Bruce Springsteen has no shortage of his own hits, but there were some songs “The Boss” originally wrote and recorded himself that fell flat upon his release then inched up the charts when covered by other artists.
When Springsteen released his 1973 debut Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., two of the album tracks “Spirit in the Night” and “Blinded by the Light” failed to ascend the charts until Manfred Mann took them on the ’70s. Within this timeframe, Springsteen had the makings of “Because the Night” written, but it wasn’t coming together during the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions with the E Street Band in 1977. After sharing the song with friend Patti Smith, it became the musical poet’s biggest hit and brought more awareness to her 1978 album Easter. Springsteen has released his own versions of “Because the Night” on the 1986 box set Live/1975–85, and the 2010 compilation album The Promise, and has performed the song solo and with Smith throughout the years.
In 1987, Springsteen also wrote a song for Smith’s New York City punk comrades, The Ramones, but kept “Hungry Heart” for himself. Inspired by Lord Tennyson’s poem, “For always roaming with a hungry heart,” the song appeared on Springsteen’s 1980 album The River and was The Boss’ first major hit, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard charts.
Though Springsteen has had numerous songs chart in the Top 10, he has surprisingly never had a No. 1 hit although he came close when his 1984 Born in the U.S.A. hit ‘Dancing in the Dark” peaked at No. 2.
In honor of some of Springsteen’s hits that got away, here’s a chronological look at five songs The Boss originally wrote or recorded for himself and the E Street Band in the 1970s and ’80s that became bigger hits by other artists.
“Spirit in the Night” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (1975)
Springsteen originally released the track on his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. but it wasn’t until British rockers Manfred Mann’s Earth Band got their hands on it that “Spirit in the Night” hit the charts. Featured on the band’s 1975 album Nightingales and Bombers, upon Manfred Mann’s release of the song, it peaked at No. 40 on the Top 40 and was the first of two songs Manfred Mann would cover by Springsteen that hit the charts.
‘Blinded by the Light’ – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (1977)
Already covering and charting with Springsteen’s “Spirit in the Night” Manfred Mann grabbed another track off The Boss’ debut, “Blinded by the Light” as the opening track for their 1976 album The Roaring Silence, which became a huge hit for the band, and reached No. 1 on the charts.
“Fire” by the Pointer Sisters (1977)
The story around “Fire” is a sad one since Bruce Springsteen originally wrote the song for Elvis Presley, who passed away before he could even listen to the song. Springsteen wrote the song after seeing Presley perform at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on May 28, 1977. “I sent [Elvis] a demo of it,” said Springsteen, “but he died before it arrived.” Originally recorded and then cut from Darkness on the Edge of Town, The Pointer Sisters covered the song, and it jumped to No. 2 on the charts.
“Light of Day” by The Barbusters (Joan Jett and the Blackhearts)
In a twist of fictitious fate, Springsteen originally wrote and recorded the song “Light of Day” for his 1983 album Born in the U.S.A. album but shared it with director Paul Schrader for the 1987 movie soundtrack Light of Day. In the film, the song was performed by the made-up band The Barbusters, consisting of Joan Jett and actor Michael J. Fox, and ended up reaching No. 33 on the Billboard Hot 100 with credit to The Barbusters (Joan Jett and the Blackhearts). To this day, Jett still incorporates the song into her live set and even performed it with Fox in 2017 at the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Gala in Ottawa, Ontario.
“Pink Cadillac” by Natalie Cole (1988)
Originally released as the B-side of “Dancing in the Dark” in 1984, “Pink Cadillac” did get moderate airplay, made it onto Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. tour setlist, and reached No. 27 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart. Though Springsteen initially turned down the idea of Bette Midler covering the song, it was later shared with Natalie Cole, who made it a Top 10 single in 1988. Also featured on Cole’s 1987 album Everlasting, which received two Grammy nominations, her R&B pop version of “Pink Cadillac” soared to the top of the U.S. and U.K. charts, peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard U.S. Dance Club Songs chart and No. 5 on the Hot 100.
Photo: Danny Clinch