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Music / Bruce Springsteen

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The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody's out on the run tonight, but there's no place left to hide
Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness
I'll love you with all the madness in my soul
Oh, someday, girl, I don't know when
We're gonna get to that place
Where we really wanna go and we'll walk in the sun
But 'til then, tramps like us
Baby, we were born to run
"Born To Run"

Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen (born September 23, 1949), nicknamed "The Boss", is one of the most notable singer-songwriters to come out of the 1970s. He's also the living patron saint of New Jersey; speak ill of him in the Garden State at your peril.

Born in Long Branch, Springsteen arose out of the "Jersey Shore Sound" scene of the 1970s, which unabashedly combined rock and R&B elements. Perhaps his most well-known albums are Born to Run (1975) and Born in the USA (1984). Alongside his backing group the E Street Band, the membership of which has remained mostly constant throughout the years, Springsteen is best known for a "heartland rock" style that features themes of Americana, working-class desperation in an age of cynicism, and hope for a better life. Despite his associations with liberal politics and John Kerry in particular, his songs have sometimes been appropriated by conservative politicians, oftentimes without his permission. The most glaring example is the song "Born in the USA", which despite its title is not an unequivocal celebration of that country, but rather a condemnation of its treatment of Vietnam veterans. When Ronald Reagan tried to use the song for his reelection campaign in 1984, Springsteen famously told the President that he couldn't use it.

Despite his most well-known work being produced in the '70s and '80s, he is still recording today. His latest album, Letter to You, was released in 2020. He also campaigned for Barack Obama during the 2008 American presidential campaign and performed at the inauguration.

Springsteen is also notable for helping to launch Courteney Cox's career when she appeared in his video for "Dancing in the Dark."

Springsteen was honored at the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors, with the presentation done by Jersey native (and lifelong fan) Jon Stewart. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom in 2016, was inducted into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1999, and has won a Best Original Song Oscar award (for "Streets of Philadelphia") and a Tony award.

He once wrote a song about Harry Potter, after reading the books to his son, and tried to get it into the movie.

Studio discography

  • Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)^
  • The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973)^
  • Born to Run (1975)^
  • Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)^
  • The River (1980)^
  • Nebraska (1982)
  • Born in the U.S.A. (1984)^
  • Tunnel of Love (1987)
  • Human Touch (1992)
  • Lucky Town (1992)
  • The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)
  • The Rising (2002)^
  • Devils & Dust (2005)
  • We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)
  • Magic (2007)^
  • Working on a Dream (2009)^
  • Wrecking Ball (2012)^
  • High Hopes (2014)^
  • Western Stars (2019)
  • Letter to You (2020)^
  • Only the Strong Survive (2022)
    ^=with the E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen is the Trope Namer for:

  • Glory Days. The song itself is a look back on high school memories.

"Tropes like us, baby we were born to run!":

  • Adventurous Irish Violins: "American Land".
  • Aesop Amnesia: In 1984, President Reagan famously wanted to use "Born in the USA" his campaign song, prompting Springsteen to note that the song's lyrics weren't quite as upbeat many people believed the chorus to be and that it was actually a mournful song about veterans (including some of Bruce's friends) who went through the Vietnam War. In a similar vein, Independence Day celebrations have often used the song. And Bruce will publicly have to explain once again how the song is about how poorly Vietnam veterans (and the working class in general) were treated.
  • Age-Progression Song: Arguably "Outlaw Pete", albeit slightly nastier than most of these usually are.
  • A Hero to His Hometown: When it comes to New Jersey, Bruce is practically synonymous with the state more than any other artist, celebrity, or other figure.
  • All Drummers Are Animals: The very first words sung on a Springsteen album are "madman drummers" ("Blinded by the Light"), a nod to the original E Street drummer, Vini Lopez, who was nicknamed "Mad Dog". Averted with the chilled-out Max Weinberg.
  • All Just a Dream: A verse in "Downbound Train"
  • And Starring: When he introduces the members of the E Street Band in concert, he always saved saxophone player Clarence Clemons ("The Big Man") for last, usually shouting, "And last but not least..." In his 2000 Live from New York City album, the band intros take place between verses two and three of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out", as Springsteen shouts, "Do I have to say his name?" while the rest of the band leads the audience in chanting "CLAR-ence! CLAR-ence!", segueing seamlessly into the first line in verse three, "The change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band!" In performances since Clemons's death, the band stops playing after this line, giving way to a couple minutes of silent footage of Clemons performing on the overhead monitors.
  • Anti-Love Song: Most of the songs of Tunnel of Love, which he recorded while his first marriage was failing.
  • Arc Words: 'Magic' reappears a lot throughout his discography, culminating in the album Magic and being mentioned in multiple songs therein (including the Title Track).
  • Artist and the Band: He has formed many backing bands during his career, but the most consistent one is the E Street Band. Bruce' 1974 tour for the promotion of Born to Run was billed as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and that moniker would reappear more or less throughout other tours.
