'Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs’
delves deep into the music of The Boss
Old Forge native’s new book examines and ranks the best songs of one of America’s best songwriters
By ALAN K. STOUT
There is perhaps no other American songwriter whose body of work has been as completely analyzed as that of Bruce Springsteen. He is considered by many to be the very best at his craft and, for the past four decades, his songs have enlightened and inspired millions. Books – many of them – have been written about Springsteen’s life and his music, and a new text, written by Old Forge native and resident Jim Beviglia, dives deep into the context of that music in a way that has never been done before.
Titled “Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs,” the book offers a detailed analysis of 100 Springsteen gems while also ranking them in order from No. 100 all the way to No. 1. For its author, delving into the songs of The Boss has been a lifelong journey, as he’s been a fan for three decades.
“It happened around 1984-1985 with the ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ album,” says Beviglia, 42. “ I was 12 or 13 years old, and I was a big fan of MTV. With MTV, a lot of those artists were different than what I was used to seeing around town. And that was kind of the allure – seeing artists like Adam Ant and Duran Duran. They were just from another world. And then Springsteen came on, and it was like somebody that I knew, or somebody that I might have seen around town. He was relatable in a way that those other artists weren’t. That was the draw for me. With songs like ‘Glory Days’ and ‘Dancing In The Dark,’ there was a relatable factor. And I think that’s how a lot of fans feel about his music.”
After first discovering Springsteen at the height of his commercial success, Beviglia began to dig deeper into Springsteen’s catalog, purchasing albums such as “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.,” “Born To Run” and “Darkness on The Edge of Town.” He soon became an even bigger fan and has seen Springsteen in concert three times.
“His live performances were just spectacular and they continue to be spectacular,” he says. “He really is the preeminent live performer of his era. He is still setting the standard. ”
Beviglia is a 1990 graduate of Scranton Prep High School and a 1994 graduate of Syracuse University, where he received a degree in broadcast journalism. “Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs” is his fifth book. He’s written similar countdown texts on Tom Petty, Elvis Costello and Radiohead, which were e-books, and one on Bob Dylan, which, like the Springsteen book, was a published text. He says that because he’s been such a big Springsteen fan for the past 30 years, he didn’t need to do much research when he sat down to write it. Still, that didn’t mean it wasn’t a very time-consuming project.
“With artists that I really love, I tend to be kind of a completist,” he says. “With Springsteen, I already had everything. I had all of the studio albums, I had the ‘Tracks’ boxed set, I had ‘The Promise,’ which was the ‘Darkness’ outtakes, I had the live albums … so I knew it all pretty well. I’d read books on the making of the albums, so a lot of the research was done before I started. I did, however, go back and listen to everything all over again, from the first album to the last album and every recorded song that he officially released. But it really helped that I had an in-depth knowledge going in. From there, it was just sort of reinforcing that knowledge.”
Beviglia’s selection of songs is interesting. Yes, most of the big hits and classics made the list, but throughout the countdown, there are also plenty of lesser known jewels, including songs from Springsteen’s folksy ‘Devils & Dust” album and from 2012’s “Wrecking Ball.” It is a comprehensive look at Springsteen’s 40-year career.
“That was important to me,” says Beviglia. “We’re in an era in music where a lot of times an album comes out and it sort of disappears. So whereas Springsteen’s diehard fans know the stuff that he’s released in the last 20 to 25 years, maybe the casual fans don’t, because the songs aren’t getting played on the radio all the time. And yet there is work there that is comparable to any of his best stuff. He did set such an amazing standard with what he did during the first 15 years of his career that it made it hard for anything that he did to live up to it. But the fact that he has been able to rise to that standard is amazing.”
Beviglia admits that, sometimes, the difference in quality between a song such as “The River,” which he ranks at No. 14, might not be that much from a song such as “Backstreets,” which comes in at No. 8.
“After the book was done, I was driving home one day and I had ‘E Street Radio’ on, and ‘The Promised Land’ came on, and I was listening to it, and it’s just perfect,” he says. “There’s not an ounce of flab on it. The words, the music – everything just works perfectly together – and it tells this great story. It sends a great message. It’s uplifting. There’s nothing wrong with it. So I went back and I looked, and was No. 37 in the book. I said ‘How is that possible?’ But then you look at the other songs ahead of it, and you say ‘Oh, yeah, now I understand.’ It really was like splitting hairs. And with an artist like Springsteen, it’s so tough, because he’s got so many great songs. Ultimately, it just came down to a set of criteria that I had: ‘How well did the song communicate the message? How well did the music fit with the lyrics? Did he achieve what he was trying to set out to do?’ It’s kind of a gut feeling once you get to that point. Obviously my list is going to differ from just about every other Springsteen fan out there, but I tried to give it as much due diligence as possible and really research these things and really thoroughly go over every part of every song.”
Though they are not written about in detail - as the songs are that are featured in the countdown - the book also includes a section titled “… and 100 more” which lists an additional 100 of Springsteen’s best songs.
“After 100, there were still songs where I said, ‘How can this not be on there?’ ” says Beviglia with a laugh. “The funny thing is, I could go past 200, and there’s still probably 20 to 25 songs that I enjoy that didn’t make the list. That’s the thing – if you’re going to do a book like this, the artist has to have not only a long career, but a consistently great career.”
“Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs” has already received positive reviews. Publishers Weekly wrote that “Beviglia's knowledge and enthusiasm for his subject will be appreciated” and lauded not only his picks, but also how he went about choosing them. They also praised the manner in which Beviglia dissects the many themes found in Springsteen’s work and the cohesiveness of his albums. Dave Marsh, a noted Springsteen biographer who has written extensively for Rolling Stone, says that "Counting Down Bruce Springsteen belongs in every bar on the shore—not just from Atlantic Highlands to Barnegat Bay, from Maine to Florida, too. Guaranteed to start all sorts of arguments, and settle a few too.”
Beviglia says his next book will countdown the 100 greatest songs by The Rolling Stones. “Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs” is available through all online booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
“The neat thing about Springsteen is that if you trace his career and trace each album, it kind of follows the arc of a life,” says Beviglia. “You have the early albums, where you have those characters, and they’re young, and they’re out in the streets and causing trouble, and then things start to change. With ‘Darkness On The Edge of Town,’ they have to get a job, and on ‘Nebraska,’ they start to look out to the world around them and see these social concerns. With ‘Tunnel of Love’ they start to have relationships. With ‘Working On A Dream,’ it’s really about middle-aged people and getting older, and all of the triumphs and the heartaches that come with that. That’s the great thing about Springsteen’s music. And that’s the thing that people relate to. They can point at different milestones in their own lives, and point to different songs he’s written, and say ‘I can relate to that,’ or ‘I’ve been there.’ If there’s one characteristic of Springsteen’s songwriting and his recording career that really stands out, it is that ability to resonate with people throughout their entire lives.”
(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River. He has seen Bruce Springsteen in concert 10 times and names “Racing In The Streets” as his favorite Springsteen song. This story also appears in the Oct. 8, 2014 edition of The Weekender and the Oct. 8, 2014 edition of The Times Leader.)