Bruce Springsteen Takes On AC/DC, Lorde & More: Top 10 Covers

11 November 2022 | 3:13 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

We rank Bruce Springsteen’s ultimate covers of all time.

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Bruce Springsteen is renowned for including intriguing covers – both modern and classic – within his famously lengthy live sets, often selecting songs that are local to the region he's touring and performing them with a distinctive E Street twist. He’s previously released one covers album, 2006’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, and his 21st album, Only The Strong Survive (out today via Sony), sees The Boss breathing new life into the soul and R&B numbers that continue to inspire him. We trawl the internet to unearth and share 10 of the best covers The Boss has busted out throughout the course of his career, both live and on record.

Nightshift – Commodores

This awesome tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson, who both died in 1984, is on Springsteen’s new soul collection, Only The Strong Survive. As you can see in the above film clip, The Boss puts his “heart in every line” – just like Marvin. Springsteen’s version of Nightshift features the whole shebang – string and brass sections, a backing choir, bongos – and we can’t get enough of the multi-layered percussion intro! One can certainly tell that this dreamy song by Commodores had a profound effect on Springsteen.

Don’t Change – INXS

During Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s 2014 Australian tour – which featured the bloody incredible Tom Morello on guitar duty alongside Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren – Springsteen played a cover of Don’t Change by the mighty INXS. As soon as the opening riff kicks in, The Boss has a reverent look on his face that suggests he understands just how important this band’s legacy is to Australian music fans. The brass section echoes the main guitar melody, and they’re off! Springsteen attacks the vocals with vitriol: “I’m standin’ here, on the ground/ The sky above, won’t fall down...” – what a tune! The band's four lead guitarists – Springsteen, Van Zandt, Lofgren and Morello – conclude their performance of this stellar song just as they started: standing in a straight line across the front of the stage, all in wide-legged stance. And you can’t deny they absolutely knock it outta the park!

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Highway To Hell – AC/DC

Featuring both Morello and Eddie Vedder (on chorus and second verse vocals plus tambourine – he also happened to be touring Australia at the time), no less! “I’m on the HIGHWAY TO HELL!” – the deafening audience singalong nearly drowns out the mic-enhanced voices on stage, and it’s a moment, alright! Vedder starts pogoing, and the smiles on the dials of all the musicians up on stage don’t lie. As for Morello’s guitar solo, it’s a face-melter! While beaming like The Cheshire Cat, Springsteen rallies the crowd, “Australia! You’ve just seen the hard-rockin’... earth-shattering, booty-shakin’, love-makin’, Viagra-taking (LOL), history-making, legendary...” And then the crowd takes over, “E STREET BAND!” Oh, how we wish we were there! 

Fun fact: After visiting Bon Scott’s grave in Fremantle during the E Street Band’s 2014 tour, Morello returned to his hotel, found The Boss in bar and suggested, “Bruce, since we’re here in Australia, do you think there’s any way that the circle of the E Street Band and the circle of AC/DC might overlap?” Then Morello recalled The Boss replying, “I never really thought about that before, but I’ll think about it now.” They started rehearsing Highway To Hell at soundcheck over the next coupla days and, voila! That’s when rock’n’roll dreams come through…

Royals – Lorde

Kicking off on the harmonica while simultaneously strumming on his acoustic, The Boss reimagined Royals while performing in Lorde’s hometown of Auckland in 2014. “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh...” – Springsteen’s gravelly, world-weary timbre puts a fresh spin on her song as he performs upstanding and slightly hunched over his guitar, biceps straining against his rolled-up shirt sleeves and with eyes closed (all the better to remember the lyrics, my dear!?).  He changes the gender in lyrics, singing from a male perspective (“Let me be your ruler/ You can call me King Bee”), and concludes this rendition by emphatically pounding his guitar’s sound hole before pointing into the crowd as if to say, ‘Take that!’ And so he bloody well should! Springsteen’s take on Royals truly rules and we’re pretty sure Lorde herself would’ve been chuffed with his take on her worldwide smash hit.

