Brilliant Disguise

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"Brilliant Disguise"
Single by Bruce Springsteen
from the album Tunnel of Love
B-side "Lucky Man"
Released October 3, 1987
Format 7" single, 12"
Recorded April 1987
Studio Thrill Hill East (Springsteen's home studio)
Genre Pop rock, post-punk
Length 4:13
Label Columbia
Songwriter(s) Bruce Springsteen
Producer(s) Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Plotkin
Bruce Springsteen singles chronology
"Brilliant Disguise"
"Tunnel of Love"
"Brilliant Disguise"
"Tunnel of Love"
Audio sample

"Brilliant Disguise" is a song by Bruce Springsteen from his 1987 album Tunnel of Love. It was released as the first single from the album, reaching the #5 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #1 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart in the United States.[1]. The follow-up single, "Tunnel of Love", also reached #1 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, giving Springsteen two consecutive #1's [1]. The single reached the top ten in four additional countries including Canada and Ireland and the top twenty in Australia, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. "Brilliant Disguise" was nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 1988 Grammy Awards.


Like much of the Tunnel of Love album, "Brilliant Disguise" was recorded in Springsteen's home studio, called Thrill Hill East, between January and May 1987 with several members of the E Street Band.[2] On this song, Springsteen played several instruments and is backed by Roy Bittan on keyboards (where the 40th Roland D-50 internal patch "Rock Organ" was heard), Danny Federici on organ and Max Weinberg on drums.[2]

The lyrics of "Brilliant Disguise" represent a confession of self-doubt on the part of the singer.[3] The emotions expressed in the song include confusion, jealousy and anxiety about whether the singer's wife has become a stranger to him.[3] The song deals with the masks people wear and the bitterness that can ensue when we realize the darkness that may lie behind those masks.[4] The analogies to Springsteen's personal life at the time are evident: he had recently married then-model and actress Julianne Phillips, and the two would divorce in 1988. The references to marital problems are quite direct, as in the lyrics:

"Oh, we stood at the altar The gypsy swore our future was bright But come the wee wee hours Well maybe, baby, the gypsy lied."

The song's quiet power builds slowly.[5] The sound is scaled back from the typical E Street Band sound.[3] The singer struggles to do things right, but it doesn't help.[5] He can't trust either himself or his wife.[5] Both he and his wife continue to play their roles – he of a "faithful man", she of a "loving woman", but the singer is nonetheless wracked with self-doubt.[5] A key line towards the end of the song:

"I wanna know if it's you I don't trust/Because I damn sure don't trust myself."

sums up the emotions that resonate throughout the song, and indeed the entire second side of the Tunnel of Love album.[3][6]

Springsteen himself wrote about the song "after '85 I'd had enough and turned inward to write about men, women and love, things that have previously been on the periphery of my work."[4]

The song was later released on the compilation album The Essential Bruce Springsteen.[7]

"Brilliant Disguise" has been ranked as the #1192 best song of all time, as well as the #27 song of 1987 and the #214 song of the 1980s, in an aggregation of critics' lists at[8] 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.[8][9] It was also ranked as the #6 single of 1987 by the Village Voice and the #51 single of 1987 by the New Musical Express.[8][10]

The photograph on the original release picture sleeve was taken by Springsteen's sister Pamela Springsteen.


Like several other music videos from the Tunnel of Love album, including "Tunnel of Love", "One Step Up" and "Tougher Than the Rest", the video for "Brilliant Disguise" was directed by Meiert Avis.[11]

The video of the song, shot in black and white, effectively reflects its emotions.[5] The setting is the kitchen of a modest home, & the singer sits uncomfortably on the edge of a chair, facing the camera.[5] He plays his guitar as he sings the lyrics about what it means to try to trust someone, looking straight into the camera, never flinching as it slowly pans in, ending with an extreme close-up.[5] This very personal performance can make it difficult to watch, but it effectively reflects the themes of the song.[5]

Although the studio recording of the music was used in this video, Bruce Springsteen sang the vocal live, a technique used in later Springsteen music videos including Better Days, Streets Of Philadelphia, and Lonesome Day. The video was later released on the VHS and DVD Video Anthology / 1978–88.[12]

Live performances[edit]

Despite the personal nature of the song, it has been reasonably popular in live performances. From the Tunnel of Love Express Tour that supported the initial release of the album through July 2005, the song received 184 live performances in concert, although most of these were in solo concerts rather than with the E Street Band.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Bruce Springsteen Chart History". Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  2. ^ a b "Brucebase, On The Tracks: Tunnel of Love". Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Allmusic Brilliant Disguise". Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  4. ^ a b Patrick Humphries (1996). Bruce Springsteen. pp. 80–81. ISBN 0-7119-5304-X. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h June Skinner Sawyers (2006). Tougher Than the Rest 100 Best Bruce Springsteen Songs. pp. 115–116. ISBN 978-0-8256-3470-3. 
  6. ^ Dave Marsh (1996). Glory Days. p. xxvii. ISBN 1-56025-101-8. 
  7. ^ "allmusic The Essential Bruce Springsteen". Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  8. ^ a b c "Acclaimed Music Top 3000 songs". 27 May 2009. 
  9. ^ Creswell, T. (2006). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories and Secrets Behind Them. Da Capo Press. p. 823. ISBN 1-56025-915-9. 
  10. ^ "1987 NME". New Musical Express. Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  11. ^ "Meiert Avis". imdb. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  12. ^ "Internet Movie Database – Bruce Springsteen: Video Anthology 1978–1988". Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  13. ^ "Bruce Springsteen Set List Page Brilliant Disguise". Archived from the original on 2008-09-05. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 

External links[edit]