Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also though that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Flash forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I have ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more. Facebook doesn’t exactly allow for great formatting, you know?
As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:
- The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
- No compilations of previous released material will be included.
- The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
- Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.
- Compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before)
Entrance Point: I grew up outside of Philadelphia, PA – which is down the road from Jersey and went to school in New Jersey – and where I’m from that means you listened to “The Boss,” and that I did. I had heard almost every record before I tackled putting these in order.
Included: Tracks, his 4-disc set of outtakes over the years.
Not Included: I have chosen not to include any of his live archive series. I wouldn’t necessarily consider these as part of his catalog but rather sort of little branch off the oak tree. 18 Tracks is also not included as it was a one-disc version of the Tracks boxset and since I’m including that, I felt no need to go here. Chapter & Verse isn’t here because while it does have some rarities on it, it’s the soundtrack to his book and plays out more like a Greatest Hits record.
All albums ranked on a 10 point scale:
- Darkness on the Edge of Town (10)
Sometimes my catalogs were straight chalk – other times they didn’t follow collective wisdom. Frankly, I follow the beat of my own drum and my favorites usually aren’t in line with critics or die- hards and of course that doesn’t make them any better or worse than anyone else’s – just different. The Boss’ 4th record, Darkness on the Edge of Town wouldn’t be most people’s #1 record in his catalog since there are a slew of others that are great but I think most people would agree it’s a magnificent record. I think it’s the most perfect in this catalog. First, it’s concise with no filler. 42 minutes across 10 tracks is right in my wheelhouse. Secondly, it starts off perfectly with “Badlands,” an epic anthem if there ever was one. Thirdly, the non-singles are just as good, if not better than many of his singles. “Adam Raised a Cain” is a brilliant track that fit right in with his late 70’s funkier e-street material and “Racing in the Street” is one of the best, if not Bruce’s best ballad. In the end, I find Darkness to be the most consistent of his albums in the 70s, which contains all those masterful keyboard and horn driven E-Street songs and story driven ballads that made the Boss what he is today.
- Born in the U.S.A. (10)
It’s probably a little cliche to put Born in the U.S.A. up so high on this list but there’s a reason the Boss peaked in 1984 – it’s a Goddamn great record. The album checked so many boxes. Perfect rock sound for the early 80s, appealed to pop fans and the heartland alike and FFS, even though it’s completely not an anthem, the title track was taken that way and the chorus spliced out in a way different manner than Bruce intended it to be. There were seven total singles from the record, four of which were on the flip side of the disc, making this an essential listen from start to finish. Lost in the glow of the title track, “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark” are two singles that were just as good, “Cover Me” and “My Hometown” and non-single “Downbound Train” which easily could have been a single as well. Bruce always adapted well to the era he was in and this album is a perfect example an artist really embracing all the 80’s had to offer.
- Lucky Town (10)
If I wasn’t off the rails from the first two in my list, then you’ll surely think I’m stumbling out of the gate on this one. I remember Springsteen essentially releasing the double record Human Touch/Lucky Town back in 1992. The former was always listed first, so when I picked them up, that’s the first one I listened to and was pretty disappointed in what seemed like a bunch of throw away tunes, including what I like to refer to as “the most dated song of all time,” the dumb, “57 channels (and Nothin’ On).” The only reason I even bothered with Lucky Town at the time, was the strength of lead single “Better Days” (I guess that would be a double lead single with “Human Touch” released on the same day giving radio one from each record to run with). So, I’m sure I didn’t like this much at the time. Also, considering I was into loud rock, grunge and rap at the time, this wasn’t in my wheelhouse. But that’s what I love about a catalog like this – because here it is nearly three decades later and I can really appreciate this album. Bruce saved all the really good songs for this record, with the title track and “Local Hero” being vintage Springsteen. What really struck me though is a wonderful song like “The Big Muddy,” which is a bit darker and actually makes me think about what someone like Eric Church is doing today. They call it outlaw country now and I wouldn’t quite classify this song that way but it’s definitely got a similar vibe. Halfway between Outlaw Country and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Even today, I can’t picture myself liking this at all back in 1992 as it didn’t fit in with the musical climate but today I’d call it a highly underrated record.
