Four Awesome Bruce Springsteen Covers

Bruce Springsteen in the seventies.
Source: The Atlantic

One song was actually a collaboration. Most recipients of Bruce’s songwriting had career revivals.

There is a commonality to these four songs, other than they were written by Bruce Springsteen and capably covered by prominent artists. First, all of the songs were written in the seventies. Second, and perhaps most important, the songs played a part in reviving the careers of those artists.

Third, with the exception of “Atlantic City,” which was not released as a single by either party, the cover songs charted higher than Springsteen’s original song. In fact, in two cases, Bruce held off releasing his versions until 2010 (The Promise).

Here we go:

‘Blinded by the Light,’ Manfred Mann Earth Band

British invasion rock band Manfred Mann. The South African-born namesake is the man in the middle.
South African-born Manfred Mann is the man in the middle.

Bruce Springsteen was putting on the finishing touches to his debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park N.J., when Columbia Records head Clive Davis gave it a listen. The album needs a single, Davis exhorted. Springsteen wrote “Spirit in the Night” in response, but Davis still wasn’t satisfied. “Blinded by the Light” became the first single from Bruce’s debut album, but the song didn’t even sniff the charts.

Apparently, the song’s immediate distinction came from the underground…rock fans who were amused by and even ranked commonly misheard lyrics. The actual lyric in “Blinded by the Light” was “revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night,” but it was misheard as “wrapped up like a douche when you’re rolling in the night.” In 2013, Spotify ranked it the most misquoted song lyric of all time.

Enter Manfred Mann Earth Band. Before they added “Earth Band” to their title, Manfred Mann, named for its South African born keyboardist, was a Mersey-beat, same suited pioneer of the British Invasion, who impressed with hits such as “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy” and “The Mighty Quinn,” a Bob Dylan song.

Cover was Springsteen’s Only #1

The band went through many phases, getting “earthier” as it experimented with jazz/R&B fusion. In 1976, it released a more instrumentally-diverse “Blinded by the Light,” which delighted listeners with the unveiling of a “Chopsticks” piano melody in the bridge of the high-energy song.

The Manfred Mann Earth Band version of “Blinded by the Light” remains Bruce Springsteen’s only #1 single as a songwriter (Bruce came close in 1984, when his “Dancing in the Dark” went to #2 on the Billboard charts).

Here is a video of a live version of the song, at three minutes, 44 seconds, produced by Manfred Mann via YouTube:

‘Because the Night,’ Patti Smith

Talk about serendipity!

Who would have predicted the random proximity of two rising stars…a sound engineer with mogul in his future…a discarded song…a wish come true for a singer who had yet to break through.

In June of 1977, two artists were working on their albums in separate studios on location in New York City. Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band had just recorded the basic structure of the song, “Because the Night,” including the chorus. Verse lyrics and melody remained a mumble. Springsteen wasn’t particularly happy with the recording because his album-in-progress, Darkness on the Edge of Town, “had enough love songs.”

Jimmy Iovine, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen in a NYC recording studio, where Springsteen gifted Smith "Because the Night."
Jimmy Iovine, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, 1977. Source: Getty Images

Meanwhile, Patti Smith, the “punk poet laureate” who was better know for her performance art than her recordings, was in another studio working on an album called Easter. Her producer was none other than Jimmy Iovine, whose storied career moves to the the rhythm of Apple Beats.

Iovine shared Smith’s frustration that she had yet to record a hit single. “I’ve always wanted to write a song that the whole world could love,” Smith told American Songwriter. Iovine let this be known to Bruce Springsteen, who gifted her with the work-in-progress. “If she can do it, she can have it,” Bruce told Iovine.

Patti Smith’s First Hit

Smith finished writing “Because the Night.” The song became Patti Smith’s first hit…it rose to #13 on the Billboard charts. The two have performed it live a few times and Springsteen has always shared his admiration for Smith’s contribution.

“[That song] would have never seen the light of day,” Springsteen remarked. “much less been the song that it was if it wasn’t for Patti working on it. So thank you Patti!”

“Because the Night” didn’t make the cut for Darkness on the Edge of Town. Springsteen included it on his song compilation album The Promise, released in 2010.

Here is a live performance from 1978, three minutes long, published by smitcee via YouTube:

‘Atlantic City,” The Band

The songwriter’s version appeared on Springsteen’s 1982 solo album Nebraska. The song depicts a young couple deeply in debt whose escape to Atlantic City implies the man has a destiny with organized crime.

The song begins, “Well, they blew up the chicken man last night/Now they blew up his house too,” a reference to the real-life murder of Philadelphia/South Jersey crime boss Phil “Chicken Man” Testa in 1981. Springsteen never released it as a single.

Meanwhile, 17 years after its farewell concert The Last Waltz, the Band started recording an album just as keyboardist Richard Manuel was found dead of suicide. Founding member and chief songwriter Robbie Robertson maintained his exile from the group. After Manuel’s death, the band suspended recording for several years.

The album Jericho was finally released in 1993 (“Atlantic City” was recorded in 1991). Because of Robertson’s absence, the songs were mostly covers. Rolling Stone magazine called “Atlantic City” a “clear highlight.”

Here is a 1994 live version performed in Rockford, IL, a melodic departure from Bruce’s original, three minutes, 28 seconds long, published by Joe’s Video via YouTube:

‘Fire,’ The Pointer Sisters

This was another reject from Darkness on the Edge of Town that made it onto The Promise. It was said that Springsteen manager Jon Landau deemed “Fire” inconsistent with the theme of Darkness, and was suspicious that Columbia Records would release the song as the album’s first single.

The Pointer Sisters promoting their Springsteen cover, "Fire."
The Pointer Sisters. Source: amazon.com

Well, it became a hit single after all…for the Pointer Sisters. The song’s path to the top of the charts must have been a bit frustrating for Springsteen. The year before, Manfred Mann Earth Band took his “Blinded by the Light” all the way to #1. In 1978, the Pointer Sisters settled for #2 on the Billboard charts. At that point in time, Bruce’s best position was for “Born to Run,” which charted at #23 (not that Bruce cared that much about this).

Here is a three minute, 25 second video of the Pointer Sisters’ “Fire,” lip-synched but with lush photography of the singers, published by MrElfgard via YouTube:

So which songs did I miss?

Andrew Goutman

Andrew Goutman is the editor of Enter, Stage Left.

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