I’m seeing Bruce Springsteen for the first time this Thursday with the E Street Band, and that seemed as good a reason as any to choose a theme. I’ve got dozens, if not hundreds, of Springsteen cover songs and, I gotta be honest, most of them are pretty good. Maybe it’s the basic rock structures he uses that lend themselves to reinterpretations, or the simple lyrics everyone can relate to. I’ve omitted songs from Born to Run and Born in the USA here, as those are both albums I may do a full album post on later. Incidentally, look out for next week’s Full Albums Covered post which should be, well, thrilling…
The Band – Atlantic City
My favorite off of the overrated Nebraska, most of which puts me to sleep. The Band rocks this one out with backporch swing and stomp. Mandolins, banjos, organs and Levon’s vocals propelling it forward, there’s an energy Springsteen borrowed from when he rearranged the song for his hootenanny folk revival tour in ’06.
Paradise Brothers – Souls of the Departed
I can’t find any more information online about this group other than this cover, so who knows if they’ve even done anything else. I hope so though, because the sound here with wailing guitar and a pounding bass drum lends a raw anger to the song only implied in the original. This one, along with several others, is off the excellent Light of Day tribute album.
Steve Earle – State Trooper
A lot of covers of this one, I’m not completely sure why it’s so popular (so much that Arcade Fire played it with him last fall). It tends to get a treatment like the original, aggressively acoustic. Earle realizes where it needs to go though, so he plugs in and rocks out in this live version from ’87.
Nils Lofgren – Man at the Top
If anyone should know how to do a Bruce cover, it the man’s guitarist himself. Beautiful acoustic takes like this one highlight Lofgren’s phenomenal picking abilities, and make me think Bruce should use some of this in his concerts.
Pete Yorn – New York City Serenade
I never took much notice of the original from Bruce’s pre-fame jazzy days. It changes tunes and dynamics so much I couldn’t keep track of what the song actually sounded like. It still has about fifty different parts here, but Yorn keeps the same feel throughout and keeps you awake with emotive vocals and harmonica.
Link Wray – Fire
Mr. Rumble himself, the defacto inventor of distortion, lends his angry guitar crunch to turn in a seven minute thrash of a cover. Springsteen returned the favor when Wray passed, opening several shows with his signature tune.
Marc Broussard – Back In Your Arms
The 80’s sound of the original, courtesy of Max Weinberg’s drum machine-like playing, is gone here, replaced by horns, a gospel choir and an absolutely killer vocal performance.
The Clarks – The River
My favorite Springsteen song, I go back and forth on whether this cover works. It seems somewhat inappropriate to have a hard-rocking version of such a sad song, but it’s well done and jumping. I’ll leave you to decide.
Ani DiFranco – Used Cars
Originally a snoozer off Nebraska, DiFranco employs wavery guitar and some weird vocal effect to create a real slow-burner you can’t ignore.
Johnny Cash – Further On (Up the Road)
The master of the cover teams up with Rick Rubin again for his final album, released posthumously, which gives the song a whole new meaning. Beautiful and bittersweet, his voice is resigned but hopeful. This wasn’t recorded long before he passed, so I hope he met whoever he was singing to.