Sep 232019
 

Go back to the beginning…

20. Bat for Lashes – I’m on Fire

It was a Cover Me reader who hipped me to the Bat for Lashes cover of “I’m on Fire.” In response to a staff Q&A about covers that changed lyrics, reader Jennifer mentioned the knife that was edgy and dull in Bruce’s song was edgy and blunt in the Bat for Lashes cover. The expected rhyme never emerges, but it never needs to – we the listeners pick up on it just fine, and Natasha Khan’s performance completes the narrator’s transformation from horny man to haunted woman. – Patrick Robbins

19. Ani DiFranco – Used Cars

For a book I’m writing on tribute albums, I interviewed Jim Sampas, the producer of 2000’s Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska (#15 on our list comes from it too). The conceit, he told me, was to not just have artists cover every track on Springsteen’s first solo album – plus some others tracks from that period – but to record them all on four-track, just as Bruce himself did. Not all artists complied; Johnny Cash can cover “I’m on Fire” however he damn well pleases, Sampas said. But it sounds like Ani DiFranco did. Her haunted, scratchy solo guitar version of “Used Cars” brings a powerful urgency to an intimate family song that sometimes gets forgotten amidst the album’s criminals and murderers. – Ray Padgett

18. Shovels & Rope – Johnny 99

What a depressing story. Bruce, come on man! The story of the young man getting 99 years from Mean Judge Brown and eventually asking for the chair is one of the darker tracks on an already dark album. But when Shovels & Rope belt it out over staccato piano hits and lilting drums, it feels like a celebration. But if you go back to the original, you’ll find that Springsteen played it pretty upbeat as well. Add it to the pantheon of great songs that sound joyful until you give it a closer listen. – Mike Misch

17. Carolyne Mas – New York City Serenade

Carolyne Mas is a woman of many talents; she sings, plays guitar and piano, writes songs, and is involved in production. Sometimes compared to Springsteen herself, Mas doubles down by covering him. Before there was an “Empire State of Mind,” or even a “New York State of Mind,” there was this long and musically varied ode to New York City. From the dramatic piano beginning, to the strings, sax, and tambourine, the original is a musical adventure. Mas’s version packs the same punch with just her voice and piano. She varies the style of playing throughout, mirroring the variability in the original song. Her voice is just as powerful as Bruce’s, and the performance is crisp. We don’t even miss the additional instrumental frills. This cover is less dramatic, but instead we get a simple and heartfelt serenade. – Sara Stoudt

16. Glen Hansard & Eddie Vedder – Drive All Night

It’s important to support opening acts—you might catch lightning in a bottle. Latecomers to Eddie Vedder’s solo shows in the early aughts might have missed him coming out to share a song with Hansard. This live cover became so popular that they recorded a proper studio version later with E Street saxophonist heir Jake Clemons. – Sean Balkwill

15. Damien Jurado & Rosie Thomas – Wages of Sin

One of Bruce’s secret greatest hits that wasn’t a hit at all. The cryptic, eerie, melodic ballad “Wages Of Sin” first appeared on the 1992 rarities box set Tracks. To translate briefly, “rarities” in Bruce world is code for “songs that most artists would kill for.” The recording of his original has been roughly placed to around 1982, during the Born In The U.S.A. sessions. Truth be told, it wouldn’t have been an ideal fit for that album anyway, as it had more Nebraska-esque feel. In fact, that may be why it ended up on a tribute album devoted to Nebraska, the aforementioned Badlands, perhaps in a spot of wishful dreaming. Regardless of timeline, these two former Sub Pop labelmates, cult indie popster Damien Jurado and the angelically voiced Rosie Thomas, turn this sorrowful, observational hymn so seamlessly into a duet that they make Bruce’s own superb version sound like a demo. The harmonizing is absolutely exquisite throughout and turns the beautiful murky forest of the original into something blindingly bright and powerful. – Hope Silverman

14. Thea Gilmore – Cover Me

What, did you think we wouldn’t have a cover of “Cover Me” on this list? It was hard not to put it at number one, just for sentimental value alone. The best cover of the song that gave us our name, Thea Gilmore’s strips away every ounce of the original’s 1980s bombast. – Ray Padgett

13. Win Butler & Preservation Hall Jazz Band – Born in the U.S.A.

There are few more pointless endeavors than telling Bruce Springsteen to shut up and sing. Politics winds through Bruce Springsteen’s music: the shooting of Amadou Diallo by police, the societal abandonment of people with AIDS, and here, with his most misunderstood song, the lack of support for American veterans. Win Butler’s speech at the Jam the Vote show two days before the 2016 election pushes back against the then-possible future of a Donald Trump presidency, even though Butler only hoped Trump’s xenophobia would never resonate with this country. He thanks immigrants for making the country great, then Springsteen’s opus pours out disillusionment. This disillusionment starts with a kid born in the U.S.A. who formed one of Canada’s greatest bands and became a Canadian citizen just two months ago. – Sean Balkwill

12. Solomon Burke – Ain’t Got You

In his final decade, Solomon Burke showed he’d lost none of his country-soul genius. 2006’s Nashville featured a cover of “Ain’t Got You,” but there are changes in the lyrics that turn the song from a tale of dissatisfaction to one of relishing who you are. Also, the band smokes behind him, and they all know it: at the end, everyone bursts out with laughter and exclamations, and the palpable sense of release is a treat to hear. – Patrick Robbins

11. Hot Chip – Dancing in the Dark

Is there any wonder this was in our top ten covers of 2015? “Dancing in the Dark” has never sounded more fun than when Hot Chip gets a hold of it. Alexis Taylor’s ever so slightly quavering voice is surrounded by synths on top of synths and bolstered by plenty of racing drums and guitars. When an LCD Soundsystem song drifts in at about five minutes, it couldn’t feel more natural. Get dancing! – Mike Misch

The list completes on Page 6.

Cover Me is now on Patreon! If you love cover songs, we hope you will consider supporting us there with a small monthly subscription. There are a bunch of exclusive perks only for patrons: playlists, newsletters, downloads, discussions, polls - hell, tell us what song you would like to hear covered and we will make it happen. Learn more at Patreon.

  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.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)