30. Amy Macdonald – Born to Run
Majestically voiced, guitar-brandishing Scottish singer-songwriter Amy Macdonald burst onto the scene in 2007 when her exceptional debut album This Is The Life rocketed to #1 throughout Europe. Although she regularly namechecks fellow Scots Travis as inspiring her initial musical pursuits, the person to whom she refers to as “my absolute hero” is Bruce Springsteen. Her love has manifested itself in several covers over the course of her career, including “Dancing In The Dark” and “I’m On Fire.” Both are superb, but it is her solo acoustic take on “Born To Run” that towers over all. Her vocal is a speeding freight train, both utterly breathless and stunningly strident, and it will have you glued willingly to the passenger seat from the first note. Macdonald has somehow managed to inject more urgency into the most urgent love song ever written, a miraculous achievement indeed – Hope Silverman
29. Cowboy Junkies – Thunder Road
We’ll turn off the headlights while we’re driving, then speed up and catch the thrill. Margo Timmins starts out at a morphine drip speed, but her voice is Trinity Sessions-good, and the drums eventually kick in for a swift gait. Part of a separate covers EP released for the One Soul Now album, which also featured songs by The Cure and Neil Young. – Sean Balkwill
28. The Phil Beer Band – No Surrender
The Albion Band were the epitome of an English folk tradition, the brainchild of one Ashley Hutchings, still restless after having been a founding member of both Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. I was at Fairport Convention’s annual Cropredy festival in the early ’90s, the Albion Band guesting, when suddenly they threw “No Surrender” into the set, despite Springsteen being the polar opposite of their usual source material. The audience went wild. I think the lyric that explains the appeal of the song, the expression of joy around the urge to pick up “these drums and these guitars.” Here, Phil Beer, then Hutching’s right-hand man (and now of Show of Hands), takes the folk-rock further, injecting fiddle and melodeon. His eponymous band, who appear sporadically in the gaps between his already busy touring schedule, still feature this as the high point of their set. – Seuras Og
27. The Hold Steady – Atlantic City
“Atlantic City” is the most-covered song off Nebraska, and for good reason. In its original incarnation, it’s a barely-there acoustic ballad, but one with the potential to be blown up in all sorts of ways. The Hold Steady gives it a bar-band reading similar to what the so-called “Electric Nebraska” version Bruce reportedly recorded with the E Street Band might have sounded like (there is a prominent sax, after all). And Craig Finn is the rare singer on this list who has performed with Bruce himself, dueting on “Rosalita” at a tribute concert years ago. Reportedly, he was the only person who knew all the words… – Ray Padgett
26. Vampire Weekend – I’m Goin’ Down
Leave it to Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend and his old time rockabilly vocals to make “I’m Goin’ Down” sound straight out of a ’60s jukebox. Tambourine, bass drum, guitars, and repetitive piano chords add to the aesthetic of the cover, which is a far cry from the Americana rock of the original. What spans decades and musical styles is the storytelling genius that is The Boss. The melody and lyrics take center stage in both versions, which is why the style choice works for both bands. – Angela Hughey
25. Himalayan Bear – Highway 29
Himalayan Bear’s Springsteen tribute EP Moonlight and Rain: two is a haunting and haunted trip through desolation. Quiet and echoing, it includes some spare and spooky takes on deep cuts, including a mesmerizing 12-minute drive down “Highway 29.” In its original incarnation, the Ghost of Tom Joad song is a short acoustic narrative. Well you can forget all that. Himalayan Bear adds atmospherics and distorted guitar worthy of Suicide for a harrowing journey into madness. – Ray Padgett
24. Dion – If I Should Fall Behind
Paul Simon, Lou Reed, Billy Joel, and more have cited Dion and the Belmonts as being a major influence on them and their careers. Dion wove threads of the black music of New York City, imprinted his own sensibilities, and came up with a sound that led to dozens of top 40 hits. He’s just turned 80 and is still going. Bruce is a big fan too, and he had to be thrilled when his song “If I Should Fall Behind,” from 1992’s Lucky Town, got the doo-wop treatment from Dion that made it deathless. – Patrick Robbins
23. David Bowie – It’s Hard To Be a Saint In The City