- Born to Run (9.5)
- Live 1975-1985 (9.5)
- The Ghost of Tom Joad (9)
So, The Ghost of Tom Joad. I fucking hated this album with a passion back in 1995. Though to be fair, I wanted nothing to do with folk rock at all during this period of my life. And actually, I really don’t want anything to do with it now either but my tastes have expanded quite a bit as I’ve gotten up in years. And with that, my appreciation for this gorgeous record has increased as well. Fully acoustic, sparse and minimal in its instrumentation, this is one of those records you lay back and get lost in and that I did, over and over again while doing this. It probably could have gotten a perfect 10 as well but I simply couldn’t put this record over some of the more traditional Bruce classics. It’s such a great record but it’s a snapshot in time and not necessarily a record that you really go back to much in his catalog. I certainly won’t but that doesn’t mean it isn’t pretty awesome.
- Magic (9)
- The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle (9)
If you know me, you know that I rarely like anything made before, say, 1978 or so. The Boss is one of the few exceptions to that rule and on top of that, I fully expected The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle to be at the top of this list going into the catalog. Despite being an 80’s collector and loving Born in the U.S.A., I had listened to this record more than any in his catalog. And “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” is my favorite Springsteen song. But listening to all these albums consecutively made me appreciate others a bit more and realize that while still a great record, it’s not perfect from start to finish, hence why it’s 8th on my list. But damn, does this have some great songs on it. The aforementioned “Rosalita” is crazy fun and “4th of July, Asbury Park” and “Kitty’s Back” are fantastic tunes as well.
- Western Stars (9)
- Nebraska (9)
- The Rising (8.5)
The Rising was the first full album from Springsteen since Tom Joad in 1995. Released in 2002, it was pretty much the album that everyone wanted and needed at the time. Arriving a little more than nine months after 9/11 happened in the US, these tracks are a reflection on that event but made to be uplifting rather than a sad reflection of the worst event in my lifetime. The title track was the lead single and became the anthem of the aftermath of the event with the message that America will rise up again. But so many other tracks struck a chord during this time and were universal enough to apply to other situations where the country needed an uplifting message (such as Hurricane Katrina). “Waiting on a Sunny Day” was actually written a few years before 9/11 happened but certainly fit very well on this record and at this time. And the chorus of “Into the Fire,” despite not being a single, has been heard many times over the years: “May your strength give us strength / may your hope give us hope / may your faith give us faith / may your love bring us love.” In the end, this was a rockin’ record that made people feel good about themselves and gave them hope – exactly what was needed. In this context – as a whole, there’s a few weaker moments, which is why it’s 11th in order here but the amount of songs on this record that are pure Springsteen anthems is completely undeniable.
- Hammersmith Odeon London ’75 (8)
- Western Stars – Songs from the Film (8)
- The River (7.5)
- Tunnel of Love (7.5)
- Greetings from Asbury Park (7.5)
- Human Touch (7)
- Springsteen on Broadway (7)
- The Promise (6.5)
- Devils & Dust (6.5)
- Chimes of Freedom EP (6)
- Live in New York City (6)
- We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (6)
- Working on a Dream (6)
- Tracks (5)
- Live in Dublin (5)
- High Hopes (4.5)
- Wrecking Ball (4)
There are likely many other records I could have talked about in this trek but I wanted to stop here because it’s kind of smack dab in the middle of a period of the Boss’ career where there’s a great EP somewhere in a full length release but otherwise, much of the material is flat. I wanted to like this one as it’s a bit different than many ofhis records, with some challenging arrangements and even a Celtic rock song (“Death to My Hometown”) but in the end a lot of the songs don’t hit the mark. When he shoots for an anthem, it tends to fall flat. When he puts a bit of a spin on a track with a funky arrangement, like “This Depression” it seems a bit misguided. I love that he didn’t crank out the same material over and over again but while I appreciate the attempt, this is his weakest full length record.
- In Concert / MTV Plugged (4)
- American Beauty EP (3)
Summary: 30 albums, Average 7.2