The Top 6 Cover Songs Bruce Springsteen Has Perfected in Concert

Bruce Springsteen’s reputation as a live performer is simply unparalleled. The Boss is noted not just for his willingness to thrill audiences (and test local noise curfews) with shows ballooning past three hours (sometimes four), but also for his penchant for putting every bit of effort into ever single song he performs. That goes for the cover material that he trots out in just about every show. He and the E Street Band do a great job, both in terms of their excellent taste in the cover songs they select and the way they make that material sizzle. Here are six wonderful live cover songs that Springsteen and company have down pat.

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6. “Trapped” (original by Jimmy Cliff)

Cliff’s original version was more soul than reggae, and, thanks to his warm delivery, can be interpreted as the narrator feeling positive about escaping the malaise which hounds him in the song. Springsteen transformed the track by adding some atmosphere and dialing up the intensity. There’s a mournful tone in the verses, with the E Street Band’s Roy Bittan delivering some sad synthesizer notes to accentuate that. When the song comes around to the chorus, the way that Springsteen shouts the refrain is both a cry for help and a cathartic wail. It’s no surprise that “Trapped” quickly became a concert favorite and has been a staple of Springsteen shows since the ’80s.

5. “Jersey Girl” (original by Tom Waits)

This song is so associated with Springsteen that it’s one that you’d swear he wrote himself. But it was initially served up by the legendary singer/songwriter Tom Waits, who recorded it on his lauded 1980 album Heartattack and Vine. Springsteen barely had to change the arrangement when he first began performing “Jersey Girl” not too long after that, although he wisely added a heaping helping of Clarence Clemons’ saxophone. Of course, Springsteen would trot it out as often as possible he played in his home state, which results in loud cheers every time some reference to the Garden State appears.

4. “Quarter to Three” (original by Gary U.S. Bonds)

Springsteen’s love of ’60s soul and R&B has long infused his own recordings, which is why it makes sense that he often goes back to that music for cover material. Among those songs, “Quarter to Three” is a particular favorite, often trotted out in encores for its party vibe. Springsteen’s admiration for Bonds would later manifest itself in The Boss helping Bonds in an ’80s comeback that included a hit single in “This Little Girl,” written by Springsteen. That latter track sounded a little bit like “Quarter to Three,” which makes sense considering how many times he had played that song live by that point.

3. “War” (original by Edwin Starr)

Technically, the Temptations’ version of “War” predated Edwin Starr’s take in 1970 by a couple of months. But Starr’s version would be the one that broke big, giving him the biggest hit of his career. When Springsteen released his much-awaited Live/1975-85 box set, he chose “War”—which he had only begun performing on the Born in the U.S.A. Tour a few months prior to the set’s release—to be the first single. That was a wise decision, as the performance by the E Street Band was one of their most incendiary live efforts. It gave Springsteen another Top 10 hit at a time when such hits were pretty much par for the course for him.

2. “Chimes of Freedom” (original by Bob Dylan)

The original version of “Chimes of Freedom” was found on Bob Dylan’s 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan, and it’s an absolute stunner, one of Dylan’s most poetic meditations on the world. When Springsteen took it on in the late ’80s, he did so my mimicking the arrangement of The Byrds’ version of the song, with Roy Bittan’s glistening keyboards replacing Roger McGuinn’s 12-string guitar. It’s a stirring song whose message never gets outdated, and it fit nicely with the themes that Springsteen had been espousing throughout his career. He used the song as the title track for a live EP that captured some of the best moments of the Tunnel of Love Express Tour.

1. “My Ride’s Here” (original by Warren Zevon)

Springsteen perfected this song even though he would only perform it once, in Toronto on September 10, 2003. The occasion was the death, just days before, of Warren Zevon, who wrote and performed “My Ride’s Here.” Springsteen had enjoyed a long friendship with the mercurial Zevon and guested on his final album. In its original version, “My Ride’s Here” charges along at a quick tempo, as Zevon chugs through the song’s wordy lyrics. Springsteen slowed it down and played up its elegiac elements, aided by the beautiful accompaniment of Soozie Tyrell’s violin and Danny Federici’s accordion. It’s a gorgeous tribute.

Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

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