  • Artistic Stimulation: The Seeger Sessions is a mild form of this. The bonus DVD shows Bruce encouraging his fellow musicians to drink whiskey and beer so that their background vocals will sound "wild."
  • Audience Participation Song: "Hungry Heart", "Thunder Road", "The River" and "Waitin' On A Sunny Day" are the most common.
    • They are not, however, the most consistent song. That honor has and always will go to Santa Claus is Comin' To Town, in which the trope is blatantly Invoked by Bruce and company. There has never been an instance of this song being sung live where the audience hasn't joined in during part, or even all, of the song. And the band always encouraged the crowd to have fun and get in on the act for this one. Bruce and the E Street Band are among the very few groups that keep such a classic song in their rotation. It's often requested by fans during the holidays, and they haven't been disappointed yet...
  • Ballad of X: "Ballad of Elmer and Pea," "Ballad of Jesse James," "Ballad of the Self-Loading Pistol"
  • Based on a True Story: According to Springsteen, The River is largely based on the lives of his sister and her husband.
  • Bawdy Song: "Red Headed Woman".
  • The Big Guy: Clarence Clemons of The E Street Band, of course. He was called “The Big Man” for a reason, after all.
  • Bo Diddley Beat: "She's The One", "Ain't Got You".
  • Bowdlerize: Tom Waits' "Jersey Girl" originally included the line "Don't want no whores on Eighth Avenue." Bruce changed it to "Or the girls out on the avenue."
  • Bottle Episode: Nebraska was recorded in his bedroom on a small 4-track recorder as demos. When he tried to record the songs with the E Street Band, the songs didn't evoke the same bleak, stark feel as the demos, so he polished the demos and released them as the record. Max Weinberg has confirmed that an "Electric Nebraska" does exist.
  • Breakout Character: E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg is probably the most successful, being just as well known for his work as bandleader of the house band for NBC's Late Night/The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.
    • In addition, lead guitarist Steven Van Zandt is also pretty successful as well, being just as well known for his role as Silvio Dante on the HBO drama The Sopranos, and for his long-running weekly radio show "Little Steven's Underground Garage" as well as a long running solo music career.
  • Breather Episode:"The Promised Land" is a lot more optimistic than the rest of the songs on Darkness.
  • Bungled Suicide: "For You" is about the narrator's girlfriend who survived a suicide attempt.
  • Call-Back: The songs of Letter to You are musically reminiscent of Bruce's various pre-Reunion records, particularly Born to Run with strong use of piano, glockenspiel and (of course) sax solos.
    • In "Long Time Comin'" from 2005's Devils and Dust, the narrator is married to a woman named Rosie. After the album's release, there was some speculation that "Rosie" is actually the title character from "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)"; she's just grown up now.
    • "The Promise" namedrops "Thunder Road".
    • "Matamoros Banks" is the tragic follow-up to "Across the Border".
  • Calling the Old Man Out: His strained relationship with his father made its way into a lot of his songs, leading him to joke during his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech:
    "I've gotta thank him because—what would I conceivably have written about without him? I mean, you can imagine that if everything had gone great between us, we would have had disaster."
  • Careful with That Axe: The intro to "Something in the Night".
  • Cheap Pop: Parodied with the joke song "In Michigan", performed at two shows there in September 1996.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: A few of the girls in his songs are described as having one. "For You" references it by name, and in "She's the One", there's a "smile on the lips" of a woman who's about to make your life very difficult.
  • Christmas Songs: The Boss' cover of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", based on Phil Spector's arrangement for the Crystals, is a classic rock radio standard during Christmastime.
    • Ditto for his cover of "Merry Christmas, Baby" (based on Otis Redding's arrangement).
  • Cliché Storm: Invoked and parodied with "My Best Was Never Good Enough," where the lyrics, except for the title and "Come'on pretty baby, call my bluff" are nothing but clichés, including a Take That! to Forrest Gump.
    "Now life's like a box of chocolates
    You never know what you're gonna get
    Stupid is as stupid does and all the rest of that shit."
  • Concept Album: Although he shied away from overtly describing them as such, many of his albums revolve around a central theme: Darkness On The Edge Of Town deals with the inability to escape and standing firm, Tunnel Of Love deals with the challenges of love and relationships. His overarching thematic focus revolves around "measuring the distance between the American Dream and reality". One music critic described him as "The Quintessential Album Era Rock Star" due to his strong thematic focus over the course of his career.
  • Con Man: Used as a metaphor for political demagogues in "Magic" and "Rainmaker". In his Broadway show, he describes himself as one, becoming a working-class hero despite 'never doing an honest day's work in [his] life!'
  • Cool Car: Cars are often means of escape and objects of desire for his protagonists.
    • "Ramrod": "She's a hot stepping hemi with a four on the floor / She's a roadrunner engine in a '32 Ford..."
    • "Cadillac Ranch": "Cadillac, Cadillac / Long and dark, shiny and black / Open up your engines, let 'em roar / Tearing up the highway like a big old dinosaur..."
