Monday, June 23, 2014

(Wrap Your Arms Around and) Cover Me

On his recent tour, Bruce Springsteen has been gifting audiences with some mind-blowing surprise cover songs, and though he has laughed delightedly at people's reactions to his choices, his versions are performed impeccably and with great respect. In celebration of this nifty twist to his shows, herewith is a selection of some of Bruce's best cover songs over the years. (Hat tip to old pal Jim Crisci for help and suggestions.)

  1. Springsteen's roots are set deeply in 1960s rock and soul 45s, and at the peak of his first decade of fame he would regularly roll out covers of some of his favorites. In the late 70s, there could hardly be anything less cool or hip than junky hits from merely a decade before, but Springsteen was relentlessly in love with these records, and his devoted audience loved every note. It worked on me -- in many cases, the first versions I ever heard of these songs were by Bruce. Here's a great one that of course comes with a story, a mainstay in the E Street Band's set list of that era.

  2. It's a pretty safe bet that few people would remember or even have heard of a guy named Gary "U.S." Bonds had it not been for Bruce and his soul brother, Little Steven Van Zandt. Bonds's hits loomed large in the E Street pantheon, and Bruce and the boys regularly covered songs like "New Orleans" and especially this one, which for a time closed out the band's shows. (You can read more about Bruce and Bonds in this A&H blogpost from 2013.)

  3. When Bruce got his start, he was immediately declared "the new Dylan", a sobriquet that was a curse to many a hoarse-voiced, scraggly performer prior to and after Bruce's debut. Here Bruce shows evidence that the comparison was superficial and fairly nonsensical, as Springsteen's heart and soul belonged to a far more romantic and good-humored muse than Dylan's. Bruce's version of "I Want You" (featuring some lovely violin work by Suki Lahav) is aching and tender and vulnerable, a far cry from Dylan's more cynical take.

  4. In 1988, Springsteen launched his US tour for Tunnel of Love with a free radio broadcast on the Fourth of July. He opened not with one of his hits but with this great old John Lee Hooker song, and he did it proud.

  5. In the summer of 1982 I went to see the Clash perform at Convention Hall in Asbury Park, in the very heart of Springsteen territory, and, chickenshit that I was, I made every effort to hide my love for the Boss from the gathered denizens of New York punkdom. From the stage, Clash frontman Joe Strummer made several snotty references to Bruce, and I remember feeling rather wistful that two of the major touchstones of my youth could never be reconciled. It took awhile, but as it turns out as in many cases, Strummer was good-naturedly full of shit. In the mid-90s Joe wrote this impassioned love letter about Springsteen, and after Joe's sad and untimely passing in 2002, Bruce joined David Grohl, Elvis Costello, and Steven Van Zandt for this magnificent tribute at the 2003 Grammys. Full of grief and power and relentless defiance, and it honored Strummer greatly.

  6.  Another of Bruce's musical godfathers is John Fogerty, and in addition to the regular appearance of a blistering "Who'll Stop the Rain", Bruce has over the years performed this song dozens of times. There are several different versions of it on YouTube, but I chose this one for obvious reasons, even though it is technically a duet rather than a cover. (Springsteen duets! A good future A&H blogpost.)

  7. Here, see what I mean? On the surface a goofy choice, even a joke, but tell me the band doesn't pull this off and make it into a scorcher.

  8. I barely know the original version of this song -- I know people hate it, and I'm sure it's overplayed, just like oh I dunno, every hit song ever. Bruce literally stepped up and showed the song has some soul and dignity and even class, and I doubt anyone who heard his version ever heard Lorde's the same way again.

  9. Springsteen started his current tour in Australia, barreling through the country with what are being considered some of his best shows, and rolled out this little gift early on. It was my own first clue that he was up to something.

  10. Grappling with Viet Nam became an obsession during the 1980s, and Bruce was firmly on the side of the vets who got sent there (that's what "Born in the USA" is about, in case you hadn't noticed). He supported Vet causes onstage and off, and with this video he makes a statement about the next group to be sent somewhere awful in the future. That he has since written several poignant songs about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars tells the story.

  11. Oh yes, this one. They go nuts for this at the Meadowlands like nowhere else.

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