"The River" is a song written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen, accompanied by the E Street Band, in 1979. The title track of his fifth album, it was a hit single in parts of Europe in 1981; it reached No. 25 in the Netherlands, and the top 10 in both Sweden and Norway. Its B-side was either "Independence Day" or "Ramrod", depending on the country of release.
"The River" was originally intended to be included on an earlier, one-record version of The River, tentatively called The Ties That Bind. The song itself was recorded at The Power Station in New York City on August 26 and 29, 1979. In the first live performance of the song in 1979, Springsteen cited the inspiration as "my brother-in-law and my sister".
The 2012 biography Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin includes an interview with Springsteen's sister Ginny, in which she plainly states that the song is a precise description of her early life with her husband Mickey, to whom she is still married. In his 2016 autobiography Springsteen confirmed that he wrote the song as a tribute to his sister and his brother-in-law.
"The River" makes use of a haunting harmonica part, and in some ways is a foreshadowing of the style of his next album, Nebraska. The imagery of the chorus and the end of the song were inspired by lines from Hank Williams' 1950 hit "Long Gone Lonesome Blues". The song's depiction of how economic difficulties are interlaced with local culture also presaged the 1980s popularity of heartland rock.