In 1980, Bruce Springsteen released The River, a landmark double album that solidified his role as a star chronicler of America’s working class. Weaving his tales of blue-collar joy and heartbreak with The E Street Band’s bar-band-on-steroids sound, it was home to his first smash hit, “Hungry Heart,” which peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. On Dec. 4, the album will be reissued as a deluxe box set, The Ties That Bind: The River, which will include the original album, studio outtakes, a documentary, a photo book and rare concert and rehearsal footage. Billboard asked some well-known Springsteen admirers to talk about their favorite songs from the classic original.
Tom Hanks: “The River was the first Springsteen record I heard on a Sony Walkman — that model had dual-channel volume controls, so you could crank it up. Bruce had me at ‘The Ties That Bind.’ The sound was fitted for the frustrations of life. I felt like I was, as Bruce says, walking down the street, pushing people out of my way. Springsteen gave me a connectedness, despite those feelings — a tie to something greater than being alone. Then, of course, comes crashing ‘Sherry Darling’ and ‘Family,’ and ain’t life just one damn thing after another?”
The Gaslight Anthem‘s Brian Fallon: “I bought The River around the time that I got my [driver’s] license. The line that stuck out to me in ‘Jackson Cage’ was ‘The cool in the night takes the edge off the heat.’ That song has a sense of dissatisfaction and anxiety. When you’re 17, that’s your whole world.”
Melissa Etheridge: ” ‘The River’ is one of my top 10 favorite songs, period. The line ‘Then I got Mary pregnant and man, that was all she wrote/And for my 19th birthday, I got a union card and a wedding coat’ just destroys me — it just destroys me. It’s an American masterpiece. You can observe it from the outside and feel. Not judge, but just feel the truth of it — and the pain of it.”
Jack Antonoff: “The second record opens with ‘Point Blank.’ First of all, it’s an amazing song, but the placement of it opening the next record is just so quintessentially Springsteen. The way the first album ends with ‘The River,’ then ‘Point Blank’ totally shifts the mood — I’m obsessed with it conceptually. Springsteen could punch me in the face. He has given me so much.”
This story originally appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of Billboard.