    • "Pink Cadillac": "Crushed velvet seats, ridin' in the back, cruisin' down the streets, wavin' to the girls, feelin' outta sight..."
    • Subverted in "Racing In The Street", about a guy who's sunk all of his dreams in a Cool Car that's never going anywhere.
    • Inverted in "The Line", in which border police use their cars as weapons against illegal immigrants ("We'd rush 'em with our Broncos...") and "Balboa Park", in which the protagonist is hit and probably killed by a car.
    • Also inverted in "Used Cars," in which the child narrator is ashamed of his family's poverty and how they can't afford a new car. They always have to buy secondhand cars and even that is a strain on their finances.
      Now mister the day the lottery I win
      I ain't ever gonna ride in no used car again
  • Cool Old Guy: He's over seventy years old, and he sounds as good as ever, if not better.
    • Clarence Clemons, who was still playing with the band right before he died at the age of 69, also counts.
  • Crapsack World: The overlying theme of his 1982 album Nebraska.
  • Creator Thumbprint: Springsteen incorporates imagery and metaphors related to amusement parks, fairgrounds and carnivals (he called one album Tunnel of Love). Appropriate as it was the Jersey Shore where Bruce developed a following in The '60s.
    • Cars also turn up frequently, as the Cool Car entry on the main page points out.
    • As does travel. Glory Days, for instance, begins with a mention of a truck-stop bar, and Jungleland begins with a "magic rat" crossing the Jersey state line. Within "travel", crossing county or state lines is common, presumably because this represents moving from one thing to the next.
    • He's also got a lot of songs about trains.
  • Creepy Circus Music: The entry music for shows on the Magic tour was a very eerie organ waltz. Fitting, considering the titular song is all about the potentially brutal consequences of tricks.
  • Cry Laughing: In "For You"; "You can laugh and cry in a single sound."
  • Culturally Religious: Biblical motifs are scattered everywhere in his discography, from titles like "The Promised Land" and "Jesus Was an Only Son" to the repeated symbolic use of the name Mary/Maria. Though now technically non-religious, Springsteen has noted that he still feels like he's "on the team" and considers himself a spiritual writer more than anything else.
  • Darker and Edgier: His 1982 album "Nebraska" is a lot more stripped down in its instrumentation and a lot more somber in its lyrical content. The songs are about blue-collar characters who, feeling no hope for the future, turn to crime. The title track, which is also the opener, is told from the POV of a young man who goes on a random drive-by shooting spree with his girlfriend before he's caught and sentenced to death by electric chairnote . Bruce's heartbreaking vocals and the minimalism of the acoustic music combine to make the album one of his most challenging and certainly not an album to play before you start your weekend.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: Rejects this idea in songs like "All That Heaven Will Allow" and "City of Night". His own career has been one of remarkable longevity.
    Some people wanna die young and gloriously
    But taxi cab driver, well that ain't me
  • Deconstruction: Darkness On The Edge Of Town acts as this towards Born to Run, taking the optimism of the previous album and turning it on its head. If Born to Run was about the glory of escape and getting to a better life, Darkness asks "What about afterwards?" Best exemplified in the song "Racing In The Street".
  • Distracted by the Sexy:
    • "Crush on You": the narrator is constantly getting distracted by beautiful girls to the point of wanting to drop everything and just run after them.
    • Also these lines from "Loose Change":
      Yeah, I knew she was trouble but trouble sure was lookin' fine
      When I pulled her close what I knew kinda slipped my mind
  • Double Entendre: The line in "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" about how "I just got tired of hanging in them dusty arcades, banging them pleasure machines", which could either refer to arcade games or sex. And the following lines about a bad ride on a Tilt-a-Whirl also might be sexually euphemistic.
  • Downer Ending: Several of his songs, notably Jungleland.
  • Dying Town: "My Hometown" and "Youngstown". Based in large part on the economic turmoil that hit Bruce's hometown of Freehold, NJ and other towns that suffered with the loss of factory jobs during the postwar decades.
    • And of course, "Death to my Hometown" from 2012's Wrecking Ball.
    • "Frankie" from Tracks contains the line, "Everybody's dying, this town's closing down."
    • "My City of Ruins" was written for Asbury Park, the home of Bruce's first prominent music scene, which had been on a long economic decline. Fortunately, it's gained a revival since then.
  • Eagleland: Most of his songs are meditations on American small towns, culture, politics etc. Usually coming in type 3 but with a few songs like "Born in the USA" closer in tone to 2 when discussing topics like the ill treatment received by the Vietnam Veterans or the existence of political corruption. That being said, his recent album "Wrecking Ball" goes back to Type 3: Despite the existence of corrupt powers-that-be, the album ultimately suggests that in the end the good will triumph, and Bruce celebrates the American small towns and urban centers that he hopes will recover from the current economic turmoil.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. wears its Van Morrison and Bob Dylan influences on its sleeve, since he hadn't quite locked in to his own unique sound yet. Also, Clarence Clemons, who wouldn't officially join the band until after the album sessions, only appears on two songs.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Appears in some of his songs, notably "Badlands" and "Land of Hopes and Dreams".
