Every now and then, I come across a song by a band or artist that makes me think, ‘wow, Springsteen could have written this track’. This has led me to wonder about what it is exactly that defines a Boss song.
As I believe my selections below demonstrate, there’s really no typical style or methodology that singularly defines Springsteen’s songs. I would have said it was their quintessential Americana that gave them their commonality but two of the songs below are Australian in origin and identity and yet still have that quality that places them firmly in Springsteen’s wheelhouse. I must, therefore, conclude that it is, in fact, the spirit of the songs which mark their ‘Bruceness’.
Paul Kelly and the Messengers – Sweet Guy
There is actually a baker’s dozen worth of Paul Kelly songs that Springsteen should cover live immediately. Just listen to Foggy Highway, To Her Door, Pouring Petrol on a Burning man or If I Could Start Today Again and I think you’ll get my point. However, I ‘ve chosen Sweet Guy because it reminds me of the E Street Band in full rev on songs like Radio Nowhere and Murder Incorporated.
Cold Chisel – Flame Trees
I could just as easily have chosen Khe Sanh (the Australian Born in the USA) but this track is probably the most beautiful Chisel ever produced and sits right smack in Springsteen’s spiritual heartland. A song about small town life redolent with longing and regret. I’d love to hear what The Boss would do with this gem. The comparisons are obvious: My Home Town, Long Walk Home, Factory all live in the same space as Flame Trees.
As an aside, Chisel front man Jimmy Barnes covered Steve Van Zandt’s Ride the Night Away (originally recorded by Southside Johnny) on his first solo album For the Working Class Man and reprised it later with Stevie playing guitar on the recording.
The Decemberists – Down By The Water
This track, off the Decemberists’ album The King Is Dead, has all the hallmarks of Americana Springsteen style. Again, this is real heartland stuff and I can hear The Boss belting this out with Patti and Soozie lending just the right flourishes on backing vocals. The harmonica at the beginning, in particular, reminds me of the plaintive opening strains of The River.
I know the stylings of the various vocalists featured in these songs can be a little distracting but, if you imagine Bruce singing the leads, they suddenly take on a very E Street/Springsteen aspect.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I’d be interested in hearing from you about your own candidates for perhaps a Part two of this post.*
*I’d also thought about including XTC’s Hang on to the Night as a wild card because it reminds me quite a lot of some of the Darkness on the Edge of Town outtakes to be found on Tracks and The Promise but, in the end, I decided to leave it out because it is very 70s New Wave and not something that ever would have made it onto an actual Springsteen recording proper (and yet, here it still is).
Words and image are my own.