Sep 232019
 

Go back to the beginning…

40. Billy Bragg – Mansion on the Hill

I love the way that Bragg, initially a spiky, young south London agit-rocker and protest singer, has morphed into an authoritative elder statesman on all matters Americana. He now sounds closer to a stetson-wearing highwayman than the punky snarl of his youth. This delightful jaunt through “Mansion on the Hill” smacks of a sepia-tinted roadhouse, with whorehouse piano echoing Jerry Lee’s country style, courtesy the late Faces tinkler Ian MacLagan. In Springsteen’s hands a lament, here it sounds more broadsheet ballad. Originally a bonus track on Bragg’s 2002 CD England, Half English, it also appears on the aforementioned Light of Day tribute record. – Seuras Og

39. Mark Lesseraux – Dancing in the Dark


Lesseraux downshifts the frenetic original here into a softly finger-picked, whispery bedroom track. It’s raw and intimate and simple. But by maintaining, and highlighting, the original melody, Lesseraux has created a song that may still cause some dancing. It’s a slow dance, but no less compelling. – Mike Misch

38. Two Cow Garage – No Surrender

“No Surrender” is yet another song from Born In The U.S.A. that sounds triumphant, with a rousing chorus, but holds a darkness at its core. Which is why Springsteen often performed it in a slower, more contemplative version. Two Cow Garage is a sadly overlooked, intense alt-country band from Columbus, Ohio, fronted by raspy-voiced singer/guitarist Micah Schnabel. Much as their Midwestern forebears Uncle Tupelo crossed country with punk, Two Cow Garage added grunge influences to their twang. Rather than try to reimagine the song, the band chose to put its foot on the gas pedal and power through the song in all of its hard-driving glory. – Jordan Becker

37. Richard Shindell – Born in the U.S.A.

I forget whether this was the first slowed-down and stripped-back version of “Born in the U.S.A.,” but it certainly was amongst them. Had anyone actually heard the lyrics beforehand? Or at least listened to them? One of Bruce’s angrier songs, somehow the melody and structure had stolen that thunder, his words flying over the heads of most. Even Reagan and his Republicans tried to help themselves to a slice of what they considered patriotic pie. (They failed.) Now, of course, everyone and their dog do slow takes on it – hell, even the original writer – but this remains the bleakest. Pins drop as the truth of the words hit pay dirt. Shindell is a superlative songwriter with an extensive back catalogue, but this comes from South of Delia, a covers project he made in 2007. Check it out. – Seuras Og

36. Kurt Vile – Downbound Train

There are days I’d argue “Downbound Train” is the best song on Born in the U.S.A., and yet Bruce has performed it less than almost any other (it only beats out “I’m Goin’ Down”). It’s also one of the best-covered tracks from the album. Its relatively few reimaginings are across-the-board great. Raul Malo’s version, from the Badlands tribute album that provides a couple other tracks on this list, almost made the cut. But Kurt Vile’s more recent take tops it. By dirtying it up and fuzzing it out, Vile brings a pathos and passion to back his raw and powerful wail. – Ray Padgett

35. Bettye LaVette – Streets of Philadelphia

It could be said that having Bettye Lavette cover your song is both blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it is an unequivocal honor to have her staggeringly powerful rasp and gripping stage performance celebrate your song. On the other, you run the risk of her version being so powerful it will eclipse your original forever. This was most evident during her jaw-dropping rendition of The Who’s stone cold classic “Love Reign O’er Me” at The Kennedy Center Honors Ceremony back in 2008. But that highly publicized event was not the first time she’d taken hold of a seminal song and put her permanent stamp on it. In 2007, LaVette covered a modern-day classic in equally wondrous fashion, bestowing her glorious soul onto Bruce’s mournful, eloquent 1993 ballad “Streets of Philadelphia.” Her version was buried at the end of the third disc on a behemoth multi-artist compilation called Song of America, coming in at #48 on the 50-track set. That positioning almost feels like an act of kindness now, as the song is a complete emotional steamroller and would likely have crushed most tracks with the misfortune of following it. With only spare bass and piano accompaniment, LaVette’s voice resonates with roof raising power and heartbreak, honoring Bruce’s poignant poetry to perfection. – Hope Silverman

34. The Reivers – Atlantic City

“Atlantic City” is a song of bleakness and hope and desperation, no matter who’s performing it. Since its message really can’t be emphasized any further, a covering artist has to change up the arrangement in order to stand out. The Reivers do this with a Texas jangle-pop style, along with a vocal arrangement where Kim Longacre does some wordless wailing while John Croslin sings the chorus. The song picks up a few more hooks, and is all the more notable for them. – Patrick Robbins

33. Elvis Costello – Brilliant Disguise

Another one from Light of Day, E.C. further simplifies the original, stripping back to just his vocal, duetting the chorus with himself, his guitar, and an even cheaper drum-machine than Bruce’s. Like the earlier Bragg song, this too shows Costello beginning to stretch his singing voice into a more melodious instrument than his early work. One senses the Boss liked this version, as with this clip from VH1 Storytellers, giving a hint of who is covering who. Mutual admirers, Bruce has played Elvis’s (version of) “What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding” live, and Elvis has also covered “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” – Seuras Og

32. John Hiatt – Johnny 99

Springsteen’s story highlights the conditional nature of gun violence, and how despair turns us into demons. Johnny’s plea of death before damaged dignity only gets him the switch thrown, but that current flows into Hiatt’s guitar, bringing John Lee Hooker’s soul back for one more round. – Sean Balkwill

31. Harry Manx & Kevin Breit – I’m on Fire

“Watching Harry play tonight, I feel like I learned something new.” That was Springsteen’s reaction to hearing Harry Manx perform “I’m on Fire.” East meets west here, as the tanpura and bouzouki give the song the sound of a slowly breaking dawn. With Kevin Breit assisting on guitar, Manx gives the song a sense of measured contemplation that suits it well. – Patrick Robbins

The list continues on Page 4.

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  16 Responses to “The Best Bruce Springsteen Covers Ever”

Comments (14) Pingbacks (2)
  1. What about Dave Edmunds’ “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)”? It’s a great cover and in my opinion, a far better version than Bruce’s own.

    • We excluded covers that were released before Bruce’s own recordings. That took out Patti Smith’s “Because the Night,” several versions of “Fire,” and a bunch of others – including Dave Edmunds. Bruce gave away a lot of great songs!

  2. What about the Rage cover of “Ghost of Tom Joad”? Should have gone in the middle of this list somewhere.

  3. This list is a joke. Where’s Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s ‘Blinded by the Night?

  4. Normally I love your articles this one, missed the mark completely! So many horrible covers and you missed so many amazing ones! Thumbs down. Especially on his birthday.

  5. Reason to Believe by The Beat Farmers! A great cover off my favorite album of all time (Tales of the New West). Also agree with the Dave Edmunds suggestion mentioned earlier. These 2 omissions alone tank this list.

  6. Basia Bulat – Glory Days

  7. Downbound Train covered by The Smithereens ……Great band ……New Jersey covering New Jersey. Rocks harder than original.

  8. No The Clarks “The River” invalidates this list completely.

  9. John Wesley Harding doing Jackson Cage should be number 1. That it is not on the list is at all is unforgivable.

  10. Roger Meadows Taylor – Racing in the Street

  11. Glad to see the love for the Band’s version of Atlantic City. My Number 1 but 3 is close enough. Nice article. Plenty of stuff I hadn’t heard before.

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