I think it’s fair to say that Bruce Springsteen tends to get covered more by men than by women. But that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some great covers by female singers over the years. Indeed, some of the biggest hit Springsteen covers — think of the Pointer Sisters’ “Fire” and Natalie Cole’s “Pink Cadillac” — have been by women.
With Joan Jett, who sang the title song in the 1987 movie “Light of Day,” having been selected for induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, and with this year’s Light of Day festival starting on Friday, it seemed like a good time to take a look at some memorable Springsteen covers by women. I’ve tried to pick the best of the best (and just one, for songs that more than one woman has covered). Obviously, this is all very subjective; please let me know what your own favorites are, in the comments section below.
(UPDATE: There have been six more installments in this series, bringing the total number of songs to 150. Here is an index to all the songs.)
Here are the songs, in alphabetical order (by artist):
TORI AMOS: “I’m on Fire”
In the mid-90s, Amos performed this song on the VH1 series, “Crossroads,” and it also came out on the VH1 Crossroads compilation album.
AUDREY ASSAD: “Hungry Heart”
Nothing too surprising. Just a fun live version of this hit.
NICOLE ATKINS: “Dancing in the Dark”
Springsteen’s fellow Monmouth County native recorded a moody, atmospheric “Dancing in the Dark” for last year’s Dead Man’s Town album, which paid to the songs of Springsteen’s Born in the USA.
NATALIE COLE: “Pink Cadillac”
The Born in the USA B-Side became a Top 10 hit for Cole in 1988.
CATIE CURTIS: “If I Should Fall Behind”
A classy acoustic version of one of Springsteen’s most timeless ballads.
MELISSA ETHERIDGE: “Born to Run”
Etheridge, who has often spoken about Springsteen’s influence on her, turned in a memorable performance of Springsteen’s anthem, with the Boss himself watching, when he was presented with a Kennedy Center Honor in 2009.
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL: “Tougher Than the Rest”
From the British duo’s often-revelatory 1992 album, “Acoustic.”
THEA GILMORE: “Cover Me”
A slowed-down, bluesy interpretation from her 2004 album, “Songs From the Gutter.”
PATTY GRIFFIN: “Stolen Car”
From her 2002 album, “1000 Kisses.”
EMMYLOU HARRIS: “Racing in the Street”
Harris has recorded several Springsteen songs over the year, but I’m partial to her stark take on “Racing in the Street.”
JOAN JETT: “Light of Day”
Springsteen wrote the hard-rocking song for the movie, and Jett sang it with Michael J. Fox, who co-starred in it as her brother. It has remained a staple of her concerts since then, and Springsteen still sometimes sings it as well.
BETTYE LAVETTE: “Streets of Philadelphia”
Springsteen sounded somewhat stoic on his version; Lavette, in contrast, seems emotionally devastated on her more theatrical rendition.
THE POINTER SISTERS: “Fire”
The group had one of the biggest hits of its career with this sultry song — which Springsteen has said he wrote with hopes that Elvis Presley would record it — in 1978.
DONNA SUMMER: “Protection”
This tense, gritty tune sounds like it could have been a Springsteen classic if he had sung it himself, but he never has (or, if he has, he’s never released it). Summer released it on her self-titled 1982 album, which was produced by Quincy Jones.
TRISHA YEARWOOD: “Sad Eyes”
Country artists have long had an affinity for Springsteen’s heartfelt ballads. Yearwood included this stellar version of “Sad Eyes” — from Springsteen’s 1998 rarities boxed set, Tracks — on her 2000 album, Real Live Woman.
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Great list. Never heard the Patty Griffin version of Stolen Car. Really great. I have to include one of my own:
Good one! I would have included but I didn’t want to include two of the same song, and I like the Nicole Atkins one a little better.
It’s haunting. A really different take than the version Bruce does.
If I should behind is one of my favorite Springsteen songs. This one by Catie Curtis is pretty good.
One of mine too. So simple and perfect.
Very good list, some of which are new to me.
Also off that Dead Man’s Town disk, I really like Holly Williams’ No Surrender (she’s the granddaughter of Hank, Jr. too.)
Also version of Save Your Love by the young NJ duo of Nalani & Sarina is really good.
