There aren’t many things that Bruce Springsteen could tell us that we wouldn’t take as gospel. The man they call The Boss isn’t just a sincere and soulful songwriter; he’s also a music aficionado, noting his love of all types of sonic structures throughout his esteemed career. Never shy to throw praise on his contemporaries or those who have come before him, Springsteen has led his life like an open book, dishing out opinions whenever they were needed.
When Rolling Stone came knocking for their all-encompassing ‘100 greatest singers of all time’ piece, The Boss was more than happy to contribute his own list. Sent in as a ballot of 20, Springsteen selects some of the finest vocalists and performers the music world has ever known, and it makes for a seriously inspiring collection of leading lights.
Right off the bat, it must be said that we can’t be sure that this list hasn’t changed over the years. Springsteen is a lover of music and is usually up to date with the latest releases, so there’s a good chance that artists such as Lorde or Billie Eilish may now creep into the list. The other note worth mentioning is that we can’t be sure of how these artists were numbered. On the ballot, it ranks them from 1 – 20, but whether Springsteen approached it that way is unknown. What we do know, however, is that the list is jam-packed with impossibly talented performers.
First up is Ray Charles, a mythical figure in music that requires no real introduction or explanation. Not only a supremely gifted songwriter, but Charles’ voice was also as smooth as butter and twice as rich. Equally, the same could be said for Springsteen’s next choice, taking the number two spot, Sam Cooke. The ‘Change is Gonna Come’ singer is a remarkable voice that deserves to be heard on a near-daily basis.
Then comes the outstanding talent of Bob Dylan and, we’d imagine, a little bit of poetic license. The title of the piece is Springsteen’s favourite singers and, while we’re sure Dylan has his moments of vocal virtuosity, there is a lot to be admired from a technical standpoint. In this regard, we’d imagine Springsteen picked the freewheelin’ troubadour based on his overall achievements as a singer.
Before Springsteen became The Boss, in fact, before he’d even won employee of the month, he was a huge Bob Dylan fan. When inducting Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, the’ Born To Run’ singer once recalled that the first time he heard a Bob Dylan album (Highway 61 Revisited, in 1965), Dylan’s performance “thrilled and scared me.”
The singer continued: “It made me feel kind of irresponsibly innocent. And it still does. But it reached down and touched what little worldliness I think a 15-year-old kid, in high school, in New Jersey had in him at the time.” It’s the kind of feeling that Dylan gave to millions of people across the globe as he connected with an audience through highly personal and expressive folk-pop songs. It would be a style that becomes a charged piece of Springsteen’s own iconography.
The next name is another landmark one as Springsteen notes John Lennon as one of the greats. Like many kids in the sixties, The Beatles had a profound effect on Springsteen. He said when speaking with Desert Island Discs of the song ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. “This was another song that changed the course of my life. It was a very raucous sounding record when it came out of the radio,” he explained. “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.”
Also on the list of 20 is James Brown, about whom Springsteen said: “Pure excitement, pure electricity, pure ‘get out of your seat, move your ass’. Pure sweat-filled, gospel-filled raw, rock and roll, rhythm and blues. It’s like a taut rubber band.” Another noted jiver is Mick Jagger, whose unique style is also picked out as one of the best.
Clearly, punk influenced Springsteen, too. Not only did he put Johnny Rotten in his top 20 but also The Clash singer Joe Strummer; the only surprise is that he was included at number 20. Often playing his songs in tribute to the man, Springsteen was a noted fan of Strummer, and their mutual admiration lasted until the Clash man’s tragic death in 2002.
Of course, there are many singers included on the list, everyone from Roy Orbison to Aretha Franklin, from Van Morrison to Elvis Presley and so on. Here, we’ve done what we think Springsteen would want and put them all into a perfect playlist of Bruce Springsteen’s favourite singers of all time, which you can find below.
Bruce Springsteen’s 20 favourite singers of all time:
- Ray Charles
- Sam Cooke
- Bob Dylan
- John Lennon
- Aretha Franklin
- Little Richard
- Jerry Lee Lewis
- Mick Jagger
- Van Morrison
- Roy Orbison
- Johnny Rotten
- Hank Williams
- Elvis Presley
- Darlene Love
- James Brown
- Sam Moore
- Brian Wilson
- Smokey Robinson
- Howlin’ Wolf
- Joe Strummer