Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Posted 2 days ago  |  By Hashim R. Hathaway

From his first album, “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.,” released in 1973, through his latest release, “Western Stars,” Bruce Springsteen has been a part of the musical fabric of America. Never afraid to experiment or mix musical styles, The Boss remains as vital as ever, with generations of fans still pressing play on every bit of his discography. To celebrate Springsteen’s 70th birthday, we present what we believe to be the Ultimate Bruce Springsteen Mixtape. Not because they’re his best songs, but because they best represent who he is as a musician and what he means to us.

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Goin’ down to the well tonight…

Goin' down to the well tonight...
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for iStar

From his first album, “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.,” released in 1973, through his latest release, “Western Stars,” Bruce Springsteen has been a part of the musical fabric of America. Never afraid to experiment or mix musical styles, The Boss remains as vital as ever, with generations of fans still pressing play on every bit of his discography. To celebrate Springsteen’s 70th birthday, we present what we believe to be the Ultimate Bruce Springsteen Mixtape. Not because they’re his best songs, but because they best represent who he is as a musician and what he means to us.

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“American Skin (41 Shots)” (2001)

"American Skin (41 Shots)" (2001)
Peter Pakvis/Redferns

We open our ultimate mixtape with a song that few would pick, but we feel it is essential. Written in response to the shock of the police shooting of immigrant Amadou Diallo, “American Skin (41 Shots)” is who Springsteen is as an artist: a man of the people. Just as the lyrics tell the pain of those who may not look like him, but are every bit as important. To know Springsteen as an artist is to know who he sings for, and this song, debuting on the 2001 “Live from New York City” album, is delivered with all the somber intensity that made Springsteen a household name.

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“Atlantic City” (1982)

"Atlantic City" (1982)
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As Springsteen thrives among stories of desperation, “Atlantic City,” from 1982’s “Nebraska,” is as vivid and electric as it is low-key. Telling the story of a man who has “debts no honest man can pay,” the listener is captivated by sights of dark, damp streets as plans are made to get away from a depressing life with hopes of something better, even if better doesn’t exactly make it in time. A pure Springsteen standard, “Atlantic City” transports the listener in a way few songs ever can.

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“Badlands” (1978)

"Badlands" (1978)
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Ferocious and defiant, “Badlands,” from “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” is an homage of sorts to the Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” with a similarly driving beat uplifted with piano and full-throated vocals as Springsteen delivers a sonic American pastoral of sorts indicative of the best rock anthems. The song is decidedly punk without actually being punk, a sign of the deftness with which Springsteen can play around genres while make it wholly a creation of his own.

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“Blinded by the Light” (1973)

"Blinded by the Light" (1973)
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While many are more familiar with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s 1976 cover, “Blinded by the Light” is a Springsteen original and shows the artist in his earliest incarnation. Written as a last-minute addition to his debut album “Welcome to Asbury Park N.J.,” the song is breezy with light guitar twangs weighed down securely by a young Springsteen’s vocals. Supported by Clarence Clemons’ sax, the song feels like the perfect road trip track, perfectly placed on our playlist.

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“Born to Run” (1975)

"Born to Run" (1975)
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Largely considered THE Bruce Springsteen song, there was no way the title track from “Born to Run” wouldn’t make our playlist. Full of a spectrum of emotions, “Born to Run” feels like every first kiss you ever had, every moment you knew that they just had to be the one for you. The magic of the song is the way it transcends age. It’s as relevant to listeners as horny teenagers all the way through to wistful middle-agers longing for the most special times in their lives. Everyone has their Wendy, and whether she lasted a season or a lifetime, it comes from a love every bit as intense as the very first time.

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“Born in the U.S.A.” (1984)

"Born in the U.S.A." (1984)
Bob Riha Jr/WireImage

Possibly the anthem for the ’80s, the title track from 1984’s “Born in the U.S.A.” is possibly one of Springsteen’s most misunderstood songs. For years, politicians have used, or tried to use, the song for their campaigns, based solely on the rousing sound and, well, its title, but upon listening, it is a rather desperate cry for help from the perspective of forgotten Vietnam veterans coming home broken and feeling discarded. The song changes completely as featured on Springsteen’s 2001 “Live from New York City,” where he eschews the album’s sound in exchange for a single acoustic guitar, better matching the intent while making it just as listenable as the original.

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“Brilliant Disguise” (1987)

"Brilliant Disguise" (1987)
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One part ballad, one part breakup, “Brilliant Disguise” is equally upbeat and somber, creating an honestly magical song that is both honest and vulnerable. Coming from “Tunnel of Love,” considered Springsteen’s “divorce album,” the sound here is whimsical and raw and honestly earns its spot on our list over the more highly regarded title track because it successfully blurs the line between dreams and nightmares, particularly when it comes to the love that never lives up to its billing.

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“Dancing in the Dark” (1984)

"Dancing in the Dark" (1984)
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Possibly the most ’80s of Springsteen’s entire catalog, “Dancing in the Dark,” from “Born in the U.S.A.” is meant for one thing and one thing only: dancing, which is, of course, right there in the title. Driven by a drumbeat wrapped around synthesizers, the song is pure pop and almost light years away from anything Springsteen had done to that point. The gift is that, Springsteen successfully takes what works so well for him as a whole and marries it to the sound of the time to create an instant classic on an album full of them.

