To step back and contemplate the arc of Bruce Springsteen’s career to this moment is to stand in awe of one of America’s finest songwriters, and one of its most deft purveyors of myth.
So much has grown up around Springsteen and his long-time collaborators, the E Street Band, that the music he makes — as it has since the opening notes of his 50-year-old debut, 1973’s Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. — feels raw, elemental and timeless. The headlong live-wire energy of his youth has given way, as the years have accumulated and the scars of living deepened, to a gray wisdom, his rough-hewn baritone still capable of electrifying audiences around the world.
The 73-year-old Springsteen will bring his singular style to Dallas’ American Airlines Center on Friday, for his first North Texas appearance in seven years. To get your heart and soul ready for his rip-roarin’ rock ‘n roll tent revival, we’ve culled six tracks from each decade of his acclaimed career to date.
The climactic track of his third album, Born to Run, “Jungleland” unfolds at an epic, nearly 10-minute length and still stands as one of the most thrilling songs Springsteen’s ever penned. Call it a veritable novel about wayward youth tucked into a rock song reaching for glory (“The hungry and the hunted explode into rock and roll bands,” Springsteen snarls at one point).
1980s: “Atlantic City”
With his sixth album, Nebraska, Springsteen found another gear, achieving new depths by paring his exuberant E Street filigree back to monochromatic spareness. Sung on its own with just an acoustic guitar, it’s devastating (“Now, our luck may have died, and our love may be cold, but with you, forever, I’ll stay”), but even with the full band behind him, it’s no less arresting.
1990s: “Human Touch”
The front half of the ‘90s, if we’re honest, were a bit of an awkward, transitional time for Springsteen. Having dominated the 1980s with a string of commercially successful and critically acclaimed masterpieces, he didn’t immediately have anywhere to go next. Enter the Lucky Town/Human Touch diptych, a pair of albums that spawned a few hits, but didn’t exactly burnish his reputation. He’d find himself again with a series of folk-inclined projects as the decade wore on.
2000s: “Girls in Their Summer Clothes”
In the early aughts, Springsteen was returned to prominence, in part because of unspeakable tragedy. By putting words to the inchoate terror of 9/11 on 2002’s The Rising, the singer-songwriter found fresh ways to not only write about the big topics he’d always tackled, but do so with a renewed focus on mortality. Those grim undertones got a reprieve on this gorgeous, Beach Boys-flavored single from 2007’s Magic, his 15th studio album.
2010s: “Tucson Train”
Part of the beauty of Springsteen’s career is the many creative shifts he’s undertaken over the years — each pivot, whether from bleak, acoustic folk to glistening pop-rock for heavy rotation, feels of a piece with what came before, a house of many varied rooms built upon the same foundation. So it is with the Western-tinged rock of “Tucson Train,” from his 2019 LP Western Stars, his 19th studio album. The ghost of Glen Campbell is smiling somewhere.
2020s: “Letter to You”
If Springsteen and his collaborators are at all fazed by the winters of their personal and professional lives, it’s not showing, as they not only mount extensive tours, but continue to write and record at a formidable clip. This powerful single — the title track from Springsteen’s 20th studio album, which was knocked out in four days of recording — could as easily be addressing Springsteen’s younger self as it might be his own children.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at American Airlines Center, Dallas. 7:30 p.m. Friday. “Verified Resale” tickets are available from $65.50.
Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.