Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Bruce Springsteen may not be rock ‘n’ roll’s future anymore, but he’s been so prolific – by 1998, three-quarters of his catalog consisted of unreleased songs – that we could very well see new albums coming out from him long after he’s gone. That abundance of gifts he’s given have not only made him a natural for the tribute album treatment, they’ve also given the covering artists a lot to work with – top-ten hits stand shoulder to shoulder with the barely bootlegged, and with no loss in song quality. The 2003 tribute album Light of Day: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen showcased the breadth of Springsteen’s catalog – two and a half hours long, holding over three dozen songs – just as surely as it showcased the depth of his songwriting.
Executive produced by rock manager Bob Benjamin and Salvador Trepat (founder of the Spanish Springsteen fanzine Point Blank), with proceeds benefitting the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and the Kristen Ann Carr Fund (Carr, who died of cancer at 22, is the daughter of Springsteen’s co-manager Barbara Carr), Light of Day sold 25,000 copies, but even if it had only sold 25 copies it would still have to be called a success. The artists approach these songs with their own vision intact, confirming that Springsteen’s work relies less on an effective hook than an ability to connect with the listener. These connections stay true no matter who the performer, and in some cases they serve to strengthen the song’s greatness. Here are five which do just that, from newest to oldest.
Gary Lucas and Gods & Monsters – Ain’t Got You (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Gary Lucas first started earning raves for his guitar playing as a member of Captain Beefheart’s band; later, he founded Gods & Monsters, which over the years has featured Jeff Buckley, Matthew Sweet, and half of the original Modern Lovers. Here, Lucas takes on “Ain’t Got You,” the leadoff track to Tunnel of Love, and shows why New Yorker called him “the thinking man’s guitar hero.”
Graham Parker – Pink Cadillac (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Light of Day features the work of talented unknowns and cult artists. Some cults, of course, are bigger than others; Elvis Costello’s probably the biggest name on the set (he does a fine, countrified “Brilliant Disguise”), but fellow Former Angry Young Man Graham Parker isn’t far behind. Here he strips down the great “Pink Cadillac,” losing the original B-side’s Peter Gunn feel and making the song perfect for a man and his acoustic.
Mystic Knights of the Sea – Johnny 99 (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Of the six songs on side one of Nebraska, Springsteen’s tough, haunted acoustic album from 1982, five of them are covered on Light of Day. “Johnny 99” gets probably the most dramatic reworking, by the Mystic Knights of the Sea (featuring Dan Baird and Rick Richards from the Georgia Satellites). They keep the song’s bleakness and add a country-rock arrangement that gives the song a very different but equally powerful kick.
Matthew Ryan – Something in the Night (Bruce Springsteen cover)
1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town is a lyrical downer; for one example, try “Something in the Night,” with the singer having “stuff running ’round my head / That I just can’t live down” and finding all he’s loved “crushed and dying in the dirt.” But when Bruce and the band do it, they manage to make it sound uplifting and compelling. Matthew Ryan sings his version with unnerving quiet, bringing the darkness from the edge of town and setting up home in the inky desolation therein.
Cowboy Mouth – Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Even with the majority of artists on Light of Day opting for the lesser-known gems in the Springsteen catalog, you have to believe that more than one was hoping to lay hands on “Born to Run,” the title track of the album that launched Bruce into the stratosphere. Lucky for us, Cowboy Mouth got their grip at the top of the bat handle. A New Orleans-based band with a reputation for raucous rocking that’s both long- and well-earned, they tear into “Born to Run” with teeth and claws, stripping away the studio tinsel and laying open the chugging heart we all knew was there, but never heard beating like this.
Light of Day Contents
Elliott Murphy – Better Days
Dion – Book of Dreams
Lucky 7 – Valentine’s Day
Dan Bern – Thunder Road
Crazysloth – Candy’s Room
The Mystic Knights of the Sea (feat. Dan Baird & Rick Richards) – Johnny 99
Nils Lofgren – Man at the Top
Cindy Bullens – If I Should Fall Behind
Matthew Ryan – Something in the Night
Mike Rimbaud – Atlantic City
Sid Griffin – Highway Patrolman
Billy Bragg & the Blokes – Mansion on the Hill
Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan – Badlands
Steve Wynn – State Trooper
Gary Lucas’ Gods and Monsters – Ain’t Got You
Jennifer Glass – Bobby Jean
The Clarks – The River
Marc Broussard – Back in Your Arms
John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band – E Street Shuffle
Elvis Costello – Brilliant Disguise
Pete Yorn – New York City Serenade
Graham Parker – Pink Cadillac
Garland Jeffreys – Streets of Philadelphia
Jason Ringenberg – My Hometown
Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers – Light of Day
Rosie Flores – Lucky Town
Willie Nile – I’m on Fire
Kirk Kelly – Downbound Train
Patty Griffin – Stolen Car
Paradise Brothers – Souls of the Departed
Mark Wright – Two Hearts
Graziano Romani – The Promise
The Format – For You
Jesse Malin – Hungry Heart
Tom Cochrane and Damhnait Doyle – Secret Garden
Cowboy Mouth – Born to Run
Joe Ely – Working on the Highway
See the Light of Day at Amazon.