  • Echoing Acoustics: Due to his love of the "Wall Of Sound", many of his albums feature this style of instruments blending together in a large sound. Most notably on Born to Run.
  • Epic Rocking: Not so much with album versions, but there are some exceptions. "Kitty's Back", "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)", "Incident on 57th Street", "Racing in the Street", "Drive All Night", and "Outlaw Pete" are around seven or eight minutes long, while "Jungleland" runs for nine and a half, but his longest to date is "New York City Serenade", at nearly ten minutes long. At his longest (especially "Jungleland" and "New York City Serenade"), he arguably crosses into Progressive Rock territory; this is also something of a case of Early-Installment Weirdness as The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle had a much larger quantity of it than any of his later studio albums (it contains four of the songs listed here, out of seven songs on the album). Live performances are a different matter, though - live renditions of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out", "Prove It All Night", "E Street Shuffle" or especially "Kitty's Back" (their dedicated "jamming song", where everyone gets a chance to solo) can stretch to twenty minutes.
    • A 1980 live version of "Incident on 57th Street" that was used as the B-Side for the live "Fire" single in 1987 clocks in at 10:07, which is notable since it may very well be the longest song ever released on one side of a 45 RPM vinyl single.
    • Springsteen's live performances as a whole can count as this trope. Not only were songs extended beyond their album counterparts, but the concerts as a whole can go on for up to 3-4 hours.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The album 18 Tracks, a collection of 18 tracks.
  • Fading into the Next Song: "Incident on 57th Street" into "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)". Each of these two songs would be a case of Epic Rocking by itself; combined, they run for 14:49.
  • Fan Disservice: The graphic sex scene in "Reno" is creepy and sad, and fully meant to be so.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: During the second run of Springsteen on Broadway: "You have managed to engage in an act so heinous that it has offended the entire fuckin’ United States! You, my recalcitrant, law-breaking, bridge-and-tunnel friend... have drunk two shots of tequila."
  • For the Evulz: The narrator of "The New Timer" blames his friend's murder on "somebody killing just to kill."
    • Also invoked in "Nebraska," which is a semi-fictionalized account of the 1957-58 Starkweather-Fugate murder spree: "They wanted to know why I did what I did/Well, sir, I guess there's just a meanness in this world."
  • Foreshadowing: A number of songs on The River. The title track, for example, presaged the themes he would devote Nebraska to.
  • Fortune Teller: "4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)": "The cops finally busted Madame Marie, for telling fortunes better than they do." This referred to a real-life Asbury Park fortune teller named Marie Castello, who once told Springsteen he would be a great success as a musician.
    • "Brilliant Disguise": "We stood at the altar / the gypsy swore our future was right / But come the wee wee hours / Well maybe baby the gypsy lied."
  • Genre Mashup: While Springsteen's core genre is rock, he's integrated a variety of musical influences over the course of his musical career. Contemporaneous rock critics initially praised him precisely for integrating many of rock's traditions. His earliest bands went from Beatles-influenced rock, to hard rock, to more soul and R&B influence. His first two albums were a mixture of folk, jazz, soul, and R&B styles with Van Morrison as a big influence. His third album Born to Run integrated influences ranging from Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, Elvis, Roy Orbison and more. His fourth album Darkness On The Edge Of Town was influenced by the emerging punk scene. Later albums also began incorporating more country influence in terms of sound and lyrical themes. There are also the songs that he's given away to other artists of different genres, and the songs that he's covered. In terms of overall lyrics, he has often described his verses as blues and his chorus as gospel.
  • Gift of Song: "The Wish" is one for his mother.
  • Heavy Meta/"I Am" Song: "I'm a Rocker".
  • Hypicrite: Played for Laughs on his Broadway tour; he makes fun of himself for being "Mr. Born-to-Run" despite currently living 10 minutes from his hometown, and a working-class hero despite "never stepping foot in a factory" in his life. Some detractors levy these same criticisms against him more seriously, but YMMV.
  • I Am the Band: Discussed in his autobiography Born To Run. After several years in more democratic band settings, Springsteen decided to go in a different direction and signed on as a solo artist while also being the leader of the E Street Band. He wanted the creative control and decision-making of a solo artist, but he also valued the contributions of the E Street Band. As such, he writes all the songs by himself, while the E Street Band brings them to their full potential.
  • Iconic Item: One of the most famous in rock, his guitar: a heavily modified 1950s butterscotch Fender Esquire/Telecaster hybrid (it's a Telecaster body with an Esquire neck.) He bought it in 1973 and basically never used any other guitar in concert until it had to be retired in 2005, but the guitars he does use onstage have been modified into clones of it, and he still records with it.
  • Iconic Outfit:
    • He is probably best known for his Born in the U.S.A.-era clothing. For the cover of the album, he wore a white t-shirt and blue jeans, with a red baseball cap in the back pocket. The everyman nature of the clothes cemented him as a working-class icon. During the actual tours, he often sported a headband and emphasized a more muscular physique.
