The 20 best songs from Bruce Springsteen’s CD boxset “Tracks” according to JV – part1

Bruce told Rolling Stone Magazine this four years before the set was released:

“We record a lot of material, but we just don’t release it all… I always tell myself that some day I’m gonna put an album out with all this stuff on it that didn’t fit in. I think there’s some good material there that should come out. Maybe at some point, I’ll do that.”

Bruce Springsteen to Mojo Magazine:

“So it began just with that idea and we listened to about 250 songs, maybe more, I made quick notes in a notebook and put it away. A year went by, more maybe, and I came off the Tom Joad tour and I began to write acoustically again and I wrote about half a record. Then I got stuck and said, ‘Well, I’m going to put this aside for a while.’ Then I wrote half of an electric record, and hit the same place. So I thought, instead of waiting for another year to put something out I’ll put some of this music together. So once again I went back to the archives.”

He told Billboard that the songs were chosen from 2-300 songs. A legal battle concerning the rights to Greetings from Ashbury Park NJ sessions, made these tunes unavailable for release.

The Tracks Box set was inteded as a 6 cd release, but it was cut down to 4 cds before the official release. This means that there’s still a ton of unreleased songs in “The Springsteen Vault”. The rumours of a second Tracks box set is strong on the web.

From the liner notes in the Tracks Box set:

During long intervals between my record releases, as I was spending more and more time in the studio, when I met a fan out on the street I was often asked, “What are you guys doing in there?” I regularly pondered that question myself.

What we were doing in there was making a lot of music, a lot more music than I could use at any one time. As a result, my albums became a series of choices – what to include, what to leave out? I based my decisions on my creative point of view at the moment – the subject I was trying to focus on, something musical or emotional I was trying to express. In certain instances, as on Darkness on the Edge of Town, Nebraska, and The Ghost of Tom Joad, these choices crystallized the album I was making. On some of my other records the reasons I had for choosing one song over another, in hindsight, feel a good deal less significant. One of the results of working like this was that a lot of music, including some of my favorite things, remained unreleased.

This collection contains everything from the first notes I sang in the Columbia recording studio, my early and later work with the E Street Band, through to my music in the 90s. It’s the alternate route to some of the destinations I travelled to on my records, an invitation into the studio on the many nights we spent making music in search of the records we presented to you. I’m glad to finally be able to share this music; here are some of the ones that got away.

– Bruce Springsteen, September 1998

  • Disc 1: material from 1972 to 1980, including Springsteen’s very first Columbia Records audition for legendary A & R executive John Hammond. This disc also features additional songs most of which recorded for (but never released on) Springsteen’s first four albums.
  • Disc 2: material from 1979 to 1983, taken mostly from the sessions of The River, Nebraska, and Born In The USA. Springsteen describes this disc as “almost the completely other album from ‘The River’.”
  • Disc 3 : material from 1982 to 1987, taken from the recording of Born In The USA and Tunnel Of Love.
  • Disc 4: material from 1989 to 1998, taken mostly from the sessions of Human Touch.
  • “18 Tracks” contained 15 recordings already issued on Tracks, plus 3 previously unreleased recordings (“The Fever”, “Trouble River” and “The Promise”)

It is very difficult to distill this collection even more. We will end up with 20 tracks, that in our opinion are the best from this fantastic box set.

The now sold out Backstreets Magazine issue #61 (Winter, 1998) included a bonus 12-page booklet sized to fit the Tracks box set. The booklet, according to the editors of Backstreets, “takes a comprehensive look at all 66 songs on Tracks by presenting some of Springsteen’s own comments about the material in context with each track’s researched history (correcting a few Tracks typos along the way) and the editors’ contemporary analysis.”. We have used information from this booklet and information from several web sites in this post.

Here are number 20 -11

20. Goin’ Cali

Spotify (the youtube version was taken down)

Well he’d been hearing too many voices and feelin’ a little off-track
Like there was something big pressing down on his back
So he called up his friends and they said come on out west

Recorded January 29 1991.

“Yes, that’s me….. ‘Goin’ Cali,’ I suppose, was just an experimental thing I laid down in the studio one day: I don’t even remember recording it or how it came about, but it traces, ironically, my journey at that time out West.”

