Springsteen covered by women: The best of the best


Joan Jett sang Bruce Springsteen’s “Light of Day” in the 1997 movie of that name.

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.

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.”

A slowed-down, bluesy interpretation from her 2004 album, “Songs From the Gutter.”

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 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.

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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39 thoughts on “Springsteen covered by women: The best of the best

    • Good question. I didn’t include that because she co-wrote it, so it’s really a collaboration, not a cover.

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

    • 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.

  4. 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…).

  5. 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.

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