Sep 232019

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Honorable Mention: Stanley Clarke – Born in the USA

Stanley Clarke’s early hip-hop “Born in the USA” is truly unrankable. It may be the worst Springsteen cover ever. Except sometimes, if I’m in the right mood when I hear it, I’m convinced it’s the best. It certainly puts a smile on my face more than any other. Clarke is a jazz bassist best known through his fusion group with Chick Corea, Return to Forever. He’s not primarily a rapper, as is probably obvious hearing this song. But I think it works. For one, he seems like he actually understands what the lyrics are about, giving them a tough Run-DMC sound. Do the lyrics work when rapped? Not at all. And at the same time: they work perfectly. – Ray Padgett

50. Maria McKee – Backstreets

Lone Justice front woman Maria McKee strips down Springsteen’s song down to its essential rawness, just woman plus piano. McKee’s melancholy seems even more poignant after the recent news that both her solo and Lone Justice masters were destroyed in a fire at Universal over a decade ago. A country aria for lost souls. – Sean Balkwill

49. Federico Borluzzi – Chasin’ Wild Horses

Springsteen taps into his country roots on his latest album Western Stars. The original “Chasin’ Wild Horses” features Springsteen’s voice in the foreground, accompanied by a faint and simple guitar that sometimes gives way to a banjo. There are swooping strings that come in for occasional instrumental interludes, sounding like the powerful orchestra at the end of the movie, fading into the credits. This is an ambitious track to cover, especially without a backing orchestra. Federico Borluzzi, an Italian singer-songwriter, replaces the string parts with harmonica. This gives the song a more feel more rustic than cinematic, but the tactic works as a one-man alternative. Borluzzi’s voice is deep and slightly raspy, and although it isn’t as resonant as Springsteen’s, it is strong enough to do this song justice. – Sara Stoudt

48. Serena Ryder – Racing in the Street

No one on the planet unites cars and girls as romantically and heartrendingly as Bruce. And no one has been derided as often for doing so. But of course, those things are just physical stand-ins for the real stuff he’s referring to: wanderlust, hope, passion. “Racing In The Street” is the other side of the “Born To Run” coin, starring disillusioned dreamers experiencing tiny victories but going in circles, with failure lurking around every corner. Serena Ryder has received well-deserved accolades for her phenomenal rollercoaster of a voice, and her version of “Racing” has the magical ability of making grown people cry. Her performance here is the very embodiment of world-weariness and perfectly conveys all of the song’s faux optimism and absolute loss. – Hope Silverman

47. Shawn Colvin – Tougher Than the Rest

“Tougher Than The Rest,” from 1987’s Tunnel of Love, is part of a long line of Springsteen songs about love between damaged people, and the vulnerable delivery undercuts the lyrical bravado. But listening to it now, the song’s message is also undercut by the dated sounding synthesizers and drumming. Shawn Colvin’s version, from her 2015 album Uncovered, strips away the trappings, allowing the song’s tenderness to really shine through. Presumably, Springsteen would approve of the gender switch, considering that the original video for the song interspersed performance footage with scenes of both gay and heterosexual couples, a pretty gutsy move for a mainstream artist in 1987. – Jordan Becker

46. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – For You

Manfred Mann has done one great Springsteen cover. And no, it is not their garbage “Blinded By the Light.” “Wrapped up in a douche”? Come on. On “For You,” however, the band more successfully turn a wordy first-album Bruce song into a pop jam. If you really want to dance, The Disco Boys’ remix of this gives it a Eurorave beat. [Note: Disagree with my take on “Blinded By the Light? So does one of our writers, who just published a rebuttal defending the oft-mocked cover.] – Ray Padgett

45. Johnny Cash – Highway Patrolman

If anyone was meant to sing a story song about a cop and the no-good brother he loves, it’s Johnny Cash. He gives “Highway Patrolman” a stately treatment that imbues the song with real gravitas. Where Springsteen gave the song its heart and soul, Cash provides a body, and that corporeal sense is what brings the strength of this cover home. – Patrick Robbins

44. Murder By Death – Adam Raised a Cain

Bloomington, Indiana’s dark Americana band Murder by Death’s cover arrived on their 2015 Kickstarter Covers Vol. 2 project. Their brooding atmosphere is true to Springsteen’s. While the drums are not as thick as Max Weinberg’s, Sarah Balliet’s cello solo complements the song well and remains true to Murder By Death’s signature sound. It’s as if the song was written for them to cover. – Barton Price

43. Dropkick Murphys – Badlands

The Dropkick Murphys are an “American Celtic punk” band. Who knew that was a genre? They actually got to perform with Springsteen during his Working on a Dream tour, and he’s recorded a couple tracks with them over the years. Here they give some rock flair to the triumphant beginning of “Badlands,” a highlight of Springsteen’s fourth album Darkness on the Edge of Town. The simple percussion unites the original and this version, while the cover amps up the guitar presence (guitar even subs in for the sax solo) and some harmonica pays homage to Bruce’s periodic Americana sidetracks. The original’s music sounds chipper, but the song actually has chilling lines like “I wanna find one face that ain’t looking through me.” Giving the song a punk-rock edge helps the listener navigate these yearning feelings. – Sara Stoudt

