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"Stolen Car"
Song by Bruce Springsteen

from the album The River

Released October 1980
Recorded January 1980 at The Power Station in New York
Genre Rock
Length 3:54
Label Columbia Records
Writer Bruce Springsteen
Producer Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt
The River (disc 2) track listing
"Fade Away"
"Stolen Car"

"Stolen Car" is a song written and performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It was originally released on his fifth album, The River. The version released on The River was recorded at The Power Station in New York in January 1980.[1]



"Stolen Car", along with a few other songs on The River including the title track and "Wreck on the Highway", mark a new direction in Bruce Springsteen's songwriting. These ballads, imbued with a sense of hopelessness, anticipate his next album, Nebraska.[2] Like "The River", "Stolen Car" is an inner-directed, psychological song that deals with a failing marriage.[3][4] The protagonist of "Stolen Car" is driven by his loneliness to car theft, hoping to get caught but fearing to just disappear.[5] Essentially, he wants to get arrested just to prove he exists.[3] Alternatively, "driving a stolen car" can be viewed as a metaphor for living in a false, failed marriage where "getting caught" would require admitting this failure to himself, friends and family. The fear of disappearing into the darkness is really the fear of not "getting caught" and instead spending the rest of his life living a lie, leaving nothing real behind.

The recording uses minimal backing, with soft piano and synthesizer punctuated by tympani-like drums.[5] Springsteen's biographer Dave Marsh wrote that the recording fades away "without a nuance of reluctance. There is nothing more here—just a waste of life and a man brave or stupid enough to watch it trickle away."[5] Bruce Springsteen himself has noted that "Stolen Car" is one of the songs reflecting a shift in his songwriting style, linking The River to Nebraska.[6] He has also stated that the protagnist was the character whose progress he would be following on the Tunnel of Love album, and that he served as the archetype for the male role in future songs Springsteen wrote about men and women.[3]

"Stolen Car" and another song from The River, "Drive All Night", played a key role in setting the tone of the 1997 film Cop Land.[7]

A slow moving song, "Stolen Car" has not been particularly common in concert, with 54 performances in Bruce Springsteen concerts through 2008, with most of those performances having occurred during the 1980–1981 River Tour.[8]

The aggregation of critics' lists at did not place this song in its list of the top 3000 songs of all time, but rated it as one of the 1980 songs "bubbling under" the top 3000.[9] The song has also been listed as one of the all time great songs in Toby Creswell's "1001 songs" and as one of the 7500 most important songs from 1944 through 2000 by Bruce Pollock.[9][3]

Alternate version

An alternate version of the song exists that was released on the album Tracks. This version, sometimes referred to as the "Son you may kiss the bride" version of the song[10], was recorded at The Power Station in July 1979.[1] This version was originally intended to be released on a single album that was to be released in 1979 and called The Ties That Bind.[11][12] This album was eventually scrapped and expanded to become the double album The River. In this process, "Stolen Car" was rerecorded in the version released on The River.

The version of the song on Tracks has a different, less haunting, instrumentation and a somewhat quicker pace than The River version. But the main difference is the lyrics. The Tracks version includes three additional verses in which the protagonist recalls the good days of his marriage and regains hope. He renews his marriage vows but as he kisses his wife at the end of the ceremony, the feelings of hopelessness return and he resumes his desperate driving of stolen cars hoping to get caught. The lyrics of this version also include river imagery used in some other songs on The River, including the title track and "Hungry Heart".

Other artists

A cover version of "Stolen Car" was recorded by Patty Griffin for her 2002 album, 1000 Kisses.[13] Another cover version was also recorded by Elliott Murphy.[14] The British band The Manhattan Love Suicides also did a cover. A cover by Owen (band) was included on the Japanese edition of At Home With Owen.

External links


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ "Allmusic The River".  
  3. ^ a b c d Creswell, T. (2006). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories and Secrets Behind Them. Da Capo Press. p. 813. ISBN 1560259159.  
  4. ^ Humphries,Patrick (1996). Bruce Springsteen. p. 42. ISBN 0 7119 5304 X.  
  5. ^ a b c Marsh, Dave (1987). Glory Days:Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s. Pantheon Books. p. 95–96. ISBN 0-394-54668-7.  
  6. ^ Graff, Gary (2005). The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen A to E to Z. p. 255. ISBN 1578591570.  
  7. ^ "Internet Movie Database Cop Land".  
  8. ^ The Bruce Springsteen Setlist Page
  9. ^ a b "Acclaimed Music Top 3000 songs". 27 May 2009.  
  10. ^ Graff, The Ties That Bind, 379-380.
  11. ^ Graff, The Ties That Bind, 304.
  12. ^ Marsh, Dave (1981). Born to Run: The Bruce Sprinigsteen Story. p. 247. ISBN 0-440-10694-X.  
  13. ^ Graff, The Ties That Bind, 174.
  14. ^ Graff, The Ties That Bind, 244.


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