Bruce Springsteen is one of rock music's most influential singer-songwriters. Focusing on blue collar and working class subject matter in his music, many see his image as part of the "American Dream". His albums Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. are considered two of the greatest albums ever recorded and he has a long stream of critically and commercially successful work beyond that.
It should be noted that he is an extreme perfectionist and workaholic. Every one of his albums are known for having at least 10 unreleased tracks, many getting up to a whopping 50. This makes Springsteen's catalogue one of the hardest to complete, as complete song lists are very hard to come by in the first place. Many of these songs were released in live recordings or earlier studio recordings, but are left unaccounted for when it comes to later versions, or studio recordings in general.
While many tracks appear on bootlegs and on the comprehensive 1995 release titled Tracks, many of Springsteen's songs remain lost completely, or trapped in a studio vault.
Pre-Columbia Recordings (Existence Disputed For Some Recordings; 1964-1972)
Bruce Springsteen started out really active in the music scene from the age of 15. Feeling inspired from the performance of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, he wanted to get a strong band together to write catchy music. In the space of these years, Springsteen was a member of many different bands, most notably Steel Mill. Steel Mill produced a few official releases on vinyl and then in later years after its members became famous. Other early bands featuring Springsteen have recordings featured on bootlegs of varying quality.
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)
Springsteen's first Columbia Records release, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. was released on January 5, 1973. While the album failed to acheive commercial success upon initial release, it got hailed as a masterpiece right from the get-go.
From the sessions for this album, there are 8 confirmed unreleased tracks. "Mary, Queen of Arkansas", "Growin' Up", "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street" and an early version of "It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City" were released on the Tracks boxset.
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle (1973)
Springsteen's second album, The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, just like his first, was met with critical acclaim but disappointing sales. It is often regarded as one of his best albums, though nowhere near as acclaimed as Born to Run or Born in the U.S.A.
It is known that about 11 tracks were cut from the final product. It is thought that Springsteen had a much bigger, more ambitious album in mind, but Columbia was not happy with it because the lackluster sales from his first album. Of the 11 discluded tracks, "Zero and Blind Terry", "Thundercrack", "Seaside Bar Song", and "Santa Ana" were all included on Tracks. An additional track, "The Fever", was included on another collection of unreleased tracks titled 18 Tracks. "Phantoms", a song that can't even be found on bootlegs was reworked into "Zero and Blind Terry". Two other outtakes, "Vibes Man" and "New York Song" were combined to create "New York City Serenade".
Born to Run (1975)
Born To Run is Bruce Springsteen's third and most famous album. Released on August 25, 1975, it launched his career into the musical legend he is known as today. The road to glory was far from easy, though.
Early Springsteen albums challenged listeners with difficult subject matter, non-standard chord progressions, production that was foreign to pop/rock music at the time, and, most notably, slightly unintellegible lyrics. Because of these elements, his first two albums bombed financially, though were met with glowing critical reviews. Columbia were starting to lose faith in the young singer-songwriter. They almost dropped him, but he offered to create a smash hit.
Ultimately, the album ended up with a six-month deadline, but took 14 months to record, with a whopping 6 spent on the title track alone. Springsteen was left stressed, constantly writing songs and then throwing them out. Some of these songs had months of time spent on them, frustrating and disappointing members of The E Street Band. According to Springsteen himself, the album was incredibly difficult for him, as he had many ideas that were clear in his head but incredibly vague when he vocalized them to his fellow musicians. The total track listing remains unknown, but 9 tracks ended up on the final album and a known 7 tracks were left unreleased.
Born To Run was financially successful and is now featured on dozens of "Greatest Albums of All Time" lists alongside Born in the U.S.A. Of the 7 known rejected tracks, only 4 have been released in any form. "Linda Let Me Be the One" and "So Young and in Love" were featured on a boxset titled Tracks and two rough mixes of "Lonely Night in the Park" and "Walking in the Street" were broadcast in 2005 on E Street Radio as part of a 30th anniversary celebration for the album.The other 3 have never been released, not even being leaked on bootlegs. However, a few reworkings recorded by the band in later years have surfaced. One of the songs, "Janey Needs A Shooter" was a regular acoustic live track in his shows from as early as 1972 and was recorded for the album. The track remains unreleased, but a 1978 rehearsal version can easily be found on YouTube and it later became a Warren Zevon track.
Also of note is the album's rare original pressing that included a Graffiti-like font. It was withdrawn from publication due to its odd look, and the fact that Springsteen's publicists were worried that the cover would cause album sales to be significantly lower. This printing is considered one of the rarest records in existence and is a prized treasure of Springsteen fans.
Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)
After the success of Born to Run, Springsteen followed it up with a darker, more dramatic effort. Following the same production formula of its predecessor, Darkness on the Edge of Town proved to be a moderate success and landed him with more glowing reviews. Just like the previous 3 albums, this is regarded as a masterpiece.
This is the first album where Springsteen started getting carried away with the songwriting. Unlike many of his other albums, he was proud of even the deleted material. There were a reported 21 tracks left off the album. While a few tracks were released on Tracks, fans got a real treat in 2010 when he released a multi-disc expanded version of the album titled The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story. Also included was a detailed documentary on the recording process, revealing the building ambition of the singer-songwriter.
If any other tracks exist, they are unknown to the general public. This is one of the few albums by Bruce that has all tracks officially released.
The River (1980)
The 1980s had rolled around, and to kick the decade off Springsteen released his first double album, The River, noted for its mix of frivolous tracks next to the solemn. As with the four before it, critics have regarded this as a masterpiece.
Originally, The River was supposed to be a single album called The Ties That Bind, but this was later abandoned in favor of the released double-disc set, although an alternate version of "Stolen Car" appeared on Tracks and most of them appeared on The River. Three unreleased tracks, "Held Up Without a Gun", "Be True" and "Roulette" became B-sides (the first two to The River singles, and the last one to a Tunnel of Love), and ten others, such as "Take 'Em As They Come" and "Loose Ends" popped up on Tracks, while "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)" appeared on The Essential Bruce Springsteen. Also included in the sessions for The River were the still-unreleased-as-of-yet "Cindy" and a rockabilly version of "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)", as well as four tracks that would later be recorded by Gary U.S. Bonds, like "Your Love" (not to be confused with The Outfield song of the same name).