Bruce Springsteen’s Most Surprising Cover Songs

Opening Bruce’s May 30, 2012 show in Berlin was a cover of Wizz Jones’ “When I Leave Berlin.” Yes, really.

Yes, Berlin is obviously a city of great geopolitical and historical importance. And yes, the city has inspired plenty of music, both before (Heroes, Berlin) and after (Achtung Baby) the wall came down. Yes, Bruce’s 1988 concert in East Berlin was a significant moment in his career, both for the location of the show and the size of the audience.

But this was not Bruce’s first return visit to Berlin (that was in 1993) or even his first return visit with the E Street Band (1999). Nor was this a cover from Bruce’s usual repertoire. Doing “Get out of Denver” in Denver (September 25, 2003) might have been unexpected, but given Bruce’s friendship with Bob Seger, the choice was easily understandable. However much it makes sense that Bruce would appreciate the music of Wizz Jones, actually doing a song at an E Street show — as the opening song — ranks pretty high on the “surprise” list.

The top 5, “most surprising” covers by Bruce Springsteen:

5. Run Through the Jungle
Premiered May 29, 1981 in Rotterdam

The third of four John Fogerty-penned songs that Bruce would play on the River tour, this song qualifies for the list primarily for its total rearrangement. Rather than played “straight,” Bruce and the band did a ethereal version to start the show on three different occasions. Changing the music wasn’t enough; he also created new lyrics, including “man’s pulling shotguns out of the trunk/city’s on fire tonight” and “baby look out your window/can’t you see the tide’s turning,” themes that he would later expand on when creating the song “Murder Incorporated” during the Born in the U.S.A. sessions.

4. Have Love, Will Travel
Premiered April 23, 1988 in Los Angeles, CA

A perfect choice for the tour, with Bruce being able to declare the song’s title “my motto” as the encores climaxed. On a tour with mostly static setlists, this addition to the encores was one of the most significant changes to the show. This garage rock song (popularized by the Sonics) was turned into a horn-filled rave-up, complete with a trombone solo from La Bamba. It disappeared from the set shortly after the tour reached Europe and has not been played since.

3. I Wanna Be Sedated
Premiered April 22, 2009 in Boston, MA

First, the signs were for classic E Street repertoire, such as “Rosalita,” “Thunder Road, and “Jungleland” and Bruce was happy to oblige.

Then, the signs started requesting covers from E Street’s past, such as “Mountain of Love” or “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” and Bruce obliged those “sassy” requests (“the elephant never forgets!”)

But until this sign request was granted, Bruce had only granted requests for songs the band had already played. With this Ramones cover, the floodgates for the “stump the band” feature were open wide.

2. Satan’s Jeweled Crown
Premiered May 14, 1993 in Berlin

The 1993 leg of the world tour in support of Human Touch and Lucky Town featured a significant development: an acoustic three song mini-set by Bruce to start the show. For all of the shows in Europe that spring, Bruce’s three song set would always end with “This Hard Land,” preceded by two songs out of a roster of “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Mansion on the Hill,” “Seeds” and “Adam Raised a Cain.”

Opening the show with a singular acoustic number had happened plenty of times in the past, but doing the three songs in a row was a big change and also foreshadowed Bruce’s future live plans. The three-song set was expanded for the only time all tour in Berlin, when Bruce debuted this “country gospel song,” accompanied by Roy and the five backup singers on the tour. An obvious feature for the the singers’ abilities, the song would be added to the main set, alternating with the other cover added that tour that featured the singers, “Many Rivers to Cross.”

The song’s last performance was at the “Concert to Fight Hunger” on June 24, 1993, at the close of the 92-93 tour. After 6 performances, this Louvin Brothers song (from their 1959 album Satan is Real) was never heard from again.

1. Dream Baby Dream
Premiered May 11, 2005 in Rosemont, IL

During the encore of this show, Bruce finished “Land of Hope and Dreams,” and gave his usual end-of-show thanks to the crowd. He then began his acoustic version of “The Promised Land,” which had ended every show on the tour to date, and as the song finished, it seemed as if the show was over.

But Bruce then walked to the pump organ, stage right, and sat down. The organ had previously only been used for the show-opening “My Beautiful Reward,” so it was clear that something was up. With no introduction to the song, Bruce starts singing: “Dream baby dream / keep on dreaming / dream baby dream / come on, baby, keep on dreaming”

As a member of the audience that night, I was both transfixed and completely baffled. What WAS this? Bruce was playing the pump organ for most of the song, but he eventually got up and walked to the front of the stage — and the music kept going — before he walked off stage without further comment.

The song was identified in short order as a cover of synth-punk band Suicide, and remained as the show closer for the balance of the tour, and while it may never have been quite the shock it was that night at the Rosemont Theatre, it kept most of its power for the remaining shows.

There was some Bruce-Suicide history, of course, as Bruce did identify their song “Frankie Teardrop” as a favorite of his in 1984 interview with Rolling Stone. A Backstreets interview with Suicide singer Alan Vega later in the tour revealed the previously unknown fact that Vega and Springsteen were doing shots of vodka together in the bathroom of the the studio in New York were both were recording at the time.

Even so, this choice holds the #1 spot on this list, and remains one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever seen at at Bruce show.

Also considered:
“Achy Breaky Heart” (March 23, 1993) and “You Sexy Thing” (December 7, 2001). (Both were played jokingly rather than as serious inclusions in the set).
Bryan Adams’ “Cuts Like a Knife,” at Sting’s Rainforest Benefit in 2010.
The aforementioned “When I Leave Berlin.”

Dishonorable Mention:
Centerfield
Premiered October 1, 2004 in Philadelphia, PA
No, it’s technically not a cover, as Bruce was singing the song with John Fogerty. But it makes the list, if only for the horrible surprise that was Fogerty’s baseball-bat guitar and the fake handclaps that started this song during the Vote for Change tour.

Bruce is playing a set with his most clearly focused theme since the Tunnel of Love tour. He brings the “Hank Williams of our generation,” author of numerous classic rock and roll songs, many with political overtones, as a special guest on the tour. Perhaps “Who’ll Stop the Rain” would be too obvious, but “Centerfield,” a contender for the title of worst song of all time? It remains perhaps the most inexplicable setlist decision of Bruce’s career. Maybe it was Fogerty’s choice. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that this is not revisited in Hyde Park this July.

This entry was posted in Top 5s.

3 comments on “Bruce Springsteen’s Most Surprising Cover Songs

  1. Kathryn lynch says:

    lots of stuff I didn’t know! thanks!

  2. Pete Outlaw says:

    So why didn’t “When I leave Berlin” make the top 5 if not #1 or maybe #2? It was a total surprise to everyone there… and amazing once again how Bruce made that song sound like his own as well as had the entire stadium singing along from the very first chorus! I got chills just watching the video and even now as I write :)

  3. […] When I Leave Berlin, May 30, 2012, Berlin A seemingly out-of-the blue choice, as discussed here. Played to open the show in Berlin, as a thank-you for the memorable German concerts of 2012, and […]

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