POLL RESULTS: Ranking the best Springsteen releases of the last decade
It was a tough question, but with 1,359 total responses, it was one Springsteen fans seemed eager to answer: What was Bruce’s best release of the last decade (2010-2019)?
Our poll included only releases with at least some original or previously unreleased material (sorry, The Album Collection volumes 1 & 2), but it did take into account Springsteen’s literary and cinematic releases in addition to his musical ones.
So what made the cut? Here’s a rundown, from least votes to most, with a brief take on each release.
14) American Beauty (EP, 2014), 3 votes. Only three brave souls cast a vote for this collection of High Hopes castoffs, originally released as a vinyl-only special for Record Store Day. It may not have been especially memorable -- “Hey Blue Eyes” is probably the standout -- but it did have a cool cover, we’ll give it that.
13) Chapter and Verse (companion album to Born to Run memoir, 2016), 10 votes. The “before he was famous” tracks from Springsteen’s early bands make for a fun curiosity, especially the wordy and rollicking “Henry Boy,” but unfortunately the remaining three-quarters of the album is nothing most don’t already own several times over.
12) High Hopes (album, 2014), 24 votes. One of three “original” albums Springsteen released this decade, this mish-mosh of outtakes and studio recordings of heretofore live-only tracks was his least well-received, both at the time and in this poll. But a fresh listen yields more than a few pleasures, including "Frankie Fell in Love," "Hunter of Invisible Game" and, at long last, a moving studio version of “The Wall.”
11) Springsteen on Broadway (live album, 2018), 43 votes. Few would deny that Springsteen’s Broadway run was a remarkable achievement, but at the end of the day this release feels a little too far removed from it to be especially relevant -- it’s basically the soundtrack to the Netlflix special based on the show. (More to come on that.) It is great for the car, though.
10) Western Stars: Songs from the Film (soundtrack, 2019), 54 votes. Actually a surprisingly high finish, considering this came out only a few months after the original Western Stars album and is practically a carbon copy. But people must have really liked that version of “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
9) The Promise (standalone compilation of Darkness outtakes, 2010), 56 votes. Otherwise known as “The Promise release for people too cheap to buy the boxed set,” it contains some of Bruce’s best music of the decade, even if it’s mostly over 30 years old.
8) Live archival releases (2014-2019), 75 votes. Too many to list individually, but too important -- and downright cool -- not to mention, the collected lineup of Springsteen’s monthly archive releases, which have included some of his most famous bootlegs, was bound to get some love from the Springsteen lifers.
7) Western Stars (film, 2019), 79 votes. It may not have been what you’d call a box office hit, but 79 respondents found the theatrical presentation of Bruce’s latest album, recorded live in his jealousy-inducing backyard barn, good enough to earn a vote in our poll.
6) The Ties That Bind: The River Collection (boxed set, 2015), 103 votes. A real treasure trove, including outtakes and the original single-album version of what would eventually become The River, this was the first release to crack 100 votes in our poll. The fact that it inspired quite a tour probably didn’t hurt.
5) The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story (boxed set, 2010), 150 votes. Otherwise known as “The Promise release for rich people,” it’s nothing short of amazing, complete with DVDs of a classic Darkness-era concert, another of the band performing the album straight through at the time of release, a documentary and even reproductions of Bruce’s Darkness notebooks. So it’s no surprise it would hit the top 5.
4) Springsteen on Broadway (Netflix special, 2018), 157 votes. The next best thing to seeing it live, Thom Zimny’s direction does an impressive job of capturing the intimate nature of what may be Bruce’s most daring career detour.
3) Born to Run (memoir, 2016), 169 votes. We all knew Bruce was a great writer, but who knew he was such a great author? (Well, his mother, but who else?) Springsteen’s vivid and compelling memoir was an instant bestseller, and rightfully so -- it offered new insights into his life and career and contained more than a few turns of phrase that cemented Bruce’s status as a literary force, not just musical one.
2) Western Stars (album, 2019), 199 votes. Some were skeptical to start off, but in the months since its release, Springsteen’s string-heavy stroll down Glen Campbell boulevard has clearly made its way onto many fans’ list of favorites. (It’s definitely a grower.) With 199 votes in our poll, this unique and timeless release -- a lyrical master class on aging, regret and the price of nostalgia -- was a clear second place for his best of the decade.
1) Wrecking Ball (album, 2012), 237 votes. As for the winner, there was apparently no doubt in the eyes of fans: Springsteen’s 2012 album is in many ways a joyous affair, awash in whoops, yelps, stomps and hollers, even as it takes aim at income disparity, the mortgage crisis, and what happens when people are robbed of the dignity of work. It remains one of Springsteen’s most cohesive and sadly most relevant releases. (And even made the cut to be included in my book on Springsteen’s Greatest Albums.) Fans agreed, with 237 votes being easily enough to secure the top spot.
So what will the 2020s (!!) hold for Springsteen and Co.? Time will tell, but with a new E Street Band release all but assured for the beginning of next year, he’ll likely get off to a good start.