The Essential Bruce Springsteen is a compilation album by Bruce Springsteen, released on 11 November 2003. Per liner notes comments by Springsteen, the collection was intended as an introduction to his music for new fans who attended shows on The Rising Tour; hence, it includes songs from every Springsteen album since his debut. The album was available as a 2-disc set and, later, as a limited edition 3-disc set; for the latter, the third disc contained a selection of rarities and previously unreleased recordings.
This Sony release is essentially the Bruce Springsteen greatest-hits set that appeared earlier in 2009 as a Wal-Mart exclusive – setting off a mini storm in the media about whether or not the pro-union Springsteen should have any dealings at all with the non-union Wal-Mart company – with three tracks, "Long Walk Home" (from 2007's Magic) and live versions of "Because the Night" and "Fire," added to the end of the sequence. Columbia's 18-track Greatest Hits set from 1995 probably does a better job of charting through the commercial, radio-ready side of Springsteen's career, but the addition of the live tracks here strengthens this collection and makes it feel like a much broader and more rounded portrait than the original Wal-Mart issue was. The truth is, Springsteen has so many great songs that it is probably impossible to put out a single-disc greatest-hits set that would please everyone, but this one essentially does it's job – you've heard all of these songs on the radio.
Compared to the gargantuan Live/1975-85, 2001's Live in New York City seems like the very definition of restraint, but consider this – not only does it span two discs, it leaves out a considerable portion of the set list from the show and thereby the set list of Springsteen's celebrated 2000 reunion with the E Street Band. Some critics complained that this record was little more than a tie-in to the HBO special of the same name, but even if that's true, the record would have merit since it illustrates exactly why this group should never have parted ways. In a sense, even if this is the third live album in Springsteen's catalog, it's the first that attempts to replicate the feeling of an evening out with the E Street Band (the Live/1975-85 box tried too hard to be an ultimate experience; MTV Plugged captured a transitional phase).