Tunnel Of Love
The context: In 1987, Bruce Springsteen should have been on top of the world. Born In The U.S.A. spawned an incredible seven hit singles, enabling him to tour for a year and a half and establish himself as the biggest rock 'n' roll star on the planet. But privately, Springsteen no longer fit his romantic, all-American persona, a fact made plain by U.S.A.'s subdued follow-up, Tunnel Of Love.
The greatness: An album about the rise and fall of a marriage, Tunnel Of Love predicted the end of Springsteen's union with Julianne Phillips two years later, and featured prominent backing vocals by the woman he left her for, Patti Scialfa. (The rest of The E Street Band is pushed far into the background.) Springsteen, a movie buff whose lyrics often read like mini-screenplays, structures Tunnel Of Love like Martin Scorsese might: The album's first half is relatively hopeful, as the protagonist tries to come to terms with the responsibilities of adult love, while the second half documents his failure to do so. The story is told in flashback, so even "hopeful" falling-in-love songs like "Tougher Than The Rest" and "All That Heaven Will Allow" are cloaked in melancholy. (Scialfa's ghostly vocals throughout add to the mournful atmosphere.) By the end of the album, Springsteen is neck-deep in jealousy and infidelity—"Two Faces," "Brilliant Disguise," and "One Step Up" form a heartbreaking trilogy about the man who once pledged "No Surrender" finally losing himself.
Defining song: If Tunnel Of Love is like a Scorsese movie on disc, the title track is the Billy Batts moment, the point where things turn dark. At first, Springsteen talks about the tunnel of love literally, telling a sentimental story about two young sweethearts taking their first ride together. But then the tunnel becomes a metaphor for a romantic relationship that's slowly sinking into the abyss. "You've got to learn to live with what you can't rise above / if you want to ride on down through this tunnel of love," he sings, sounding like he learned it the hard way.