’s greater catalog.
17. Western Stars (2019)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 17th Best Album
Western Stars is clean, immaculately produced, and sonically varied. While for most artists these factors would be positives, they make Western Stars a bland album for Springsteen.
Western Stars leans into the orchestral elements found in later Springsteen works such as The Rising and Wrecking Ball. The result is dreamy but feels disconnected from Springsteen’s artistic throughline.
One of Springsteen’s greatest strengths is his intimacy with his subjects. On Western Stars, it sometimes feels like Springsteen is reaching rather than embracing.
Western Stars is not a bad album. It’s just not a very good Springsteen album.
16. High Hopes (2014)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 16th Best Album
High Hopes is a collection of covers, outtakes, and reimagined songs cut from past Springsteen albums or only previously performed live. It’s a fun album for Springsteen diehards and a decent album for casual listeners.
Recorded during the Wrecking Ball tour, the sounds of High Hopes echo that album. Although less risky (and less memorable), High Hopes is a pleasant listen.
The highlight is Tom Morello’s contributions throughout the album. Rage Against the Machine’s legendary “Ghost of Tom Joad” cover merges with Springsteen’s style for a rapturous reinvention of the classic song.
15. Devils & Dust (2005)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 15th Best Album
The grimy follow-up to The Rising, Devils & Dust inhabits a more authentic version of the space explored on Western Stars. Whereas Western Stars feels nostalgic, Devils & Dust tells darkly realistic stories reminiscent of Nebraska.
Grammy-nominated title track “Devils & Dust,” tells the hopeless story of a soldier in the Iraq War. “Reno” explores an encounter with a prostitute that may be the least sexy song about sex ever released.
Springsteen spends Devils & Dust in his acoustic bag, with an added country twang. His vocals pale in comparison to the range found on other acoustic works like Nebraska, but Springsteen’s songwriting here still shines.
14. Letter to You (2020)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 14th Best Album
Although less impactful than The Rising, Letter To You is another Springsteen album released at its perfect cultural moment.
A lush album of Springsteen’s joyous arena rock, Letter To You provided much-needed energy during a dark year. Springsteen doesn’t try anything drastically new here but leans into his arena sound in what might be his last album of this kind. If that’s the case, it’s a hell of a note to end on.
Cohesive and wildly enjoyable, memorable tracks like “Letter To You” and “Ghosts” feel built for massive audiences. Although an aging Springsteen means they may never get that treatment, the fact that they exist at all is enough.
13. Magic (2007)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 13th Best Album
Speaking of Springsteen nailing his arena rock sound, Magic was Springsteen’s highest energy album in decades. Beneath its amped rock lies some of Springsteen’s heaviest imagery. In that sense, it’s a rock version of Born in the U.S.A.
“Long Walk Home” takes the perspective of an American lamenting changes to his town, a modern and pointed take on the classic “My Hometown”. “Gypsy Biker,” meanwhile, speaks to a dead soldier returning home from Iraq to minimal change.
While a lack of iconic tracks limits its placement on this list, Magic is a hell of a listen.
12. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 12th Best Album
Springsteen’s only album consisting of covers, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions soars thanks to a deep love of the album’s source material.
The tracks of We Shall Overcome feel like a community effort. When instrumentalists and vocalists join a song, it’s not because it’s their time to play, but because they’re compelled to. For a master of detail like Springsteen, We Shall Overcome feels unbelievably improvised.
Beyond home listening, We Shall Overcome boasts some of Springsteen’s greatest tracks for live performance. The sing-along chorus of “Pay Me My Money Down” never fails to bring down a packed house. A joyous celebration of a folk legend, Springsteen’s turn in Seeger’s shoes is magical.
11. Tunnel of Love (1987)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 11th Best Album
As the closer to Springsteen’s classic era and the opener to his work without the E Street band through the 90s, Tunnel of Love rests at a borderline. Amidst artistic change, the album combines a distinct sound and lovelorn lyrics for a unique, compelling addition to Springsteen’s discography.
The tracks on Tunnel of Love mix E Street instrumentation with drum machines and synthesizers recorded by Springsteen himself. “Spare Parts” rides a gnarly electric guitar riff as the album’s most rockin’ song. “Brilliant Disguise,” meanwhile, rides a bevy of drum kit sounds ripped right out of a Dire Straits song.
Today, Tunnel of Love sounds a tad dated. As a product of its era, however, Tunnel of Love is a great time capsule and an excellent Springsteen album in its own right.
10. Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 10th Best Album
The result is an eclectic, at times clashing array of tracks that offer an early peek at Springsteen’s prowess as both a songwriter and band-leader.