—MOJO interview, 1998

The song was recorded in the sessions for what became the Human Touch album, and took place entirely on the west coast (a first for Springsteen) and spanned about a 19-month period, from Sep 1989 to Mar 1991. He sang and played all instruments on the track. Great bassline!

19. Brothers Under The Bridge

Saigon, it was all gone
The same Coke machines
As the streets I grew on
Down in a mesquite canyon
We come walking along the ridge
Me and the brothers under the bridge

Recorded on 22 May 1995 @ Thrill Hill Recording, Los Angeles, CA
The only outtake to be released from “The Ghost of Tom Joad” album sessions.
First live play – “Ghost of Tom Joad Tour”,16 Dec 1995 in Boston

 Bruce: “… There was a group of homeless Vietnam vets that had left L.A. to set up a camp, a camp out there in the mountains (in the San Gabriel Mountains, just outside LA). This is a story about one of them who has a grown daughter that he’s never seen, and she grows up, and she comes looking for her dad. And what he tells her.”

Great live version from San Jose State Event Center in San Jose CA on October 26/1996:


Tracks version:


18. Hearts of Stone

 Recorded october 14, 1977. Only played live three times, and ten years appart (1978, 1988 and 1999).

Springsteen at his most soulful. He sings like a god. The night before this session, Bruce joined Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the Stone Pony and played five cover songs, so he probably had Johnny in mind when he did this version. He gave the song to his friend, who graciously accepted it and made it the title track of his third album. I’ve been to a few Southside Johnny shows and this song always brings down the house. The wonderful take on Tracks is Van Zandt’s shining moment, as his background adds a great depth to Bruce’s soulful  delivery.

Tracks version:

You stare in the mirror at the lines in your face
And you try to see, girl
The way things were when we were at your place
In the days it was just you and me, girl
And you cry because things ain’t like before
Well don’t you know they can’t be that way anymore
But don’t worry baby

17.  Johnny Bye-Bye

Well she drew out all her money from the Southern Trust
And put her little boy on the Greyhound Bus
Leaving Memphis with a guitar in his hand
With a one-way ticket to the promised land
Hey little girl with the red dress on
There’s a party tonight down in Memphis town
I’ll be going down there if you need a ride
The man on the radio says Elvis Presley’s died

Recorded January 1983 @ Thrill Hill Recording, Los Angeles, CA
Shared songwriting credit; co-authorship goes to Chuck Berry, whose own song “Bye Bye Johnny” provided Bruce with his first two lines.

 Bruce: “….from sessions that I did in my garage in California (jan 1983). There was almost a whole record that I ended up not putting out..”

Live @ Entertainment Center, Sydney, Australia – March 23,1985
with Bruce’s great “Trying to meet Elvis” story:


Live @ The Brendan Byrne Arena, The Meadowlands, East Rutherford NJ on July 8/1981:


16. Man At The Top

Recorded January 12, 1984 and a late candidate for Born in the USA, it sounds more like a Tunnel of Love track actually. Bruce Springsteen was the man at the top in 1984!

“There is a certain frightening aspect to having things you always dreamed were going to happen happen, because it’s always more—and in some ways always less than what you expected. I think when people dream of things, they dream of them without the complications. The real dream is not the dream, it’s life without complications. And that doesn’t exist.”

Bruce Springsteen to Rolling Stone magazine in 1987

Sources says that it was only played live twice, here’s a great performance from 1985:

Tracks version, a bit tamer but very good:

Here comes a fireman, here comes a cop
Here comes a wrench, here comes a car hop
Been going on forever, it ain’t ever gonna stop
Everybody wants to be the man at the top

15. A Good Man Is Hard To Find (Pittsburgh) 

It’s cloudy out in Pittsburgh, it’s raining in Saigon
Snow’s fallin’ all across the Michigan line
Well she sits by the lights of her Christmas tree
With the radio softly on
Thinkin’ how a good man is so hard to find

Recorded 5 May 1982 @ The Power Station, New York, NY

Performed once during the Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour – 10 May 2005. The song was played in honor of Sergeant Gerald Vick of the St. Paul Police Department who was killed in the line earlier that week…. And played solo acoustic on 04 Nov 2010 at Soldiers And Sailors Memorial Hall And Museum in Pittsburgh, PA. The song was the show opener.