Just Like Fire Would – The Saints

We’ve long admired the double meaning in this classic Saints song’s title/chorus lyrics – yep, we legit used to think Chris Bailey was singing, “Just like fire WOOD”! – and reckon it’s safe to say Springsteen loves this stroke of lyrical genius as well. The phenomenal Morello slathers his ‘guitartistry’ onto Springsteen’s majestic version of this Aussie gem, which also appears on his 18th studio album, 2014’s High Hopes. There’s some rambunctious piano and sprightly horns as well, which enliven the arrangement without taking anything away from this song’s glorious main melodies. The Boss obviously adores Bailey’s masterpiece and performs it with relish. 

Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees

Before this particular Brisbane show in 2014, there were whispers from fans waiting in line who swore they heard the band soundcheck a Bee Gees song. And this rendition is absolute genius! Commencing with Springsteen strumming and a trumpeter riffin’, no one in the audience would’ve been able to name this song at first. That is until The Boss busts out those telltale opening lyrics, “Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk/ I’m a woman’s man/ No time to talk...” Brilliant use of string section to supplement the Bee Gees’ “Uh! Huh! Huh! Huh!” chorus vocals as well – I mean, why would you even attempt to replicate those peerless Gibb falsetto harmonies? Awesome brass and Morello guitar solos in the breakdown. Then the arrangement pars right back to just Springsteen repeating: “Life’s goin’ nowhere/ Somebody help me...” – okay, this is legit one of the most creative cover versions we’ve ever heard! Then there’s a fake-ending, before Springsteen plus a gazillion E Street Band members strut in unison across the front of the stage – on the ‘1’ and ‘3’ – like Madness used to do in their film clips! Electrifying stuff.

Rhinestone Cowboy – Glen Campbell

This one’s a relatively faithful cover of Glen Campbell’s classic song and accompanies the closing credits of Springsteen’s documentary Western Stars, which he made to promote his 2019 album of the same name. We would never have thought so before hearing this version, but Rhinestone Cowboy could almost have been written by The Boss himself with lyrics that suit him oh-so well: “Like a rhinestone cowboy/ Riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo...” – Springsteen has carved out a successful career from speaking through fictional characters in his songs, after all.

Love Of The Common People – The Four Preps

This rendition of Love Of The Common People is reggae-flavoured, heartfelt and wonderfully showcases The Boss’s interpretive ability – is there nothing he can’t do? Paul Jones’ version of this gorgeous song is probably the most well-known, but Springsteen also covered it live in Dublin. “It's a good thing you don't have a bus fare/ It would fall through the hole in your pocket and you'd lose it in the snow on the ground/ You got to walk into town/ To find a job…” – the incomparable Curtis King Jr. takes lead vocals for a coupla verses during the above performance; yet another example of Springsteen generously sharing his spotlight with his fabulous backing band, showcasing their extraordinary talents. This song appears as a bonus track on 2007’s Bruce Springsteen With The Sessions Band Live In Dublin album.

When The Saints Go Marching In – Traditional

What a spectacular choice of cover to perform at the 2006 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which was the first festival after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region – the healing power of music, right? This rendition of When The Saints Go Marching In starts off solo, with Springsteen gently strumming his guitar, before other instruments gradually join the minimal arrangement. When the camera pans around to show the crowd, many audience members wave white hankies and other objects above their heads; they look absolutely engrossed and The Boss concludes this stunning performance with, “We love you, New Orleans!” This song also appears on Springsteen’s Live In Dublin album.

Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) – Frank Wilson

Gotta love the shimmering use of xylophone here! And the backing choir makes it sound like a party! Springsteen’s cover of Frank Wilson's only Motown single is joyous AF. If you weren’t already frothing over Springsteen’s new soul collection, Only The Strong Survive, you definitely should be now. Do we love The Boss? Indeed we do.

Only The Strong Survive is out now via Sony.