When it comes to crafting original music, no songwriter can match the invention, diligence, intelligence, poignancy, or power of Bruce Springsteen. He encompasses everything in rock while repeating nothing. He is the songwriter's songwriter.
That doesn't mean he's beyond covering the work of others. For years he closed his legendary four-hour concerts with Gary U.S. Bonds's "Quarter to Three" (and later produced an album for Bonds). In the very early days he'd sometimes deliver the Searchers' "When You Walk in the Room." (Liverpool's the Searchers, by the way, had their first hit with a cover of the Drifters' "Sweets for My Sweet.")
Later in his live career, Springsteen would patter about the love between him and his audience, then burst into the Contours' "Do You Love Me?" During December concerts he would serve up a wickedly rocking version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," complete with goofy red Christmas hats for the members of the E Street Band. New Jersey's brightest light finally broke down in 1984 and recorded a cover, Tom Waits's "Jersey Girl," on the B side of the "Cover Me" (how apropos can you get?) single.
Springsteen's work has been redone by the Beat Farmers ("Reason to Believe"), the Pointer Sisters ("Fire"), Patti Smith ("Because the Night"), Southside Johnny (a bunch of 'em), and many others, including Bruce Springstone on Rerun Rock.
All this reached its apex in 1986, when Rhino compiled an album of legitimate artists covering Springsteen, naturally titled Cover Me. It showed how interesting the collecting of a bunch of covers on one album can be. But it's not the only one:
10. dig?... by the Coolies
Pizza, anyone? Italian short-order chefs turned rockers the Coolies deliver a long-player of Paul Simon covers - "Scarborough Fair" as rap, "Mrs. Robinson" as a surf instrumental, "The Sounds of Silence" as arena rock. Art Garfunkel does not appear.
The Communion tributes - a series of albums in which various, usually obscure bands cover greats such as Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett, the Byrds, and the Rolling Stones - are all interesting. This one tributes the Kinks. Couldn't go wrong with that.
8. Louie Louie Vol. 2
That there was a second volume is reason enough to include this collection of variations on a slop-rock standard. Mongo Santamaria, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Pete Fountain, and the Kinks are among those who gotta go now.
7. Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye
This tribute to Roky Erickson and his 13th Floor Elevators has its high points and low, but mostly high. John Wesley Harding haunts with "If You Have Ghosts," R.E.M. wakes up "I Walked with a Zombie," and Chris Thomas featuring Tabby Thomas takes off with "Postures (leave your body behind)."
6. Almost Blueby Elvis Costello
The Great Entertainer mines his beloved country genre, recording C&W standards and others in Nashville. The critics hated it, always a good sign.
5. Rerun Rock
Unknowns imitate famous singers (Dylan, Presley, Sinatra, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, et al.) performing TV theme songs. "(The Ballad of) Gilligan's Island" as rap, "The Brady Bunch" as James Brown would do it, and the highlight, "Bedrock Rap: (Meet) The Flintstones," by Bruce Springstone. The last is mercilessly hilarious, as Springstone emotes one of those "Backstreets" monologues Bruce is famous for, talking pseudo-passionately in a hoarse whisper about life in the Stone Age, before exploding into Fred and Barney's anthem. Wow!
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4. Golden Throats Vol. 1
It's supposed to be bad - William Shatner "sings" Beatles, Sebastian Cabot does in Dylan - and that's what makes it so good.
3. 5,000,000by Dread Zeppelin
Their first album was better, but the reggaefied-Zep cover band starring an Elvis impersonator expands on their sophomore effort, adding Marley ("Stir It Up") and even a few originals.
2. The Song Retains the Name
Truly cool remakes of Led Zep by bands you've never heard of. Like all great covers, these selections are better than the originals.
1. Cover Me
Springsteen interpreted. Gary U.S. Bonds and Chuck Jackson ripping your guts on "Club Soul City." Zeitgeist (now known as the Reivers) walking the tightrope and the boardwalk of "Atlantic City." Robert Gordon lighting the "Fire." Four entries from Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes. Plus Johnny Cash. Forget covers, this stands as a great album against anything.