The acoustic and harmonica-driven ballad “Mary Queen of Arkansas” hints at the sound of Nebraska. Jaunty album closer “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” feels like a natural lead-in to the NYC party that is The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle.
Even if it pales to his finest work, Greetings is a great primer for the artist Springsteen would become.
9. The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 9th Best Album
An album that gains relevance by the day, The Ghost of Tom Joad laps its precursors Human Touch and Lucky Town with nuanced songwriting and subtle acoustic instrumentation.
Joad is a true folk album, like Nebraska without its experimental vocals and stripped-back rock and roll. Only five tracks feature instrumentation beyond Springsteen’s acoustic guitar. Joad feels gorgeously authentic in its folk roots, replicable with a campfire and a guitar.
Joad also broadens Springsteen’s storytelling beyond working-class white America, a hint at further exploration found on The Rising and Wrecking Ball. Songs like “Sinaloa Cowboys” and “Across the Border” capture the same American Dream lost by Springsteen’s previous subjects, through the eyes of immigrants not yet exposed to its flaws.
A stark artistic statement and hint at things to come, The Ghost of Tom Joad sticks the landing.
8. Wrecking Ball (2012)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 8th Best Album
Taking a deeper step into the stylistic diversity found on The Rising, Wrecking Ball is Springsteen’s most modern album.
Sweeping choruses echo in songs like “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Shackled And Drawn.” Slower cuts like “Jack Of All Trades” incorporate clean brass and piano for a more realized take on the sound found on E Street Shuffle deep cut “Wild Billy’s Circus Story.”
Wrecking Ball also confronts Springsteen’s broader cultural influences. “American Land” evokes Irish songwriting tradition, while “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Rocky Ground” dip into spiritual sounds, even dabbling into hip-hop.
Groundbreaking for Springsteen’s sound, Wrecking Ball is a breakthrough moment in Springsteen’s discography.
7. The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle (1973)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 7th Best Album
The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle finds Springsteen at his funkiest for a vivid exploration of growing up in and around New York City.
After the relative quiet of Greetings, the band lets loose on E Street Shuffle. Songs like “The E Street Shuffle” and “Kitty’s Back” are absolute E Street showcases, breakneck bops that speed past NYC characters a mile a minute. Even slower tracks like “New York City Serenade” relish in the band’s splendor; at 9 minutes and fifty-eight seconds, it’s Springsteen’s longest song.
Musical freedom translates to lyrical levity. Decades before writing songs about 9/11 and the Iraq War, Springsteen spends E Street Shuffle straight up having fun. Springsteen makes the New Jersey he spends so much time trying to escape in Born To Run sounds fun as hell here.
Less complex and restrained than most of Springsteen’s work, The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle is an unhinged party.
6. The River (1980)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 6th Best Album
Springsteen started his 80s with his only double album, The River. A bridge between his earlier work and the era of Born in the U.S.A., The River finds Springsteen at both his most carefree and his most melancholic. Within this distinct divide in sound, Springsteen nails both.
When The River has fun, it has fun. “Sherry Darling” and “I’m a Rocker” feel like rock and roll throwbacks, paying tribute to Springsteen’s idols like Chuck Berry. “Hungry Heart,” Springsteen’s first major hit, mixes sped up vocals with a catchy chorus for a classic pop-rock banger.
On the other side of the coin, The River finds Springsteen brutally upset. “Drive All Night” is an eight-minute opus that features heartwrenching vocal wails over a methodical piano, organ, and strings. “Point Blank” takes the perspective of a man at the end of a broken relationship, at the moment he gives it all up.
Is it a bit jarring for “Point Blank” to transition immediately into rock and roll jaunt “Cadillac Ranch”? Perhaps a bit. But that’s what makes The River so appealing.
5. The Rising (2002)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 5th Best Album
The Rising expands Springsteen’s sound and reintroduces his classic style to a contemporary audience.
The power of the E Street Band with modern production propels Springsteen’s resurgence here. Modern rock production was built for the band’s rigorous sound. Titular track “The Rising” is one of Springsteen’s greatest arena-rockers, while “Lonesome Day” mixes strings and organs for a thunderous reintroduction to the band’s musical impact.
Released in the wake of 9/11, The Rising is also Springsteen’s most restorative work. “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” is a bittersweet ode to happier times, with songwriting inspired by Smokey Robinson. Most impressive is “Worlds Apart,” a mix of middle eastern and American sounds at a time of mass American islamophobia. Springsteen’s vision of healing is for all Americans, regardless of race, color, or creed.
The Rising is a pointedly modern response to today’s America, one that rocks hard and has remained politically relevant.