    • To a lesser extent, there is his look on the cover of Born to Run; sporting a leather jacket and an Elvis pin to give off more of a "greaser" appearance.
  • Iconic Song Request: Taking sign requests is a tradition at his concerts, and the songs don't even need to be his own. Subverted in that he usually chooses lesser-known songs.
  • Insult Backfire:
    • His 1984 hit "Born In the USA" is about the negative effect the Vietnam War had on working class Americans and criticizes how the US government feels it needs to "police the world". However, it has been frequently misinterpreted as a patriotic anthem and was embraced by a number of nationalist figures during The '80s who were oblivious to the song's true meaning. Most notably, Ronald Reagan wanted to use the song for his 1984 reelection campaign (which Springsteen openly mocked him for) and Lee Iacocca wanted to use the song in a patriotically themed advertising campaign for Chrysler automobiles. Naturally, Springsteen refused to allow either to use the song.
    • His song "Glory Days" is often used at high school reunions and is embraced as a lighthearted tale of those reminiscing of their youth. However, the song is really about a group of high school classmates who are down-on-their-luck losers that have gone nowhere in life since their graduation. However, all of them were popular and really had things going for them back during their school days, so they regularly get together, get drunk and reminisce about their time in high school to feel better about themselves and forget about how pitiful their lives currently are.
  • Intercourse with You: "I'm on Fire". Fittingly enough, it was later covered by AWOLNATION for the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack.
  • Jaded Washout: Everybody in "Glory Days" who are hinted may have been driven to alcoholism as a result.
  • Joisey: Where Bruce was born, raised, and has usually drawn a lot of his inspiration from. The loss of many industrial jobs in Springsteen's hometown of Freehold and in other parts of New Jersey informed a lot of his lyrics and beliefs right from the start of his career, and his singing about this issue obviously found a sympathetic audience in the parts of the state that were suffering from the loss of jobs. Scenery from the Jersey Shore (no, not that Jersey Shore) are often used as imagery in his lyrics and song titles. And Bruce—loyal to his roots—always makes sure to have concerts in Jersey throughout his tours. It's no wonder that—although he's honored and adored by fans throughout America—it's in New Jersey where Bruce is the most beloved.
    • After Bruce and Patti began having children, Bruce decided to move the family out of Beverly Hills to get away from that kind of environment. So where did he and Patti go to raise their kids? Back home to Jersey of course. To a town merely 15 minutes from Freehold, in fact.
    • Listen to any live recording of a Bruce song containing the word "Jersey"; you'll probably hear a large cheer from the audience as soon as they hear the word.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Some characters, e.g. in "Highway Patrolman". Springsteen himself is more or less this in real life.
  • Large Ham: "The E Street Band has traveled thousands of miles, to fulfill their solemn vow...TO ROCK THE HOOOOOOOOUUSE!!!"
    • From his intro to their Super Bowl gig: "Ladies and gentlemen! Tonight we are bringing the righteous and the mighty power of the E Street Band into YOUR beautiful home! So I want you to to step back from the guacamole dip! I want you to put the chicken fingers down! And turn your televisions ALL the way up!..."
      • Jon Stewart, a life-long Springsteen fan, provided an Affectionate Parody the next day; "You are about to witness the righteous power of the Daily Show! I want you to step away from your remote... wha, no? It was cool when Springsteen did it!"
    • Or this 2013 classic: "I want you to go home with your back aching and your hands aching and your voice hoarse and your feet aching and your knees aching AND YOUR SEXUAL ORGANS STIMULATED!!!"
    • "The heart-stopping, fun-loving, earth-quaking, love-making, record-breaking, air-conditioner-shaking, Viagra-taking, history-making E! STREET! BAND!"
    • "What time is it?" "It's BOSS TIME!!!!!"
  • Legacy Character: Max Weinberg was replaced by his son on the most recent tour for some shows that conflicted with his commitments to The Tonight Show. Danny Federici's son also played on the most recent album following his death. After Clarence Clemons' death, his nephew Jake joined the band on sax.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: When the band was first starting out, they rehearsed in David Sancious' mother's house on E Street in Asbury Park.
  • Live Album: In Concert: MTV Unplugged, Live in New York City, Hammersmith Odeon, London '75, Live in Dublin
    • And the 13x platinum box set Live 1975-85.
  • Location Song: "Nebraska", "Born In The U.S.A.", which all paint a not so rosy-posy picture of the USA.
  • Long-Distance Relationship: "Save My Love".
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle ends with "New York City Serenade" (9:55).
    • Born to Run ends with "Jungleland" (9:33).
  • Long Title:
    • The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle
    • Darkness on the Edge of Town
    • It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Bruce has a habit of mixing optimism and pessimism into the same song, describing his verses as "blues" and his choruses as "gospel". This is probably the reason so many people misinterpret his songs. These include:
    • "Born in the USA" (although it depends on what version you're listening to; the versions on Tracks and Live In New York City are more obviously mournful and don't really fit this trope)
    • "Dancing in the Dark"
    • "Cadillac Ranch"
    • "Hungry Heart"
    • "Johnny 99"
    • "Shackled and Drawn"
    • "Sherry Darling"note 
    • "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)"note 
  • Lyrical Shoehorn: Bruce is prone to inserting the word "mister" into lines where he needs a couple of extra syllables to fill out the meter.
