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.
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!