Bruce Springsteen, of course, has been known to frequently throw a surprise cover or two into his setlists. But it’s rare for him to cover another artist’s song on one of his studio albums. Still, he has done so occasionally, and I decided to put together a post featuring the original versions of these songs. They are arranged, below, along with covers from his major label concert albums, in the chronological order that Springsteen released them.
My rules: I have not included songs from the monthly archival concert albums he has been putting out since 2014. I also have not included tracks from multi-artist studio or live albums he has contributed to (such as No Nukes and Folkways: A Vision Shared), though perhaps I will put those together in a separate post, since there are quite a few of them.
Also, I have not included songs he wrote or co-wrote but only released on one of his albums after other artists did so (such as “Because the Night” and “The Fever”).
Here are the songs, along with some explanatory notes. I have also embedded a Spotify playlist below, with all but four songs that couldn’t be found (thanks to Mitch Slater for the suggestion).
There were four covers on Springsteen’s 1986 Live 1975-85 boxed set:
“Raise Your Hand,” Eddie Floyd
“This Land Is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie
“War,” Edwin Starr
“Jersey Girl,” Tom Waits
“Chimes of Freedom,” The Byrds (written by Bob Dylan). The title track of Springsteen’s 1988 live EP Chimes of Freedom is the Dylan song that was famously covered by The Byrds in 1965:
The first time Springsteen included a song he hadn’t written entirely by himself on one of his studio albums was on Human Touch (1992). He shared writing credit with Sonny Boy Williamson on “Cross My Heart,” though his version is very different, and came up with his own take on the traditional “Pony Boy.”
“Cross My Heart,” Sonny Boy Williamson
“Pony Boy,” Jack Arthur. For the record: This is not the earliest version of the song.
Springsteen’s 1996 EP Blood Brothers included a cover of The Havalinas’ “High Hopes” (later re-recorded for Springsteen’s album of the same name):
“High Hopes,” The Havalinas
“Bye Bye Johnny,” Chuck Berry. Berry received a co-writing credit on Springsteen’s “Johnny Bye-Bye” (a Born in the USA outtake included on his 1998 Tracks boxed set) because Springsteen utilized elements of this song:
Released in 2006, Springsteen’s Hammersmith Odeon London ’75 concert album included short excerpts from several songs, added to Springsteen’s originals. I won’t include those here. I will, though, include the original versions of the songs that made up his “Detroit Medley” encore, plus Gary U.S. Bonds’ “Quarter to Three,” with which he closes the concert.
“Devil With a Blue Dress On”/”Good Golly Miss Molly” medley, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels
“C.C. Rider”/”Jenny Take a Ride” medley, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels
“Quarter to Three,” Gary U.S. Bonds
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006) was Springsteen’s only all-covers album. Here are earlier versions of all the songs. I’ve included Pete Seeger’s versions whenever possible, though, of course, these songs have been recorded by other artists as well.
“Old Dan Tucker,” Pete Seeger
“Jesse James,” Pete Seeger
“Mrs. McGrath,” Pete Seeger
“O Mary Don’t You Weep,” Pete Seeger
“John Henry,” Pete Seeger
“Erie Canal,” Pete Seeger
“Jacob’s Ladder,” Pete Seeger
“My Oklahoma Home,” Pete Seeger
“Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” Pete Seeger
“Shenandoah,” Pete Seeger
“Pay Me My Money Down,” Pete Seeger & the Weavers
“We Shall Overcome,” Pete Seeger
“Froggie Went a-Courtin’,” Pete Seeger
The following five songs were added on the American Land Edition of Seeger Sessions:
“Buffalo Gals,” Pete Seeger
“How Can I Keep From Singing?,” Pete Seeger
“How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?,” Ry Cooder. This song was not, as far as I can tell, ever recorded by Seeger. It was written by Blind Alfred Reed during The Depression. Here is Ry Cooder’s version; Springsteen added some lyrics of his own.
“Bring ‘Em Home,” Pete Seeger with Ani DiFranco, Billy Bragg and Steve Earle
“American Land,” Pete Seeger. Springsteen’s song wasn’t a cover, per se, but was inspired by this Seeger recording.
Springsteen’s 2007 Live in Dublin album and video documented his Seeger Sessions Tour and featured many of the Seeger Sessions songs, plus three more non-originals:
“When the Saints Go Marching In,” Pete Seeger & the Weavers
“This Little Light of Mine,” Pete Seeger
“Love of the Common People,” The Four Preps. This is another song that I don’t think Seeger ever recorded.
Springsteen’s 2008 Magic Tour Highlights EP included duets with Alejandro Escovedo, on “Always a Friend” (co-written by Escovedo and Chuck Prophet), and with Roger McGuinn on “Turn! Turn! Turn,” the Pete Seeger song that McGuinn’s band The Byrds had covered in 1965.
“Always a Friend,” Alejandro Escovedo
“Turn! Turn! Turn!,” The Byrds
Springsteen included three covers on his 2014 album High Hopes, including a re-recording of the title song (see above) plus songs by The Saints and Suicide:
“Just Like Fire Would,” The Saints
“Dream Baby Dream,” Suicide
Chapter & Verse, the 2016 album that accompanied Springsteen’s “Born to Run” autobiography, featured his early band, The Castiles, covering this blues standard:
“You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover,” Willie Dixon
Springsteen’s 2019 album Western Stars didn’t have any covers, but the soundtrack album for the “Western Stars” film, released later that year, added one that came as quite a surprise:
“Rhinestone Cowboy,” Glen Campbell
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