  • The Mafia: "Atlantic City" opens by referencing the assassination of Philadelphia crime family boss Philip "the Chicken Man" Testa, and it seems that the viewpoint character is about to join the Mafia as a hitman (either taking a job in AC or, more likely, spending his last free weekend on the Shore). "Murder Incorporated" takes it's title from the full name of "Murder, Inc.", the enforcement arm of The Mafia in New York city and elsewhere during The '30s and The '40s.
  • Mood Whiplash: The River (the album; the title track is an unrelenting downer). Completely intentional, according to Word of God.
  • Morality Ballad: "Born in the USA".
    • Many of Springsteen's songs could be described, to paraphrase Max Frisch, as morality ballads without a moral. His characters find themselves bewildered and torn by their actions, but it is clear they would do the same things again, for instance in "Hungry Heart".
  • Motormouth: Since he's known for his plainspoken singing style, it's definitely Early-Installment Weirdness to hear his rapid-fire delivery of the wordy verses toward the end of "Blinded by the Light".
  • Murder Ballad:
    • "Nebraska" - inspired by the real-life murder spree of Charles Starkweather.
    • "Johnny 99"
    • "Highway 29"
    • Arguably "Atlantic City"
  • Myth Arc: Bruce's relationship with his father has received attention across multiple songs. At first, the songs were defined by tension and separation with "Independence Day" and "Adam Raised A Cain". Over time, they shifted towards a slight desire for reconnection and emulation with "My Father's House" and "Walk Like A Man". Ultimately, this culminated in "Long Time Comin'", which depicts a father learning from the past generational mistakes to become a better father.
  • Never Bareheaded: Stevie Van Zandt was in a car accident a long time ago; his head broke the windshield and the hair on the top of his head never grew back. Consequently, he is always seen with a bandana tied around his head, except when he starred in The Sopranos and wore a pompadour wig instead.
  • Nice Guy: By all accounts, Bruce is a very friendly, humble and good-natured person who enjoys meeting his fans and who is very good to work with.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: He once broke a football stadium. With rock'n'roll.
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?" "Incident On 57th Street," "Reno," "The Wrestler"
  • Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond: Bruce was considered one of the best guitar players relative to the Jersey Shore scene that he came up in. It was only after going to California that he realized that the musicianship of bands was at a very competitive level, which prompted him to focus more on songwriting.
  • Ode to Youth: "Glory Days", "No Surrender", "Backstreets" and "Born to Run".
  • Older Than They Look: He has aged remarkably well and looks very good despite being born in 1949.
  • One-Woman Song: "4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy)," "Candy's Room," "Cindy," "Janey Needs a Shooter," etc.
  • Outlaw: "Outlaw Pete"
  • Ordinary People's Music Video:
  • Outlaw Couple: "Nebraska", "Highway 29" and "Easy Money."
  • Parental Love Song: In both directions. "The Wish" is a song dedicated to his mother and his overall appreciation and love for her and her support. "Living Proof" and "Pony Boy" were both songs that were inspired in part on his feelings after his first child Evan was born.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: The name "Thunder Road" was originally taken from the title of a Robert Mitchum film. Since then, Thunder Road has become one of Springsteen's signature songs and more heavily associated with him than the original film.
  • Preacher Man: The natural combination of his Large Ham tendencies and copious use of Christian imagery, Springsteen often leans on this persona in live performances. His gospel is, of course, none other than Rock & Roll.
    • Jim Casy makes an appearance in "The Ghost of Tom Joad".
    • "If I Was the Priest" features a Wild West version in a face-off with Sheriff Jesus.
  • Precision F-Strike: Springsteen doesn't usually use R-rated language in his songs, he saves it for special occasions:
    • "Long Time Comin'": "Two kids in a sleeping bag beside / Reach 'neath your shirt, put my hands across your belly and feel / Another one kickin' inside / And I ain't gonna fuck it up this time!"
    • "Queen of the Supermarket": "As I lift my groceries in to my car / I turn back for a moment and catch a smile / That blows this whole fucking place apart!"
    • "My Best was Never Good Enough": "And the early bird catches the fuckin' worm..."
    • Live versions of "Lost in the Flood": "Hey man, did you see that, those poor cats are sure fucked up"
    • "Don't vote for that fuckin' Bush!"- during a concert at the Nassau Coliseum on April 1, 1988.
  • Protest Song: "Born in the USA" again, which is about the treatment of Vietnam veterans. Many other songs also qualify, and The Ghost of Tom Joad is almost an entire album of protest songs.
    • Several of the songs on Wrecking Ball, particularly "Shackled and Drawn" and "Death To My Hometown."
  • Rearrange the Song: Notably, "Youngstown" was reworked from a mournful acoustic ballad to furious rocker capped by possibly the wildest guitar solo in Springsteen's entire catalogue.