42. Graham Parker – Pink Cadillac

Although nominally about a car, it is pretty clear that isn’t what Springsteen was writing about when he penned the lyrics to “Pink Cadillac.” First recorded acoustically as part of the sessions that would turn into Nebraska, it morphed into a rockabilly- meets-“Peter Gunn Theme” rocker when it was recorded for Born in the U.S.A. But the song was dropped from the album and relegated to the B-side of the “Dancing In The Dark” single. Despite that, it still got some airplay. The song’s spiritual roots can be seen in the fact that both Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins have covered it. But we’re writing about the version that Graham Parker contributed to the Light of Day tribute album, in which Parker returns the song to its acoustic roots, while retaining some of the energy of the first-released version. And every bit of the innuendo. – Jordan Becker

41. Anne McCue – Born to Run

Anne McCue is an Australian singer-songwriter who released this cover before starting to record her latest album, Blue Sky Thinkin’. An acoustic “Born to Run” is a nice change of pace from the original’s upbeat “power drive.” This cover is slower paced, the vocals balancing the lilting guitar, and the melancholy tinge of the lyrics comes through. An occasional harmonica line casually adds to the background tune, and the original’s guitar break, post-chorus, is replaced with a capella “doo doo”s. Towards the end, a fiddle subs in for Clarence Clemons, adding to the homestyle ambiance of the cover. – Sara Stoudt

The list continues on Page 3.

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  38 Responses to “The Best Bruce Springsteen Covers Ever”

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  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.

  12. So I have a Springs Covers playlist and I believe the only overlap between this one and mine is The Band’s take on Atlantic City, though I scrolled through quickly so perhaps there are others.. Here is my list:

    Devils and Dusts – Doc Bones and the Rattlesnakes
    Johnny 99 – Mark Erelli and Jeffery Foucault
    NYC Serenade – Pete Yorn
    Atlantic City – The Band
    Born in the USA – Richard Shindell
    If I Should Fall Behind – Rose Cousins and Mark Erelli
    Darkness on the Edge of Town – The Winter Blankets
    Rosalita – The Rigbees
    Thunder Road – Hayward Williams
    The River – The Clarks
    Reason to Belive – Aimee Mann and Sean Penn
    State Trooper – Tony Lucca
    I’m on Fire – Harry Manx and Kevin Breit
    Tougher than the Rest – Shawn Colvin
    Born to Run – Something for Kate
    The Ghost of Tom Joad – Martyn Joseph
    Further on Up the Road – Johnny Cash

  13. Lucy Kaplansky’s Thunder Road

  14. Dave Alvin, Seeds

  15. Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s version of Born to Run is surprisingly good.

  16. Billy Bragg is from East London (Barking), not South London

  17. That was a horrid version, not as bad as their cover of ‘spirit in the night’ though.

    • this was meant to reply to tommiec’s comment. In my opinion, Patty Griffin’s version of “Stolen Car” should have been included in this list even though she didn’t stray from the original at all.

  18. Wow. Such a miss.
    “Because the Night”, by 10,000 Maniacs was super
    “Fire”, by The Pointer Sisters was sublime
    The eponymous offering “Blinded By the Light”, by Manfred Mann – most people don’t even know it’s a cover
    “Pink Cadillac”, by Natalie Cole…yeah, it was a bit electro silly, but so is the song – stellar vocals though
    So. Many. More. Better. Than. This. List.


    • We excluded songs Springsteen co-wrote, which ruled out “Because the Night,” and covers that were released before Bruce’s own recordings, which ruled out “Fire.” We stand by our Manfred Mann pick at #46, and our ranking Graham Parker’s “Pink Cadillac” higher than Natalie Cole’s.

      I’m sorry you couldn’t enjoy a single minute of these three and a half hours of Bruce Springsteen covers. I’m going to guess you haven’t heard more than half of them before; maybe once you hear them as many times as the ones you listed, you’ll understand why we thought so well of them.

      On the plus side, you have so many more better ones you can enjoy. In the end, that means we’re both enjoying the work of others performing these great songs, and that enjoyment can only make the world a better place.

  19. Aussie band Ponyface did all of Nebraska. Worth a listen.

  20. These things are fun because you discover artists you maybe weren’t exposed to before. This biggest ‘miss’ for my money is Townes Van Zandt’s great cover of ‘Racing in the Streets.’

    • I love Townes, but Emmylou Harris’ cover of Racing in the Street is amazing and she sings all the lyrics.


    This is superb. Maybe not an official cover but still so good. Check it out.

  22. Tom Morello and Jim James – The Ghost of Tom Joad And Jeff Healey – Adam Raised a Cain. Just like many things the good is forgotten and the lame live forever

  23. Probably sacrilege to even mention it, but I really liked Big Daddy covering ‘Dancing In The Dark’.

  24. How could you not include “Highway Patrolman” by Dar Williams?
    It is one of the best cover songs ever. It takes that song to the next level.

  25. Greg Kihn (Khin?)’s “Thunder Road” is outstanding and overlooked here.

  26. I’m genuinely stunned at how many people post comments disagreeing in such rude ways. Like there are right and wrong answers in music appreciation! But then I remember — the internet lets people show how they really are, and many are rude and terrible.

    At any rate, I don’t agree with every choice, but I appreciate them all. I think it’s fun to hear new things, even though I only like some of them. Lots of cool versions and reinterpretations of old favorites here. Thank you so much!

    I have a suggestion for a cover not included for anyone looking to go beyond what is here. Sharon Van Etten did a gorgeous voice-and-piano rendition of “Drive All Night” for for The A.V. Club’s “Pioneering” series. At times it seems maybe her voice isn’t up to it (to be fair, it’s a single take performed live), but by the end there’s real passion in her cry. She really gets into it. I love her. It’s a really wonderful cover!

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