My vote would go to someone not mentioned in the article, Mary Chapin Carpenter, who’s covered Springsteen in live shows a number of times
for a sublime version of Dancing In The Dark, and
for a version of My Love Will Not Let You Down that smokes!
Where’s Patti Smith doing Because the Night? One of my favorites! Check it out.
Good question. I didn’t include that because she co-wrote it, so it’s really a collaboration, not a cover.
Have to say Amy MacDonald’s take on Dancing in the Dark is way, way better than Nicole Atkins
I also like and would include Ani DeFranco’s “Used Cars” and Jen Chapin’s “Born in the USA.” I love what DiFranco does with the “they can kiss our asses goodbye ” line in “Used Cars”. Chapin’s version of “Born in the USA” captures the heartbreak of this song in a minimalist, unique and haunting way. And yes, Nicole Atkin’s cover of “Dancing in the Dark” finally gets this one right as does Peter Yorn. I don’t know whether Springsteen has ever done a slower version of “Dancing in the Dark” but that would be worth hearing.
Y’all need some Canadian content on this list. These are both awesome – Kathleen Edwards’ “Human Touch” and Ruth Moody (of the Wailin’ Jennys)’s “Dancing in the Dark”.
Thanks, Stu. I like the fun Ruth Moody has with the throwaway line, “Hey Baby.” line in this song.
I love Sleater Kinney’s version of “Promised Land”. I think they captured the raw urgency of the song. Almost a Punk version of the song.
(how about that harmonica solo!!!)
They also covered “PL” with Eddie Vedder…
Love Eddie, but I prefer the version with just Sleater Kinney.
Bruce did record “Protection”, but it’s never been released. It’s available on bootlegs and here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMIs8Y23mBc
Someone took Bruce’s version and Donna Summer’s version and created a “duet” of the two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlvVHGItBwo
Maria McKee does a wonderful version of Backstreets saying:”And god bless Bruce Springsteen” at the end of the song!(Live Acoustic Tour 2006)
Cowboy Junkies (Margo Timmins) Thunder Road (onesoulnow) and Brothers Under The Bridge (Early 21st century Blues)
Suzi Quatro did Born to run
You’re only missing two of the best — Serena Ryder’s “Racing in the Street” and Chrissie Hynde’s “Nebraska” — and if the Pointer Sister’s “Fire” can be called a cover, since it was the first recorded version of that song released, then Patty Smyth’s “Because the Night” ought to be in the mix. Come to think of it, Natalie Merchant did a pretty good job on that one too.
Patti Smith also co-wrote “Because the Night.” That’s why I don’t consider it a cover
I’d be curious to ask Myers his thguohts as well, since he worked at the Rosemont for a while. I read that Springsteen has done this before, routinely breaking venue curfews, and even costing a promoter an additional $50,000 once. I think there was hubris involved, when you ignore someone signaling from the wings.
Badlands cover from a great italian songwriter: bruce’s songs can be fast and furious or sweet like the different versions of thunder road
I’ve done a follow-up post, compiling videos of all these good suggestions: https://www.njarts.net/?p=6213
I loved both Serena Ryder and Emmylou’s version of Racing In The Streets. It was mentioned that Emmylou did several Bruce covers over the years. I would be interested in knowing of the others. I’m a huge Emmylou fan and I’m not familiar with every Bruce Springsteen song out there (so many…).
She’s done “The Price You Pay,” “Tougher Than the Rest,” “Across the Border,” “Mansion on the Hill,” possibly others as well.
I’ve always enjoyed this cover of ‘Meeting Across The River’ by Syd Straw, in fact I think it’s brilliant. She manages to deliver her own unique, haunting, and soulful interpretation.
another great cover is amy ray’s version of “racing in the street”, has not been released officially yet, but lives on in this terrific bootleg video:
Surely Cowboy Junkies doing “You”re Missing”
Those were some pretty good choices but it missed probably the three best Bruce covers by female artists.
Molly Johnson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewZTxT2B1ZM
Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfCS1yXg8gk
Bat For Lashes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rhat3oUbNkw
Another nice cover is Faith Hill’s “If I Should Fall Behind” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76iNKoRNhV4
Lucinda Williams doing Factory
It’s in Part 3: https://www.njarts.net/pop-rock/springsteen-covered-by-women-the-best-of-the-best-part-3/
If I Should Fall Behind – Linda Ronstadt