Bruce: “…There are things that make sense of life
for people: their friends, the work they do, your community,
your relationship with your partner.
What if you lose those things, then what are you left with?”

And here it is…. the 04 Nov 2010 performance:

Tracks version:


14. Happy

 Listed as recorded January 18. 1992 in the official liner notes, but it is more likely that it was the same date but in 1991. It was probably part of the Lucky Town sessions and it’s probably a typo in the offficial release. On the official recording of Happy, Springsteen handles all guitars and lead vocals, and is accompanied by Roy Bittan on keyboards and Shawn Pelton on drums. Bittan is credited as a co-producer of this recording.

We’ve chosen two songs from the Lucky Town sessions and both are vastly superior to the songs that ended up on the album.

This song seems to serve as a summation and distillation of Springsteen’s state of mind at the time.

“I’ve struggled with a lot of things over the past two, three years, and it’s been real rewarding. I’ve been very, very happy, truly the happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life. And it’s not that one-dimensional idea of ‘happy.’ It’s accepting a lot of death and sorrow and mortality. It’s putting the script down and let- ting the chips fall where they may.”  – Interview Rolling Stone Magazine 1992

Tracks version:

Some need gold and some need diamond rings
Or a drug to take away the pain that living brings
A promise of a better world to come
When whatever here is done
I don’t need that sky of blue babe
All I know’s since I found you, I’m
Happy when I’m in your arms


13. Frankie

Dark weekends in the sun out on Chelsea Road
Descending the stairs, Frankie, my one
Check your makeup in the mirror c’mon babe let’s go
We’ll dance ’round this dirty town ’til the night is all done
Let all the finer things sleep alone tonight
Let all the minor kings lose their thrones tonight
Don’t worry about us, baby, we’ll be alright

Recorded: May 14, 1982 @ The Power Station, NYC
A song considered for 3 albums (Darkness, Born In The USA & Greatest Hits), but never made the final cut..
Lyrics in “Darkness” tradition.. Lovely harmonica playing & a Great Clarence Saxophone near the end.

Here is a fine live version from the D&D tour – November 17, 2005:

Tracks version:


12. Two For The Road

Recorded in February 1987.

He plays every instrument on the sweet “Two for the Road,” a song which could be viewed as the sequel to “Two Hearts.” Now that the character has found his “special one,” he is pledging his commitment, something certainly on the mind of Springsteen, writing for the first time as a married man. “Two For the Road” was the B-side of “Tunnel of Love” in late 1987.

It is played live only once on 01 Aug 2005 at U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati, OH, during the Devils & Dust tour. It was the opener of the show and it was played on electric piano. Note that it was sound-checked the night before, on 31 Jul 2005 at Schottenstein Center, Columbus, OH, but not played during the show.

Here it is:

And the sweet Tracks version:

It’s one for the money and one for the show
I got one kiss for you honey so come on let’s go
I didn’t see it coming but girl now I know
It takes one for the running but two for the road


11. This Hard Land

Hey there mister can you tell me
What happened to the seeds I’ve sown
Can you give me a reason, sir, as to why they’ve never grown
They’ve just blown around from town to town
Back out on these fields
Where they fall from my hand
Back into the dirt of this hard land

Recorded May 11, 1982 @ The Hit Factory, New York, NY

The song was rerecorded in 1995 and included on Greatest Hits, but the 82 version remains a fav among many fans.

The song kicks off with a solo harmonica… and enter Bruce with some of his best  “raspy voice”.. the band follows.. and we’re there. The rest is pure pleasure.
And  Roy Bittan’s piano playing is nothing but stunning.

 Max Weinberg: “We recorded about 80 songs for Born in the U.S.A. Some of them are great. ‘This Hard Land,’ which didn’t make it on the record, is just fantastic. That’s probably my favorite song we’ve done.”  —Backstreets interview, 1984

Bruce: “…‘This Hard Land’ has always been one of my favorites, and I don’t understand how I could let it be unreleased for so long.”

Tracks version:


Live April 5 1995  @ Sony Studios, NYC:


Part 2

– Hallgeir & Egil

10 thoughts on “The 20 best songs from Bruce Springsteen’s CD boxset “Tracks” according to JV – part1”

    1. Thanks for the feedback (and the link)
      Part two will be up on monday (I think)

      – Hallgeir

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