    • The "Live In Dublin" album contains several classic Springsteen songs that have been rewritten to sound like folk songs (this was right after his folk album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions was released and he was on tour with the Sessions Band). "Open All Night", in particular, is transformed from a short track with a low, urgent vocal over a single thrumming guitar to an upbeat ten-minute barnstormer that gives everyone in the Sessions Band (all eighteen of them) a chance to sing or solo.
    • Starting in the '90s, Springsteen has regularly performed sparse acoustic versions of "Born in the U.S.A." that are intended to emphasize its bleak verse lyrics instead of the triumphant-sounding chorus, which he sometimes omitted entirely.
  • Recycled Lyrics: Nebraska has some examples: "Atlantic City" and "Johnny 99" both have the narrator mention having "debts no honest man can pay". "State Trooper" and "Open All Night" share the couplet "in the wee wee hours your mind gets hazy / radio relay towers lead me to my baby". In "State Trooper", the "radio's jammed up with talk show stations", whereas in "Open All Night" it's "jammed up with gospel stations".
    • "Spanish Eyes" and "I'm On Fire" both start with the lines "Hey little girl is your Daddy home, did he go away and leave you all alone?"
    • "Further On Up The Road" and "Maria's Bed" both contain the lines, "Got on my dead man's suit and smiling skull ring, lucky graveyard boots and a song to sing." There's also a line in both songs about being "out in the desert, doing my time."
  • Red Baron: Springsteen's own nickname is "the Boss", dating back to the days of his early bands when he managed, booked and organised the band himself. He also has a variety of nicknames for the E Street Bandmembers - The Mighty Mighty Max Weinberg, Professor Roy Bittan, Patti "The First Lady of Love" Scialfa... Clarence Clemons usually got half a dozen, culminating in "the Big Man, Clarence Clemons!"
  • Repurposed Pop Song: Barack Obama used "The Rising" in his campaign, and Springsteen himself played it at a few rallies.
    • Ronald Reagan rather famously tried to do this to "Born in the USA" apparently mistaking it for a (somewhat jingoistic) hyper-patriotic anthem. It's not.
  • Rhyming with Itself: "County Fair": "County fair, county fair / Everybody in town'll be there / So come on, hey we're goin' down there"
    • "I'll Work For Your Love": "The late afternoon sun fills the room / With the mist of the garden before the fall / I watch your hands smooth the front of your blouse / and seven drops of blood fall"
  • Run for the Border: Frankie in "Highway Patrolman"
  • Sarcastic Title: "Born In The U.S.A." is one of the most well-known examples of this trope. It makes the song sound as if it was a patriotic hymn, yet it's anything but, being a song against the war.
  • Scatting: "Streets of Philadelphia", "The Rising", "Worlds Apart" and "Maria's Bed" all have variants of "lie-la-lie-lie" in their refrains.
  • Second-Person Narration: "She's The One".
  • Second Verse Curse: "Glory Days" has a seldom-heard third verse;
    My old man worked 20 years on the line
    And they let him go
    Now everywhere he goes out looking for work
    They just tell him that he's too old
    I was nine years old and he was working at the
    Metuchen Ford plant assembly line
    Now he just sits on a stool down at the Legion Hall
    But I can tell what's on his mind

    Glory days yeah goin back
    Glory days aw he ain't never had
    Glory days, glory days
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Springsteen sang all the background vocals on Nebraska. This is particularly noticeable in "Atlantic City."
  • Self-Deprecation: Usually his musical comedy routines with Jimmy Fallon on Jimmy's talk show. Usually exaggerated parodies of Bruce's songs (or hit songs of the day) with Bruce and Jimmy using exaggerated "Springsteen" costumes and singing voices. In his Broadway show, he makes fun of himself for projecting a working-class image despite never "stepping food in a factor" or doing "an honest day's work in [his] life".
  • Sequel Song: A number of his songs are either direct sequels or feature callbacks to previous ones. "The Promise" is essentially a sequel song to "Thunder Road", while "The Last Carnival" harkens back to "Wild Billy's Circus Story" while also acting as a tribute to Danny Federici. "Racing In The Street" acts as a sequel to many of the songs on Born to Run.
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: The show did a parody of "Born to Run" called "Born to Add", which included the line "There's a lot of us adders on the Jersey Shore."
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: "Shut Out The Light" (Vietnam) and "Devil's Arcade" (Iraq)
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: Bruce released a song based on the trope naming incident, called "American Skin (41 shots)", which included lyrics like "is it a gun? is it a knife? is it a wallet? This is your life!"
  • Shoot the Television: His song "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" is about a man who, after his investments in television, cable, satellite dishes, and home entertainment fail to bring him happiness, takes out his frustration by shooting the television set. The lyrics reference Elvis Presley in this regard.
    So I bought a .44 magnum, it was solid steel cast,
    And in the blessed name of Elvis, well, I just let it blast.
    • This visual is also present in the song's Music Video.
