Bruce Springsteen is the archetypal rock star of the ‘70s and ’80s. He’s an arena rock performer and a well-regarded singer-songwriter. His best-known songs usually talk about his working-class roots in New Jersey. His breakout record, Born to Run, united arena rock with relatable, human-sized tales of working-class America. With dozens of awards under his belt, Springsteen is considered as one of the most successful musicians of all time.
To the Generation X, Springsteen is “The Boss” – a big part of their easy-listening playlist. To the millennials, Springsteen represents dad rock. Here’s why Bruce Springsteen is a pop culture icon:
He made major contributions to rock music.
When the album Born to Run was released in 1975, it was immediately recognized as a major event in the history of rock music. Its rushing wall of sound and lyrics that presented everyday working class life in a dramatic manner were explosive. That time, extraordinary critical acclaim was matched with real commercial success.
In the following years, Springsteen released three more albums that had instant and enduring place in rock history, such as “Darkness on the Edge of Town” (1978), “The River” (1980), and “Nebraska” (1982). Each album contains beautiful and haunting tracks.
In 1984, Springsteen made his most accessible and most commercially successful album, Born in the USA. This album made him one of the most successful rock figures in the ‘80s, with the album getting 15x platinum in the US and selling more than 30 million copies worldwide. From being a man from New Jersey, he became a worldwide rock star.
Springsteen is widely regarded as one of the greatest songwriters in history. He has been touted as a rock ‘n’ roll poet who radiated working-class authenticity. Springsteen’s lyrics typically explore highly personal themes like dissatisfaction, individual commitment, and dismay with life in the context of everyday situations, which became very relatable to the masses.
Springsteen’s work can be described as eclectic, and he had a constantly evolving sound. Compare his albums and you won’t identify one unique sound with Springsteen.
He frequently addresses historical themes and events in his music.
Besides personal themes and odes to the working-class America, Springsteen’s lyrics also include social and political commentary, which is inspired by the struggles he faced in his own family.
A community college dropout, Springsteen began to read American history on his own. The serviceable interpretation of the nation’s past in Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager’s A Pocket History of the United States appealed to Springsteen’s working class origins. The book influenced him to introduce themes of history, economic inequality, and racial injustice to his lyrics.
His phenomenal breakthrough in 1975 can be understood against a backdrop of urgent activism, particularly in the working class communities that absorbed many of the economic and cultural shocks of the era.
In 1995, Springsteen recorded a stark and critically-acclaimed solo acoustic album entitled “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” which is an undeniably great record that started a period of more explicit political themes in his work in the set of albums to come. This album called to mind the struggles of John Steinbeck’s hero in The Grapes of Wrath. His most historically resonant song in the album is “Youngstown.”
His political commitment was most directly related to the tradition of pop American radicalism in 2006 in “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.” He released more lighthearted albums but in 2012, he released “Wrecking Ball,” a response to the financial crisis, and it was his most direct political statement ever.
Springsteen’s most powerful statement about racial injustice is “American Skin,” which is first performed in 2000 but not included on a studio album until the release of “High Hopes” in 2014.
His 2002 album “The Rising” included several tracks inspired by the country’s experience with the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The title song tells the story from the standpoint of a first responder.
He also paid homage to American history with covers of American folk classics such as “John Henry” and “Shenandoah” in a 2006 album and tour with the “Seeger Sessions” band.
Springsteen is also vocal in support of the LGBT rights and importance of gay marriage.
His Nebraska album is highly influential.
Springsteen’s Nebraska is a highly influential album, and its songs have been covered numerous times. Notably, country music icon Johnny Cash featured versions of “Highway Patrolman” and “Johnny 99” in his 1983 album “Johnny 99.” The songs from the album was covered by the likes of Cowboy Junkies, Kelly Clarkson, The Band, Boiled in Lead, The National, Steve Earle, Shovels and Rope, The Blackeyed Susans, and more. The album also had profound effect on artists like Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens, and Conor Oberst.
The album did not only influence The song “Highway Patrolman” would give the inspiration for the movie The Indian Runner, which was released in 1991. The film follows the same plot as the song as it tells the story of a troubled relationship between two brothers: one is a deputy sheriff and the other a criminal.
The short stories in a 2005 book Deliver Me from Nowhere were inspired by the themes of Nebraska.
He has been a constant public figure.
Springsteen’s most famous hit “Born in the USA” has been appropriated for the 1984 re-election campaign of Ronald Reagan. Springsteen responded by inquiring from the stage, “Has the president actually read the lyrics to ‘Born in the USA?’” It’s because a key stanza expresses some not-so-optimistic sentiments.
He is a constant content of the news – though not the headlines – but he still remains relevant in the public’s consciousness. Lately, he has been busy with his podcast, where he even got personal with Obama about the journey of fatherhood. He has also been a staunch critic of Trump throughout his presidency, calling him a “threat to our democracy.” Also, his song “The Rising has been featured prominently in the 2020 Democratic National Convention as a support to Joe Biden’s campaign.
Since 2005, long articles about Springsteen and his music have appeared in serious, non-music-oriented publications like The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker. Rolling Stone published “Collector’s Edition—Bruce” in 2013, containing photos and four decades’ worth of Springsteen interviews. Perhaps only Bob Dylan is the other singer-songwriter that has inspired more book-length studies than Springsteen.
Also, MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” revealed that Springsteen is by far the most featured artist.