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“Glory Days” (1984)

"Glory Days" (1984)
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Opening with a classic rock riff and drumbeat, “Glory Days” is a boozy, cocksure remembrance of times long gone by, not tinged with sorrow, but a reverence that matches longing with a sense of “we’re still here,” something that serves as a cornerstone of Springsteen’s entire vibe. On an album full of blue-collar sensibility, “Glory Days” serves as a capstone — and a track that will always find play midway through a night at the bar.

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“Human Touch” (1992)

"Human Touch" (1992)
Michel Linssen/Redferns

Earnest and bold, the title track from 1992’s “Human Touch” isn’t anywhere near one of Springsteen’s greatest hits, but the clear sentiment and humility elevates the song from a standard ’90s rock track into something far memorable. Among the lyrics is an absolute gem: “So you’ve been broken and you’ve been hurt/Show me somebody who ain’t/Yeah, I know I ain’t nobody’s bargain/But, hell, a little touch-up and a little paint,” exposing Springsteen’s absolute willingness to show his own wear and tear as a selling point. Vanity has never been a part of Springsteen’s sound, and “Human Touch” delivers that sentiment perfectly.

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“Hungry Heart” (1980)

"Hungry Heart" (1980)
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Representing Springsteen’s first major hit, “Hungry Heart,” from “The River” was originally written for The Ramones, but after hearing Springsteen play it, producer and manager Jon Landau urged him to keep it for himself. The song has a catchy piano hook that is buffered by a solid baseline and lyrics that when compared resemble an almost doo-wop sensibility without directly emulating the style.

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“I’m On Fire” (1984)

"I'm On Fire" (1984)
Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Featured on Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” “I’m On Fire” is a sensually seductive song of longing tinged with a little bit of rockabilly as Springsteen croons softly about unrequited love and smoldering passion featuring apocalyptically dreamy lyrics like, “Sometimes it’s like someone took a knife, baby/Edgy and dull/and cut a six inch valley/Through the middle of my skull,” delivering a torch song of a different stripe absolutely infectious with each listen. In a morbid way, the song is the perfect lead in to “Nebraska” even though it was recorded two years later.

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“Jungleland” (1975)

"Jungleland" (1975)
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Arguably the finest song on our playlist, “Jungleland,” the closing track from Springsteen’s landmark “Born to Run” album is nothing short of a New Jersey Opera. During the song’s 9:33 run time, we’re treated to a variety of sounds, including E Street Band member Clarence Clemons’ most recognizable sax solo as Springsteen weaves a tale of desperation, hope and defeat. But no matter how somber the lyrics, the sound soars as a testament to the hopes and dreams of forgotten people.

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“Lucky Town” (1992)

"Lucky Town" (1992)
Michel Linssen/Redferns

The title track from 1992’s “Lucky Town” is probably one of his poppier tracks, is chock-full of blue-collar sentiment, driven by determined vocals and a roguish charm with lyrics such as “Well here’s to your good looks baby now here’s to my health/Here’s to the loaded places that we take ourselves/When it comes to luck you make your own/Tonight I got dirt on my hands but I’m building me a new home.” The song speaks to every late-night rendezvous at a local tavern with nothing but time and opportunity to spare.

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“Nebraska” (1982)

"Nebraska" (1982)
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One of the most somber cuts on our list, the title track from Springsteen’s sparsely recorded powerhouse album “Nebraska” tells the story of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend as they go on a murder spree across middle America. The single-track recording is haunting and melancholy, but stands to this day as one of Springsteen’s most essential recordings and is a must for any mixtape explaining just who the Boss is as a performer.

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“Out in the Street” (1980)

"Out in the Street" (1980)
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A mixture of upbeat and dark, “Out in the Street” is a rousing track from “The River.” While not the best track on the album, it’s even better when listened to live, largely supported by wife Patti Scialfa’s vocals (originally done by Steven Van Zandt). Decidedly blue collar tinged with freewheeling looseness, it’s an essential deep cut that easily makes a place on our mixtape.

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“Radio Nowhere” (2007)

"Radio Nowhere" (2007)
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The first single from 2007’s “Magic,” “Radio Nowhere” is a singularly rock-out tune that sounds eerily reminiscent of Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny” but grows from a familiar riff into an animal all its own, assuring listeners that Springsteen, even in his ’60s, could still craft a rock anthem, one frequently played in stadiums and arenas across the country.

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“The Rising” (2002)

"The Rising" (2002)
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The title track from Springsteen’s 12th studio album, “The Rising” is both response and memorial to those lost during the September 11, 2001, attacks. Here, Springsteen tells the bleak story of a firefighter going into the wreckage of the World Trade Center, and while the song conveys the desperation of the moment, it’s surrounded by a sense of hope that while not usual Springsteen, it delivers a level of comfort and is always a welcome and essential listen.

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“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” (1975)

"Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" (1975)
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

While in no way a hit for Springsteen, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” makes our list because it’s one of songs best listened to on a live album, such as 2001’s “Live in New York City.” One part pseudo revival, one part biography, the song tells the story of how the E Street Band came together, and it is especially poignant and bittersweet when the late Clarence Clemons is introduced, serving as a monument to a band that still stands strong despite losses along the way.

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“Wrecking Ball” (2012)

"Wrecking Ball" (2012)
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Originally conceived as a remembrance of the demolition of Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, “Wrecking Ball” takes on a life of its own through subsequent listens, eventually serving as a defiant anthem of the workingman in the face of an uncertain economy, something that resonates with so much of Springsteen’s discography, and finds itself a welcome spot at the tail end of our list.