Can you believe that Bruce Springsteen turns 61 years old today? Of course, Springsteen has been a part of the music world since he first broke out with his unique mix of Americana on his debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. in 1973. But the truly impressive thing is that, even as he wades into his seventh decade, he seems as energetic and vital to the rock landscape as he ever has. In fact, this year marks the 30th anniversary of Springsteen’s landmark 1980 album The River, which resonates as much today as it ever has.
Though Born to Run was a bigger breakthrough, Born in the U.S.A. a bigger hit and Nebraska a much darker experiment, The River is in many ways the quintessential Springsteen release (despite the absence of the E Street Band). Written during a recession (sound familiar?) and grappling with his transition from youthful jubilation to a more evolved approach to relationships and lifestyle choices. As a result, listening to The River can be jarring, as it sees Springsteen torn between his past and what he is considering for his future.
Musically, The River is also complicated. It’s a double album, split between solemn, folk-influenced compositions and more pop-friendly rockers. It ties Springsteen’s aesthetic together nicely, as it touches on all of his influences (’50s garage rock, Motown, American folk music, Stones-ian blues) while also touching all the themes that are always on his mind (working class survival, marriage, nostalgia and dreams).
Though he would make a larger pop splash a few years later, The River netted Springsteen his first Top 10 pop hit with “Hungry Heart.” But the songs from The River that really live on are the sparser, more intense, more personal compositions like the title track. Check out the live performance below and remember to give Springsteen the thumbs-up on his big day.