Nebraska (album)

Studio album by Bruce Springsteen
Released September 30, 1982 (1982-09-30)
Recorded Mostly January 3, 1982 at Springsteen's Colts Neck, New Jersey bedroom
Genre Folk[1]
Length 40:50
Label Columbia
Producer Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen chronology
The River
Born in the U.S.A.
Singles from Nebraska
  1. "Atlantic City"
    Released: 1982 (UK only)
  2. "Open All Night"
    Released: November 1982 (UK only)

Nebraska is the sixth studio album by Bruce Springsteen. The album was released on September 30, 1982, by Columbia Records.

Sparsely-recorded on a cassette-tape Portastudio, the tracks on Nebraska were originally intended as demos of songs to be recorded with the E Street Band. However, Springsteen ultimately decided to release the demos himself. Nebraska remains one of the most highly regarded albums in his catalogue.

The songs on Nebraska deal with ordinary, blue collar characters who face a challenge or a turning point in their lives, but also outsiders, criminals and mass murderers with little hope for the future - or no future at all, as in the title track, where the main character is sentenced to death in the electric chair. Unlike his previous albums, very little salvation and grace is present within the songs. The album's uncompromising sound and mood combined with its dark lyrical content has been described by a music critic as "one of the most challenging albums ever released by a major star on a major record label."[2]


Initially, Springsteen recorded demos for the album at his home with a 4-track cassette recorder.[3] The demos were sparse, using only acoustic guitar, electric guitar (on "Open All Night"), harmonica, mandolin, glockenspiel, tambourine, organ, synthesizer (on "My Father's House") and Springsteen's voice.[3] After he completed work on the demos, Springsteen brought the songs to the studio and recorded the album with the E Street Band.[3] However, he and the producers and engineers working with him felt that a raw, haunted folk essence present on the home tapes was lacking in the band treatments, and so they ultimately decided to release the demo version as the final album.[3] Complications with mastering of the tapes ensued because of low recording volume, but the problem was overcome with sophisticated noise reduction techniques.[3]

Springsteen fans have long speculated whether Springsteen's full-band recording of the album, nicknamed Electric Nebraska, will ever surface.[3] In a 2006 interview, manager Jon Landau said it was unlikely and that "the right version of Nebraska came out".[4] But in a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg praised the full band recording of the album as "killing."[5] Other songs demoed during the Nebraska sessions include "Born in the U.S.A.", "Downbound Train", "Child Bride" (which later evolved into "Working on the Highway"), "Pink Cadillac", "The Big Payback", "Johnny Bye Bye", and "Losin' Kind" (later reworked into "Highway 29" on 1995's The Ghost of Tom Joad).[3]

"I was just doing songs for the next rock album, and I decided that what always took me so long in the studio was the writing. I would get in there, and I just wouldn't have the material written, or it wasn't written well enough, and so I'd record for a month, get a couple of things, go home write some more, record for another month — it wasn't very efficient. So this time, I got a little Teac four-track cassette machine, and I said, I'm gonna record these songs, and if they sound good with just me doin' 'em, then I'll teach 'em to the band. I could sing and play the guitar, and then I had two tracks to do somethin' else, like overdub a guitar or add a harmony. It was just gonna be a demo. Then I had a little Echoplex that I mixed through, and that was it. And that was the tape that became the record. It's amazing that it got there, 'cause I was carryin' that cassette around with me in my pocket without a case for a couple of week, just draggin' it around. Finally, we realized, "Uh-oh, that's the album." Technically, it was difficult to get it on a disc. The stuff was recorded so strangely, the needle would read a lot of distortion and wouldn't track in the wax. We almost had to release it as a cassette."

Bruce Springsteen, recalling the early stages of the recording of the album, Rolling Stone Interview, December 1984[6]


The album begins with "Nebraska", a first-person narrative based on the true story of 19-year-old spree killer Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, and ends with "Reason to Believe", a complex narrative that offers a small amount of hope to counterbalance the otherwise dark nature of the album.[2] The remaining songs are largely of the same bleak tone, including the dark "State Trooper", influenced by Suicide's "Frankie Teardrop".[2] Criminal behavior continues as a theme in the song "Highway Patrolman": even though the protagonist works for the law, he lets his brother escape after he has shot someone.[2] "Open All Night", a Chuck Berry-style lone guitar rave-up, does manage a dose of defiant, humming-towards-the-gallows exuberance.[2]

Springsteen stated that the stories in this album were partly inspired by historian Howard Zinn's book A People's History of the United States.[7] A music video was produced for the song "Atlantic City"; it features stark, black-and-white images of the city, which had not yet undergone its later economic transformation.[8]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
Chicago Tribune[9]
Rolling Stone[1]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[12]
The Village VoiceA−[13]

In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau believed that unlike other singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Robert Johnson, "Springsteen isn't imaginative enough vocally or melodically to enrich these bitter tales of late capitalism with nothing but a guitar, a harmonica, and a few brave arrangements. Still, this is a conceptual coup, especially since it's selling."[13] In the newspaper's annual Pazz & Jop critics poll, Nebraska was voted the third best album of 1982.[14] In 1989, it was ranked 43rd on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s.[15] That same year, Richard Williams wrote in Q magazine that "Nebraska would simply have been a vastly better record with the benefit of the E Street Band and a few months in the studio."[16]

In 2003, Nebraska was ranked number 224 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[15] Pitchfork Media listed it as the 60th greatest album of the 1980s.[17] In 2006, Q placed the album at number 13 in its list of "40 Best Albums of the '80s".[18] In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at number 57 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s".[19]



