8 of Bruce Springsteen’s Favorite Songs

In 2021, Stephen Colbert asked Bruce Springsteen to name the one song he’d listen to for the rest of his life. “One?” said Springsteen. “Wow.” Without pausing, Springsteen said “Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra.”

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Originally written by Heinz Meier and Hans Bradtke and released in Germany as “Der Sommerwind,” the song was later translated into English by Johnny Mercer and released by Sinatra in 1965. “Summer Wind” appeared on Sinatra’s album Strangers In The Night and centers around a love that blew away, like the wind—Like painted kites, those days and nights, they went flyin’ by / The world was new beneath a blue umbrella sky.

After being introduced to Sinatra’s music by his mother, Springsteen always had a special connection to his fellow New Jersey native and was also attracted to the crooner’s debonair flair and sophistication. He even became friends with Sinatra later in his life and was invited to perform at his 80th birthday and tribute concert in 1995.

“He is the patron saint of New Jersey, and since his rise from the streets of Hoboken, Frank has basically owned the place,” said Springsteen during the tribute, “but he has been gracious enough to loan me a small piece of it by the beach.”

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Though he called out his all-time favorite song, there are dozens more tracks that helped fill the soundtrack throughout Springsteen’s life. Several years before sharing his Sinatra favorite, Springsteen was asked to share more life-changing songs in 2016 with the BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs and revealed eight more transformative tracks.

“It’s songs that a lot of people are going to be familiar with and affected many others,” said Springsteen of his list. “But this was the music that electrified me and galvanized me into changing my life in some way.”

In order of how Springsteen talked through them, here are eight of his favorite songs and what he had to say about each.

1. “Hound Dog,” Elvis Presley (1956)

“When I heard it, it just shot straight through to my brain,” said Springsteen of Elvis Presley‘s 1956 hit, “Hound Dog,” which was written by the songwriting duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and originally recorded and released by Big Mama Thornton in 1952. “And I realized, suddenly, that there was more to life than what I’d been living. I was then in pursuit of something and there’d been a vision laid out before me. You were dealing with the pure thrust, the pure energy of the music itself. I was so very young but it still hit me like a thunderbolt.”

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Springsteen added that “Hound Dog” still influences him today.

“It sounds great to this day,” he said. “We still base our snare drum sound, one of the ultimate snare drum sounds, on ‘Hound Dog.’”

2. “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” The Beatles (1964)

As Springsteen’s list reveals, 1964 was a very formative year for him, musically, including his connection to one of The Beatles‘ hits that year.

“This was another song that changed the course of my life,” said Springsteen of the Beatles’ classic, released on their 1964 album Meet the Beatles! “It was a very raucous sounding record when it came out of the radio. It really was the song that inspired me to play rock and roll music to get a small band and start doing some small gigs around town. It was life-changing. It’s still a beautiful record.”

3. “It’s All Over Now,” The Rolling Stones (1964)

“I would use my mother’s hair clips to pin my hair down, then I would sleep on it exactly right because I had Italian curly hair so I would pin it down until it was as straight as Brian Jones’,” revealed Springsteen.

Originally written by siblings Bobby and Shirley Womack and released by The Valentinos, “It’s All Over Now” became the first No. 1 hit for the Rolling Stones in the U.K. in 1964. The band released their cover of “It’s All Over Now” on their second album 12 × 5.

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The song also featured the first guitar solo that Springsteen ever learned. “’It’s All Over Now’ held a special place for me because when I got thrown out of my first band, I went home that night and I was pissed off,” shared Springsteen. “I said ‘Alright, I’m going to be a lead guitar player,’ and for some reason that solo felt like something I might be able to manage.”

Springsteen continued, “I put the record on and I sat there all night until I was able to scrape up some relatively decent version of Keith’s solo. It was a very important record for me as it was the first solo I ever learned.”

4. “Madame George,” Van Morrison (1968)

“’Astral Weeks’ was an extremely important record for me,” said Springsteen of Van Morrison‘s 1968 song, released on his second album Astral Weeks. “It made me trust in beauty, it gave me a sense of the divine. The divine just seems to run through the veins of that entire album. Of course, there was incredible singing and the playing of Richard Davis on the bass. It was trance music. It was repetitive. It was the same chord progression over and over again.”

Springsteen continued, “But it showed how expansive something with very basic underpinning could be. There’d be no ‘New York City Serenade’ if there hadn’t been ‘Astral Weeks.’”

5. “What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye (1971)

“This entire record [the ‘What’s Going On’ album], from start to finish, is a masterpiece,” said Springsteen of Marvin Gaye‘s No. 1 R&B hit, which also peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. “It was sultry and sexual while at the same time dealing with street-level politics. That had a big influence on me. Along with the idea that it was a concept record without being cursed by that name. It was a record that had a thread you can follow from the first song to the last and it created a world that you could walk into and then come back out of.”

He added, “But bring along with you things that you learned and energy and a source that you’d found for living.”

Check out the meaning behind Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” HERE.

6. “Out Of Sight,” James Brown (1964)

“Pure excitement, pure electricity, pure ‘get out of your seat, move your ass,'” said Springsteen of James Brown‘s 1964 song, which Brown wrote under the pseudonym Ted Wright. “Pure sweat-filled, gospel-filled raw, rock and roll, rhythm and blues. It’s like a taut rubber band. Your formative years, the music that you use to build your identity, always remains very prominent in your tastes.”

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Before his bigger breakthrough with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in 1965, Brown said “Out of Sight” was the first song that set the new direction of his sound and changed the direction of his career. “You can hear the band and me start to move in a whole other direction rhythmically,” said Brown in his 2002 autobiography The Godfather Of Soul. “The horns, the guitars, the vocals, everything was starting to be used to establish all kinds of rhythms at once. I was trying to get every aspect of the production to contribute to the rhythmic patterns.”

7. “Baby I Need Your Loving,” The Four Tops (1964)

“I had to have some Motown because Motown was an incredible part of my youth,” said Springsteen of The Four Tops‘ 1964 hit. “Also, if you wanted to know how to write, how to structure successful pop records, you could learn it all from Motown. The sound of the band, the importance of a great singer. Motown was the school where you wanted to go to learn your craft.”

Written and produced by the Motown production team of Holland–Dozier–Holland (Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland), “Baby I Need Your Loving” marked the first Top 20 hit for the group, peaking at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. 

8. “Like A Rolling Stone,” Bob Dylan (1965)

Though it’s at the end of his list, “Like a Rolling Stone”—released on Bob Dylan‘s 1965 album Highway 66 Revisited and went to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100—might be Springsteen’s other favorite.

“This could be at the top of the list,” said Springsteen. “The first time I heard it, it came out of the radio. I didn’t know anything about Dylan’s acoustic music. I was a creature of Top 40, so the first time I really heard him with this song, it just instantly started to change my life.”

[RELATED: What is a Bard and Why is Bob Dylan One?]

Springsteen continued, “When I inducted Dylan into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I said ‘the snare drum that opens this song feels like someone kicked open the door to your mind.’ ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ feels like a torrent that comes rushing towards you. Floods your soul, floods your mind. Alerts and wakes you up instantaneously to other worlds, other lives. Other ways of being. It’s perhaps one of the most powerful records ever made and it still means a great deal to me along with all of Dylan’s work.”

Read more about Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” HERE.

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for SUFH

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