Equal parts camp and swagger, Bowie’s performance of “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City” is a definitive dictionary of his every vocal styling. From the crooner to the plastic soul man to the glam screamer, they’re all here and they all get their moment to strut in the spotlight. This is a raucous, over-the-top performance, and it transforms the original’s slurring, bemused macho diarist into a garish, brazen, streetwalking animal looking for trouble. It is an altogether more manic affair than the funky shuffling original and an absolute blast. The recording doesn’t just predict Bowie’s future adventures vocally, but instrumentally as well, featuring both Philly soul string flourishes as well as some gloriously jagged guitar lines ( sounds soon to be explored more deeply on Young Americans and Lodger, respectively ). Not only is this one of the finest covers of a Bruce song, it has the added distinction of being one of the finest covers Bowie ever attempted. Which makes the fact that it didn’t see the light of day until its inclusion on 1989’s Sound + Vision box set smack of missed opportunity. To imagine what a live performance of this in 1975 with both Springsteen and Bowie would’ve been like is the stuff of dreams. – Hope Silverman
22. Nils Lofgren – Man at the Top
This marks the only E Street Band member appearing on the list. Lofgren covers Bruce frequently and, honestly, he sometimes plays the songs better than Bruce himself. He does a gorgeous “If I Should Fall Behind,” and his soloing on “Because the Night” at his own shows is legendary. His favorite Springsteen song, though, is one he’s only played with the E Streeters three times: in 1984, 1985, and 2013. Maybe Bruce doesn’t appreciate “Man at the Top” as much. Or maybe, just maybe, Bruce realizes he could never do it as beautifully as Nils. – Ray Padgett
21. Lera Lynn – Fire
Springsteen was inspired to write “Fire” after seeing Elvis Presley perform, and the Boss sent the King a demo of the song. Sadly, it arrived after Elvis died. So he recorded it himself, for Darkness on the Edge of Town, and it became one of the many tracks that didn’t make the album (although a reworked version was included on his The Promise box set). While rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon released the first recording of the song in 1978, it was The Pointer Sisters’ cover later that year that became a hit, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard charts (which reportedly angered Springsteen, who had yet to reach that height). Moody Americana singer Lera Lynn, who played a moody Americana singer in the controversial second season of HBO’s True Detective, released a slow building version of the song on her 2014 EP Lying in the Sun. Although the song’s Elvis influences remain under the surface, Lynn imbues it with her own twangy intensity. – Jordan Becker
The list continues on Page 5.
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!
Fair enough. Thanks for the explanation. I hereby rescind my vociferous objection. :)
Bruce Hamilton, A great song! I loved it from Edmunds before I knew about Bruce. Both versions are terrific!
What about the Rage cover of “Ghost of Tom Joad”? Should have gone in the middle of this list somewhere.
This list is a joke. Where’s Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s ‘Blinded by the Night?
*blinded by the light?
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.
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.
Basia Bulat – Glory Days
Downbound Train covered by The Smithereens ……Great band ……New Jersey covering New Jersey. Rocks harder than original.
No The Clarks “The River” invalidates this list completely.
John Wesley Harding doing Jackson Cage should be number 1. That it is not on the list is at all is unforgivable.
Roger Meadows Taylor – Racing in the Street
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.
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
I take that back, Shawn Colvin is on both lists.
Lucy Kaplansky’s Thunder Road
Dave Alvin, Seeds
Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s version of Born to Run is surprisingly good. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2g5lMRzPLZw
Billy Bragg is from East London (Barking), not South London
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.
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.
Aussie band Ponyface did all of Nebraska. Worth a listen.
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.
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
Probably sacrilege to even mention it, but I really liked Big Daddy covering ‘Dancing In The Dark’.
We appreciate the mention…Bob Wayne of the Rhino band “Big Daddy.”
Hey, Bob – you guys are great fun. Bought a bunch of your tracks and listen regularly.
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.
Greg Kihn (Khin?)’s “Thunder Road” is outstanding and overlooked here.
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!