One of my favourite musicians, Bruce Springsteen, celebrates his 60th birthday today. I’ve been a big fan of his music ever since I bought Born in the USA on tape sometime in the late 1980s. I played it quite a lot (it didn’t have much competition back then) and it’s still one of my favourites of his. Soon after, I bought the rest of his albums on cassette, including the Live ’75-’85 box set. I’ve been to see him live in concert on two occasions and he was brilliant both times. You haven’t lived unless you’ve seen Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in action. They’re on stage a lot longer than most bands and they play with a lot of fun, energy, and skill. Not only is he an amazing performer, but he’s also a wonderful songwriter. However, he’s been criticised for singing lots of songs about cars and girls, but that’s only half the story. I love songs like Born to Run and Thunder Road in which he creates scenes and characters that could come straight out of a movie. I also like his story songs such as The River and Highway Patrolman and other songs on the Nebraska album. Nebraska along with Darkness on the Edge of Town are my favourite Springsteen albums, even though they don’t necessarily contain his best songs. I think that he released his best work in the first half of his career and that his albums from the last twenty years, even though they contain great songs, are not among his best work
He has been a huge influence on subsequent generations of musicians, particularly in the United States. He can be held responsible for Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell album, which basically ripped off his Born to Run LP, as well as the career of fellow New Jersey “rockers” Bon Jovi. Contemporary bands like Arcade Fire, The Killers and The Hold Steady owe him a huge debt of gratitude. A diverse range of singers have tackled his songs over the years and I’ve included some of my favourite versions below. Patti Smith took an unreleased Springsteen song and re-worked it into an early hit for her as a singer and for him as a songwriter. Ben E King, Eddie Vedder and Josh Ritter contribute nice versions of a trio of tracks from Bruce’s first decade in music. The Hold Steady and The National offer their takes on a track each from Nebraska, while the Chromatics, Florence Welch and Tegan & Sara give a female voice to songs from Born in the USA, as does Bell X1 from Ireland. The few British acts that attempt songs by The Boss do a good job (Elvis Costello, Camera Obsura, The Waterboys) and they add to earlier efforts by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and one of the first covers of a Springsteen song by David Bowie. This mix of Springsteen covers concludes with moving versions of his songs by three singers who have shuffled off this mortal coil
Covering the Boss
Finally, here are a few tunes sung by The Boss himself as well as two that have been inspired by his songs. A slowed-down solo version of one of his most famous songs is followed by his live cover of a Warren Zevon song. His take on Dylan’s I Want You from the mid-seventies sees Dylan return the favour a decade later. Bob takes lead vocals on the Travelling Wilburys’ Tweeter & the Monkey Man, which contains the titles of a number of Springsteen’s songs in its lyric. How many can you spot? Prefab Sprout’s Cars & Girls cleverly pokes fun at Broocie’s apparent preoccupation with automobiles and the opposite sex in many of his songs. Many of his best songs do indeed concern these subjects but, fortunately, his songs are also about much more than that. Happy 60th, Bruce!