I often joke and say I came out of the womb loving Bruce Springsteen, but it’s somewhat true. I don’t really remember when I started loving him…I just know that I always have. In every phase of my life since I was 10 years old, Bruce has been there. I’ve come a long way since playing The River on a tiny little tape recorder in the backyard with a guitar that I assembled out of a shoebox and rubber bands. His songs have changed meanings for me as I’ve grown up, gotten out of my slowly-dying little hometown, and chased my own dreams – they became personal anthems. His music has been the soundtrack to some of the very best moments (and some of the strangest!) moments of my life, and been a solace for me when everything was falling apart. Next to my Mom, his music has been the one unwavering constant in my life. It is everything.
It is now 12:03 PM on September 23rd, and officially Bruce’s 66th birthday. As has become a tradition, I honor him in some way…usually with a blog post, sometimes with birthday parties, and once with a cake adorned with his butt from the Born in the U.S.A. cover.
This year, I decided to go with something a little different. Because I still get googly-eyed when I go to a show and I hear an artist bust out with a Springsteen song, I thought it would be fun to pay tribute to my favorite singer and songwriter of all time with six of my favorite Bruce covers. It’s nearly impossible to pick just six – for crying out loud, I’m leaving out Brian Fallon’s cover of “Backstreets” and Matthew Mayfield’s version of “Dancing in the Dark” (which is downright spooky and wonderful). But I tried, anyway.
Happy birthday, Boss. Thanks for everything.
Ari Hest, “I’m On Fire”
Ari, quite simply, has one of the purest voices around. He’s been covering “I’m on Fire” for years, and he stays pretty true to the original. However, it’s Ari’s crystalline voice that makes this, without a doubt, my favorite Bruce cover by anyone, ever. I picked this video because it is so bare bones, you can hear just how incredible he is without any amplification at all.
Matthew Ryan, “Something In the Night”
Darkness on the Edge of Town is probably my third favorite Springsteen record, behind Born to Run and Nebraska. It’s an incredibly bombastic record, and this song is about as close to a “power ballad” as Bruce gets. So when the Light of Day tribute album came out in 2003, I was mesmerized by a haunting version of the song that stripped it down to almost nothing. A few years later, I would go to a show at The Evening Muse and see this fellow, the incredibly wonderful Mr. Matthew Ryan, play a show with Mieka Pauley, and come to discover his music was just as fabulous in its own right. (Really, you should check him out.)
Tim Brantley, “Spirit In the Night”
I could tell two dozen stories about Tim Brantley and Bruce Springsteen. The first time I saw him, he wore this wool hat that was kind of slung back low on his head, and he looked so much like Bruce in the legendary Hammersmith-Odeon concert, and there was just all this Bruce in his voice…I think it might have sealed the deal for me falling in love with Tim Brantley on the spot. One night, a year or two later, he was playing a show here in Charlotte, and he walked in to the venue wearing skin tight black jeans, and a mechanic’s shirt, with his hair slicked back. I looked at him and said, “Well, aren’t you duded up for Saturday night,” a reference to this song. He grinned at me and said, “I think you’re the only girl I know who knows what that means.” From that point forward, he’d play this one for me whenever I came out to see him. I am a lucky gal.
Passenger, “The River”
In 1985, the “box set” came out…and it was a big deal at the time. Three tapes of live Bruce performances over the course of 10 years. I was 11, and I remember playing the cut of “The River” over and over again, because Bruce told this long story before it about his relationship with his dad, and I wanted to memorize it. So when Passenger released this cover last year, I lost my bloody mind. One of my favorite present day singers covering the ultimate singer. Yes, please.
Ben Harper, “My Father’s House”
If you’re a Springsteen fan, I don’t know how this couldn’t be on the list of best covers of a Springsteen song ever done. Ben Harper is just perfect in this absolutely gorgeous version of a very under-discussed, underrated Bruce song. Thanks, Ben, for raising its profile. (And seriously, how smoking hot is Ben in this video?)
The Hold Steady, “Atlantic City”
My favorite Bruce song of all time is “Jungleland,” followed closely by a dead tie between “Dancing in the Dark” and “Atlantic City.” Loads and loads of people have covered Atlantic City, but none ever nailed it for me until I heard The Hold Steady do it. It’s raspy, and filled with a modern-day desperation that matches the original. I love it.