Friday, June 22, 2007

The Top 10 Bruce Springsteen Songs About Automobiles

10. “Cadillac Ranch.” El Dorado fins, whitewalls and skirts/ Rides just like a little bit of heaven here on earth… A lighthearted love song, dedicated to the ultimate Detroit chromeboat.

9. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).” My tires were slashed and I almost crashed but the Lord had mercy/ My machine she's a dud, I'm stuck in the mud somewhere in the swamps of Jersey… Seven minutes of gimmicky lyrics that come dangerously close to Billy Joel territory. But it’s a toetapper, and it’s hard not to like.

8. “Used Cars.” My little sister’s in the front seat with an ice cream cone… A wistful lament for all those poor folks who have to buy their cars second hand. A little overwrought, perhaps, but moving in spite of itself.

7. “Stolen Car.” Each night I wait to get caught/ But I never do… Stealing hearts and stealing cars. It’s the same thing, really, when you get down to it.

6. “Racing in the Streets.” For all the shut down strangers and hot rod angels/ Rumbling through this promised land… The gentle piano arrangement gives this song a contemplative distance from its noisy, roaring subject matter.

5. “My Hometown.” Two cars at a light, on a Saturday night/ In the backseat there was a gun… A chilling survey of the ravages of deindustrialization. The narrator grows from son to father with his hands on the wheel, deciding whether to keep circling around Main Street or to pull out of town.

4. “Born to Run.” At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines… I’ll be honest. While it is admittedly brilliant, I think this song is a little overrated, and that it overshadows its superior album companion “Thunder Road” (below). The fact that the track has been played and quoted for thirty years doesn’t help. It just never seems fresh to me like it must have seemed when it was new.

3. and 2. (Tie) “State Trooper” and “Open All Night.” Two parts of the same song. A man drives down the Jersey Turnpike in the dead of night. In one version, he’s an outlaw: License, registration: I ain't got none/ But I got a clear conscience 'bout the things that I done… In the other he’s a working man on the night shift, remembering taking the same drive with his girl: Fried chicken on the front seat, she’s sittin’ in my lap/ We’re wipin’ our fingers on a Texaco road map… Whether or not they are the same man, they curse their radios for being jammed up with talk and gospel and offer this prayer to the relay towers: Hey ho rock and roll deliver me from nowhere.

1. “Thunder Road.” All the redemption I can offer girl is beneath this dirty hood…. It really isn’t the Boss’s most articulate comment on American car culture (see Nos. 10, 8, and 6, above). But it's certainly the best of his many hey-girl-get-in-my-car songs. It offers rich Catholic imagery and stark visions of life passing by, framed by the dashboard and seen through the windshield.


Akshay said...

Ooh, you're missing one of my favorite Springsteen songs of all time, "Sherry Darling," also notable for being one of the few songs that celebrates drinking and driving.

Matt K said...

Good list. I see what you mean about "Rosalita," but Bruce's exuberance (or at least his singing voice) is throatier and meatier than Billy's treacle, and so much more acceptable, even on repeated listenings. And even if "Rosalita," is, say, only a little bit better than the all-time best Billy Joel tune, that's hardly damning. I'll never buy one of his albums, but when "Only The Good Die Young" comes on the radio, I don't change the station... er, I don't *usually* change the station. How's that for qualified praise, Joelster?

John said...

"Sherry Darling" is also one of the few songs that consists of a dramatic monologue in which the speaker is driving his girlfriend's mother around.

And I think "Rosalita" is way better than Billy Joel.

Drew said...

Hey, I don't even think 70s vintage Billy Joel is that bad. It's just that Springsteen's much beter.