  • Shout-Out: The Ghost of Tom Joad references The Grapes of Wrath.
    • "Ain't Good Enough For You" contains the lyrics "And babe I tried to make the latest scene, hitting cool just like Jimmy Iovine." Iovine is a record producer who worked on Born To Run.
    • In the liner notes of his greatest hits album, Bruce mentions that he got the title of "Thunder Road" from a Robert Mitchum movie. Interestingly, he claims he hadn't actually seen the movie at the time he wrote the song; he simply found the poster inspiring.
    • "Thunder Road" also references Roy Orbison's song "Only the Lonely".
    • A similar borrowing of a movie title happened for The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, taken from the 1959 Audie Murphy Western The Wild and the Innocent.
    • The chorus of "Mary's Place" is from Sam Cooke's song "Meet Me at Mary's Place".
    • "4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" features a reference to "The wizards down on Pinball Way".
    • In "For You", the Narrator compliments his lover's strength by asking "Didn't you think I knew that you were born with the power of a locamotive/Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?
  • Shown Their Work: The Ghost of Tom Joad has a bibliography. The "Jenny" of "Youngstown" is also not a woman, but rather the nickname of the Blast Furnace at the steelworks in Youngstown, Ohio.
  • Silly Love Songs: The Tunnel of Love album, among many others.
  • Silver Fox: Hitting his seventies hasn't detracted from his rugged good looks at all.
  • Small Town Boredom: Particularly in the first half of his career, most of his narrators were young Jersey Shore guys itching to leave town. Born to Run is practically Small Town Boredom: The Album.
  • Smurfette Principle: While there have been female touring members, Patti Scialfa has been the longest-serving sole female member of the core E Street Band.
  • Steel Mill: "Youngstown"
    • Also, his first serious band before the E Street Band was called Steel Mill.
  • Something Blues: "California Blues"
  • The Something Song: "Seaside Bar Song", "Song for Orphans"
  • Sturgeon's Law: Bruce complains in "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" that he hooked up a new satellite TV receiver to impress his significant other, only to find that there wasn't anything worth watching on any of the 57 new channels.
  • Supergroup:
    • The E Street Band to some extent. In the beginning, much of the band was composed of musicians who were either skilled or were relatively prominent in the Jersey Shore scene: Steve Van Zandt was a co-founder of Southside Johnny And the Asbury Jukes, while other musicians like Garry Tallent and Clarence Clemons were prominent in the scene and had been in prior bands. Later members also include Nils Lofgren, who is the frontman of his own band Grin and a member of Crazy Horse (known for their association with Neil Young).
    • As the E Street Band grew in fame, they started contributing their talents to other prominent artists like Meat Loaf, David Bowie, Stevie Nicks, and many others.
  • Three-Act Structure: "Spare Parts" is a particularly concise example.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Especially on Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad, and Devils & Dust.
    • "I'm goin' down, down, down, down..."
    • "Janey don't you lose heart..."
  • Took a Level in Badass: Springsteen put on muscle and shed his earlier "new Bob Dylan" image for Born in the USA. It worked.
  • Train Song: "Land of Hope and Dreams", "Downbound Train" and "Tucson Train" among others. "I'm on Fire" also arguably fits.
  • Trash-Can Band: The final verse of "New York City Serenade" depicts one of these.
  • Trope Codifier: For Heartland Rock and blue-collar rock. Although he was not the first artist to write and sing about working class and blue-collar themes, he has become practically synonymous with them. This is to the point where artists both before and after him who focus on working-class themes have been compared to Springsteen's example.
  • Tunnel of Love: The title track is a Type 2.
  • Tyop on the Cover: In one of its first mentions of his second album in 1974, Billboard magazine mistakenly called it The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuggle. Even funnier, the Google Books search preview text renders it as the E Street Snuggle.
  • Uncommon Time: "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and "House of a Thousand Guitars".
  • Unplugged Version: The tours accompanying The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils & Dust were almost entirely solo acoustic and featured some substantially rearranged versions of older band songs.
    • Subverted on Bruce Springsteen's MTV Unplugged appearance. He first played an acoustic version of "Born to Run," which is this trope played straight. Then, he turned to his band, shrugged, and they all plugged in and played an electric set. The album MTV released for the show had the "Un" of "Unplugged" scratched out.
    • It's gotten to the point where "Born in the USA" is almost always played acoustically, as some people still simply do not get the meaning and need to have it explained to them slowly and clearly.
  • Visual Innuendo: He often plays up phallic imagery on stage using guitars and mic stands.
  • Vocal Evolution: His voice mellowed considerably in the 90s.
  • War Is Hell: "Born in the U.S.A." from the 1984 album of the same title.
  • Wham Line: On "The River"
    "Then I got Mary pregnant, and man, that was all she wrote."
    • And on "Atlantic City"
    "So honey, last night I met this guy and I'm gonna a do little favor for him."
  • A Wild Rapper Appears!: The song "Rocky Ground" features a rapped verse by gospel singer Michelle Moore.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "Blinded by the Light" and "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?"