Everybody covers 'Hungry Heart': The definitive covers of songs from Springsteen's 'The River'
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Editor's note: Bruce Springsteen's "The River" LP turns 40 on Oct. 17. This is the first in a series of posts about that classic album to mark the occasion.
Unlike the economical length of "Born to Run," for which we were able to assemble fine covers of all eight songs, the sprawling 20 tracks of Bruce Springsteen's classic double album "The River" make that a tougher task. As you'll see below, some of the tracks (including a few you might think otherwise), are seemingly cover-less. But it's entirely likely that I missed a few, so feel free to school me if a personal favorite got overlooked.
Meanwhile, I tracked down nine covers available on Spotify worthy of inclusion in a River covers playlist, below, and noted some YouTube-only tracks also worth your while as well. Enjoy!
'The Ties That Bind'
A fine song, and not just because it manages to turn "bind" into a 14-syllable word. But it seems no one you'd call a major artist has ever covered it, at least as far as I can tell. However, Emma Jo (whose work I do not know, but who is apparently "Kansas City's country sensation") has a lovely version of it on YouTube. It only has 602 views, so please give her some love.
Winner: Steele and Tele, from "Even Tougher Than The Rest." This is another act I'm not aware of, and who do not even seem to have a website, but they have apparently named themselves after guitars and enjoy Bruce Springsteen, because they cover both this track and (you guessed it) "Tougher Than The Rest" on their 2016 country album, which is on Spotify.
Not on Spotify but worthy of mention: Did you know that Robert Downey Jr. (yes, that Robert Downey Jr.) once covered "Sherry Darling" on an episode of "Ally McBeal," and the lyrics even tied into the plot? Well now you do.
Winner: John Wesley Harding, from "Awake." A haunting cover, and I have to admit that until I heard this version, I had no idea what some of the lyrics were. ("Like the scenery in another man's play ..." Who knew?)
Another fine song without any notable covers to speak of, but there's this nice choral version by the unoriginally named "The Choir" if that's your cup of tea. (For the record: It is not mine.)
UPDATE: A good suggestion from Ken at E Street Shuffle -- this nice version by Billy Mann:
I got nothin.'
UPDATE: Well, this is exciting -- we heard from Waterboys founder and lead singer Mike Scott, who pointed us to their excellent version of "Independence Day" on YouTube! Listen below:
Winner: Lauren Jenkins, from her double single of Bruce covers, "Hungry Heart/Stolen Car." There are many, many covers of "Hungry Heart" out there (by The Mavericks! And Rod Stewart! And Minnie Driver!), but this version by up-and-coming Texas country artist Jenkins gets my nod for its sweet, smoky melancholy. (Check out a playlist of 18 "Hungry Heart" covers, the good, bad and ugly, here.)
'Out in the Street,' 'Crush on You,' 'You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch),' 'I Wanna Marry You'
Winner: Angie McMahon, from her double single "Soon/The River." The dreamy Australian singer-songwriter just released her debut album last year, and wasted no time covering an iconic Springsteen song in fine acoustic piano fashion.
Not on Spotify but worthy of note: Both Josh Ritter and Passenger have killer folk versions.
Nada. Someone should get up the nerve and try, though, even if matching Bruce's anguished original would be pretty much impossible. (Maybe that's why nobody does it.)
UPDATE: Another reminder from Ken at E Street Shuffle: Elvis Costello did a superbly Costello-esque version on his show "Spectacle." No embed that I can find, but you can listen at Ken's site here.
Winner: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, from "More Great Dirt." Imagine if "Cadillac Ranch" met "Mr. Bojangles." Well, now you don't have to, because here it is. (But if this doesn't float your boat, there are seemingly hundreds of country covers of this track on Spotify and YouTube, ranging from bad to ... more bad.)
Not on Spotify but worthy of note: Warren Zevon, from his 1982 radio broadcast "Headless in Boston." Best "Cadillac Ranch" cover ever, hands down. Convince me otherwise.
'I'm a Rocker,' 'Fade Away'
No takers. (Because Southside covers don't count.)
Winner: Patty Griffin, from "1000 Kisses." The folk legend whispers through a crushing version that plumbs the depths of the track's intrinsic sadness.
'The Price You Pay'
Winner: Emmylou Harris, from "Cimarron." I'm a sucker for basically anything Emmylou puts her trilly stamp on, and she more than does justice to one of my favorite "River" tracks with this twangy version. No contest on this one.
'Drive All Night'
Winner: Glen Hansard, Eddie Vedder and Jake Clemons (single). Another definitive cover, their take captures the song's wistful heartache. (And Jake does his Uncle C proud.)
Not on Spotify but worthy of mention: Sharon Van Etten, live at the Stone Pony. "I grew up listening to the Boss ... As I kid I always wanted to play at The Stone Pony, so this is a treat."
'Wreck on the Highway'
Winner: John Wesley Harding with Bruce Springsteen, from "Greatest Other People's Hits." Coming full circle for this version, featuring Bruce himself offering country harmonies.
What are your favorite "River" covers? Let us know in the comments.