Well, I'll tell you why not. Most covers of Springsteen songs are standard, by-the-numbers covers. There is very little about them that improves on or really deviates from the originals. Springsteen just does Springsteen so well. And as to parodies… well, I have heard quite a few and most are just not that funny. And then there's the tribute songs… oh, wow.
As I mentioned when talking about 'Bohemian Rhapsody', there is so much tripe out there it is almost insane.
So, I went through my own modest music collection to find some covers and parodies that I like and that I actually own. This is not coming from other people's suggestions for a change – I am a Springsteen fan and so I know these. I would also like to point out a marked lack of 'Weird' Al Yankovic here. To my surprise, going through my collection, he has not covered Springsteen! Unless I am missing something, the Boss just seems to have passed him by. Odd.
Anyway, I'll start with the covers, go into one tribute song, then a reimagining, and finish with some parodies.
'I'm On Fire' by Johnny Cash (2000)
From a tribute album to Springsteen's Nebraska album, this was, to me, the stand-out track. Where Springsteen sings it as though it's illicit and he knows it, Cash adds a touch of country world-weariness to it that makes it, on the whole, just that little bit more depressing. But it's Johnny Cash, and if the American Recordings series has shown us anything, it's that he knows his way around a cover version.
'Because The Night' by Patti Smith Group (1978)
One of my favourite all-time Springsteen covers, Patti Smith and her group take this song and make it their own. I have a friend who didn't realise until the Live:1975-85 Springsteen box set came out that this was a cover version; Smith just runs with it as though she had written the thing. While there are very few real differences between her version and Springsteen's, I just love her voice and I think that makes this song.
'Born To Run' by Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1984)
Some call this cover version "sacrilegious" (? No, seriously, I read a review back in the day that used that exact word), but I really enjoyed it. It was more up-tempo than the original version (which Springsteen would match live anyway), and coming from Thatcher's England of the 1980s, it was a perfect fit with the concept of the whole Welcome To The Pleasuredome album of a world falling apart. This track was also the cause of me breaking up with my girlfriend at the time (well, one of the causes). We argued over which version was better, with me plumping for the original and she preferring this one. Oh well, I was 13 or 14 years old; it's not like it was that deep and meaningful or anything!
'Blinded By The Light' by Manfred Mann's Earth Band (1976)
I have spoken about this song and its lyrics in another column, remembering a time when we tried to write the lyrics down. But oddness aside, this is a really good cover version, so much so that I didn't realise Springsteen had done the original until I started to collect his back catalogue. It might actually be the only Springsteen cover that I like better than the original.
'Tougher Than The Rest' by Jimmy Barnes (2019)
This track comes from the underrated My Criminal Record album. As I said when I reviewed that, he does a good job but Bruce did it better. However, it is still one great cover version in a sea of Springsteen mediocrity out there, and well worth a listen. (Mind you, the whole album is well worth a listen)
All right, a tribute song. I have heard so many songs about how wonderful Bruce is, how he inspired people, yadda yadda yadda. None are any good. But…
'Bruce' by Rick Springfield (1981)
Off the Working Class Dog album, this track is, while a tribute to Bruce as such, is about Rick being called "Bruce" by fans who get their surnames mixed up, including a woman who screams "Bruce" when he's with her. It's an amusing song in its own way and isn't sycophantic, and I enjoy it.
All right, parody time.
'Banned In The USA' by Luke (with 2 Live Crew) (1990)
This isn't so much a parody as a sampled song. I first heard it in the documentary film Damned In The USA, about censorship in modern America. It actually made me go out to find the song. In Australia, at that time, it was like pulling teeth. This is pre-Internet and all that. I ended up getting a cassette copy (no cover) from a music remainder store in Melbourne (that is, in another state) and spending way too much money. That was to get, remember, this one song. Based on 'Born In The U.S.A.', it is a rant against Luke having his albums banned in the United States, where there is a right to freedom of expression. It is actually also one brilliant protest song as well, which reflects back on the original.
'Born In East L.A.' by Cheech and Chong (1984)
Like the example above, this takes the classic Springsteen protest song and turns it into another protest song, this one about a man kicked out of America, where he was born, because he cannot speak English. Scary thing is, it was based on a true incident. It would later be made into a semi-decent film, but this song, with its light comedy, takes a serious issue (and shout-outs to Randy Newman's 'I Love L.A.')and makes it something people can sing along to.
'Elmer Fudd Sings Bruce Springsteen – Fire' by Robin Williams (?)
The first time I saw this was on a television show in Australia called The Midday Show with Ray Martin, a show designed for housewives. (I was a student at the time.) Well, Williams came on, being all manic and the audience loved it and then he went into this. It is such a classic bit. "…I'm on fie-wer…" Short, silly but fun. Such a great way to remember a great comedian.
'Bored With The U.S.A.' by The Hee Bee Gee Bees (1984)
And my favourite Springsteen parody, from the fine people from England who brought you 'Toyland Rhapsody'. A mix of 'Born To Run' and 'Born In The U.S.A.', it's got all the Springsteen trademarks of song structure and themes and just takes the p*ss out of them perfectly. "…And then we got married/ And Cheryl got pregnant/ But not necessarily in that order…" I enjoy this a lot, stupidly so.
And there you have it – Bruce Springsteen covered, parodied and sampled. Springsteen is one of the greatest songwriters of the post-War era, and I think it's a shame there are not more decent cover versions or parodies of his music. He deserves so much better. However, what is here is not only a fine example of the work in that field, but all of them are really good songs in their own right.
What did I miss out? What did I get wrong? Feel free to let me know in the comments section!