Being a highly influential album, the songs of Nebraska have been covered numerous times.[20] Notably, country music icon Johnny Cash's 1983 album Johnny 99 featured versions of two of Springsteen's songs from Nebraska: "Johnny 99" and "Highway Patrolman".[21] Cash also contributed to a widely praised tribute album, Badlands - A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, which was released on the Sub Pop label in 2000 and produced by Jim Sampas.[20] It featured covers of the Nebraska songs recorded in the stripped-down spirit of the original recordings by a wide-ranging group of artists including Hank Williams III, Los Lobos, Dar Williams, Deana Carter, Ani DiFranco, Son Volt, Ben Harper, Aimee Mann, and Michael Penn.[20] Three additional tracks covered other Springsteen songs in the same vein: Johnny Cash's contribution was "I'm On Fire", a track from Springsteen's best-selling album Born In The USA.[20]

In 1993, The Band included a cover of "Atlantic City" on their album, Jericho.[22]

Minneapolis Celtic rock band Boiled in Lead covered "State Trooper" on its 1994 album Antler Dance. Minnesota indie-rock band Halloween, Alaska covered "State Trooper" on its 2004 self-titled debut album. American indie rock band The National performed a live cover of "Mansion on the Hill" in 2008 for the band's The Virginia EP.

In 2012, folk/Americana duo Shovels & Rope released a cover of "Johnny 99", and frequently played the song as the set closer on their North American tour that same year.

Alt-country singer Steve Earle covered "State Trooper" on his live album in 1996 in addition to including a live recording of it on the 2002 reissue of his debut album Guitar Town, and also included a live version of "Nebraska" as the B-side of the "Copperhead Road" single sent to radio stations.[23] Kelly Clarkson compared her effort to move away from mainstream to edgier and more personal music on her third studio album My December to Springsteen's Nebraska.

The Indian Runner

The song "Highway Patrolman" would provide the inspiration for the motion picture The Indian Runner released in 1991. The film follows the same plot outline as the song, telling the story of a troubled relationship between two brothers; one is a deputy sheriff, the other is a criminal. The Indian Runner was directed by Sean Penn, starred David Morse and Viggo Mortensen.

Deliver Me From Nowhere

The short stories in Deliver Me From Nowhere, a book written by Tennessee Jones published in 2005, were inspired by the themes of Nebraska.[24]

Track listing

All tracks written by Bruce Springsteen. 

Side one
1."Nebraska"  4:32
2."Atlantic City"  4:00
3."Mansion on the Hill"  4:08
4."Johnny 99"  3:44
5."Highway Patrolman"  5:40
6."State Trooper"  3:17
Side two
7."Used Cars"  3:11
8."Open All Night"  2:58
9."My Father's House"  5:07
10."Reason to Believe"  4:11




Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[38] Platinum 70,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[39] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[40] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[41] Platinum 1,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. 1 2 Pond, Steve (October 28, 1982). "Nebraska". Rolling Stone. New York. Retrieved May 12, 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 William Ruhlmann. "Nebraska - Bruce Springsteen | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "32 Years Ago: Bruce Springsteen Records 'Nebraska'". Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  4. The Rock Radio: Springsteen looking at archival releases Archived March 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. Andy Greene (2010-06-10). "Max Weinberg on His Future With Conan and Bruce | Music News". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  6. Kurt Loder (December 6, 1984). "The Rolling Stone Interview: Bruce Springsteen". Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  7. The New York Times - Howard Zinn, Historian, Dies at 87 "...Bruce Springsteen said the starkest of his many albums, "Nebraska," drew inspiration in part from Mr. Zinn's writings." Retrieved April 29, 2010
  8. 5/7/07 (2007-05-07). "Music Video : Atlantic City : Bruce Springsteen". CMT. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  9. Kot, Greg (August 23, 1992). "The Recorded History of Springsteen". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
  10. Zitcer, Andrew. "Recession Sounds: Revisiting Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska". PopMatters. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  11. Williams, Richard (December 1989). "All or Nothing: The Springsteen back catalogue". Q. p. 149.
  12. "Nebraska". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  13. 1 2 Christgau, Robert (November 30, 1982). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  14. "The 1982 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. February 23, 1983. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  15. 1 2 "100 Best Albums of the Eighties". Rolling Stone. 1989-11-16. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  16. Williams, Richard (December 1989). "All or Nothing: The Springsteen back catalogue". Q. p. 150.
  17. "Staff Lists: Top 100 Albums of the 1980s | Features". Pitchfork. 2002-11-20. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  18. Q August 2006, Issue 241
  19. "The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s | Feature". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  20. 1 2 3 4 Richie Unterberger (2000-11-07). "Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska - Various Artists | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  21. "iTunes Store". Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  23. Mark Deming. "Guitar Town - Steve Earle | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  24. "Deliver Me from Nowhere: Tennessee Jones: 9781932360592: Books". 2005-02-10. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  25. Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970-1992. St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  26. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 2012-04-04
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  28. "InfoDisc : Tous les Albums classés par Artiste > Choisir Un Artiste Dans la Liste" (in French). Archived from the original on 2013-05-06. Retrieved 2012-04-04.Note: user must select 'Bruce SPRINGSTEEN' from drop-down
  29. Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970-2005. Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 4-87131-077-9.
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  33. "Chart Stats: Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska" (PHP). UK Albums Chart. Retrieved 2012-04-04.
  34. "allmusic ((( Nebraska > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums )))". Retrieved 2012-04-04.
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  38. "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 2008 Albums". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved 2012-04-04.
  39. "Canadian album certifications – Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska". Music Canada. Retrieved 2012-04-04.
  40. "British album certifications – Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 2012-04-04. Enter Nebraska in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Select Gold in the field By Award. Click Search
  41. "American album certifications – Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 2012-04-04. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH
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