4. Born In The U.S.A. (1984)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 4th Best Album
My Springsteen purist father taught me to hate the pop sensibilities of Born in the U.S.A. At face value U.S.A. is a sell-out, a cheap attempt to gain mainstream appeal after the challenging Nebraska. Its poppy exterior, however, serves as a trojan horse for some of Springsteen’s darkest lyrics.
The rousing chorus of “Born in the U.S.A.” would imply a patriotic anthem. In reality, it’s a screaming cry for help from a Vietnam veteran alienated by his own country. Rockabilly guitars in “Darlington County” shield the story of a man sent to jail for a relationship with an underage girl. Album closer “Your Hometown” paints the heartbreaking picture of an American town on the decline.
That’s not to say Born in the U.S.A. lacks traditional pop songs; “Dancing in the Dark” is the most basic song Springsteen ever recorded. U.S.A., however, more than makes up for its less substantive tracks with its maximized vision of Springsteen’s darkest themes.
3. Nebraska (1982)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 3rd Best Album
Nebraska and Born in the U.S.A. are sister albums; two works exploring isolation within the American dream. Whereas Born in the U.S.A. hides those themes behind pop, Nebraska wears them on its sleeve. Springsteen’s most daring work, Nebraska is a pained acoustic expression of an artist troubled.
From the moment it opens with hearse harmonica, Nebraska sets a tone of despair. The album’s titular track uses unaffected vocals to take the perspective of serial killer Charles Starkweather. “Johnny 99” is a stripped-back rock and roll track about a down on his luck man robbing a gas station and killing the attendant. “State Trooper” tells the tale of a criminal on the lam, ending with the twisted wail of a man broken.
Springsteen’s spare instrumentation on Nebraska pushes his elite songwriting to the forefront. His raw vocals and uncensored lyrics create an atmosphere as stark today as it was forty years ago. An all-time great record.
2. Darkness On the Edge of Town (1978)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s 2nd Best Album
If Born to Run explores the art of escape, Darkness explains why one would need to escape in the first place. At the peak of his rock and roll powers, Springsteen delivers a sweeping look at working-class America.
Darkness is Springsteen’s first album dedicated to the stories of the American working class. As Springsteen croons on “Factory,” Darkness is about “the working life,” mixed with all the moments of hope, joy, and depression that come with it. It jumpstarts this era of Springsteen’s career and does these stories better than any album since.
To tell these tales, Darkness creates a cohesive soundscape. Impeccably mixed, there’s a swagger on Darkness indicative of an artist comfortable keeping his style between the lines. Not a moment on Darkness feels out of place, telling its stories with the utmost care. The raging guitar of “Badlands” feels right at home with the introspective piano of “Racing in the Street,” despite near opposite energy.
Ambitious in its stylistic restraint, Darkness achieves its artistic goals in spades. The album is Springsteen’s peak as a storyteller and his most confident musical work. In no uncertain terms, Darkness On the Edge of Town is a perfect album.
Unfortunately for Darkness, Springsteen achieved perfection twice.
1. Born to Run (1975)
Why it’s Bruce Springsteen’s Best Album of All-Time
Born to Run is the consummate rock and roll record.
Every song on Born to Run feels like life or death. This is because, for Springsteen, it was. A failed third project would lose Springsteen his shot at stardom. With everything on the line, Springsteen toiled over every note of Born to Run.
After a 14-month production process, Born to Run released to universal acclaim. Its gripping tales of escape and longing range from triumphant to bone-rattling.
With help from Jon Landau, Born to Run polishes the big band sound of E Street for a masterclass in expansive sound mixing. Born to Run is as much an E Street band album as it is a Springsteen one. Each instrument feels like a character in the album’s narrative.
The Clarence Clemons saxophone solo on “Jungleland” expresses more emotion in a couple of minutes than most singers do throughout their entire careers. Every band member plays with unbridled fervor to create nigh-inconceivable walls of sounds.
The stories told on Born to Run are modern legends. Every character is iconic, every lyric relatable, every song bursting at the seams with the raw energy of youthful escape. Springsteen writes for himself and everyone he has ever known. If he can escape with this record, they can too.
Born to Run is confident because it has to be; if it didn’t work for Springsteen, nothing ever would. It captures an invigorating musical moment, barely bottles its youthful experience, and makes it out on the other side with one of the greatest albums ever recorded. For this reason, it’s Springsteen’s greatest.
Agree with our list? What’s your favorite album from the Boss? Let us know in the comments below!
CORRECTION (3/25): Article updated to call Springsteen “the pride and joy of Freehold”.