(Credit: Brendan Byrne Arena cover)

From Patti Smith to the Ramones: The five best songs that Bruce Springsteen gave away

Bruce Springsteen has become the voice of a generation. His lyrics have been held in the same esteem as Bob Dylan, and his voice has been compared to Van Morrisson. Springsteen sprang from Asbury Park, New Jersey, and toured relentlessly throughout his career. Even today, as successful as he is, his musical work ethic has never wavered or faltered. In the early 1970s, when first establishing his E-street band, he would collect the payment from every venue and divvy it out to each and every member of his band every night, garnering him the nickname, ‘The Boss.’

Prior to being signed with Colombia Records, he played with a string of different bands, Dr Zoom and the Sonic Boom, Sundance Blues Band, and the Bruce Springsteen Band. It would be through these formative years that enabled Springsteen to develop a good sense of his craft and become the prolific songwriter that he is now.

Peter Knobler from Crawdaddy magazine would comment when hearing Springsteen for the first time, stating: “He sings with a freshness and urgency I haven’t heard since I was rocked by ‘Like a Rolling Stone.'” An element that can be attributed to Springsteen’s long hard-earned success is his down-to-earth demeanour; he also worked for and by the common man and woman. Although Springsteen would eventually achieve commercial success, specifically with his 1984 Born in the USA album, Springsteen never lost sight of the bigger picture of his creative vision – as he got bigger and better known, he never let that fame take him away from the world he came from. 

As Bruce confirms in an interview in American Songwriter, “I’ve always felt I write well about these things.” He notes to Vernell Hackett. “Those elements are where the blood and the grit of real-life mix with people’s spiritual aspirations and their search for just, decent lives.” Springsteen speaks from a place of authority and commonality; he is the blue-collar diplomat with real intellectual and poetic sensibilities. When he speaks, everyone has to take him seriously, to a certain degree. He is a hard man, but also a sensitive soul who channelled the strife of everyday struggle.

This credibility, yet birthed from his image and aesthetic, also came when he showed sympathy for American veterans in his Born in the USA album, which spoke from a scathing perspective on how these veterans were being treated in their home country. This is unusual for a figure from the rock n’ roll world. Typically, rockers, while not exactly purposefully against the individuals of the military, they would take a stand against the military as a symbol.

While very much a made-in-the-USA kind of musician, by no means did this mean that that’s who he could only write for. His music has been covered by a wide range of different musicians from different nationalities. Sometimes, other artists picked his songs up, recognising the universality of the subjects. Other times, Springsteen set out to write a song for another specific artist.

Today, we took a look at his five best songs that the ‘Teenage Diplomat’ wrote that were either written specifically for other artists or were just happened to be recorded by others. Bruce would eventually record these songs himself.

The five best songs Bruce Springsteen gave away:

‘Because the Night’ – Patti Smith (1978)

When Springsteen was recording his 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town, Patti Smith happened to have been recording in the same studio, Atlantic studios. Springsteen decided to give ‘Because the Night’ to Patti Smith who, after changing the lyrics, released it to major acclaim. It would become a commercial breakthrough for the original punk poet. 

‘Because the Night’ would appear on Smith’s Easter album. The song reached number 13 in the States and number five in the UK. Jimmy Iovine, Springsteen’s engineer who was producing Patti’s album, recalled the time when the young Jersey singer made the decision to give Patti the song: “Now, Bruce was very understanding and very flexible, because he realised that this was my first real break as a producer. Anyway, one night whilst we were lounging around the Hotel Navarro in New York I told Bruce I desperately wanted a hit with Patti, that she deserved one. He agreed. As he had no immediate plans to put ‘Because the Night’ on an album, I said why not give it to Patti. Bruce replied, ‘If she can do it, she can have it.'”

‘Fire’ – Pointer Sisters (1977)

The story behind this song is of a tragic element, but which would be redeemed through a beautiful rendition by the Pointer Sisters and would provide them with a well-earned top ten hit. After watching The King perform, Bruce Springsteen wrote the song and sent it to none other than Elvis Presley. Springsteen recalls the event, “I sent [Elvis] a demo of it but he died before it arrived.”

Once again another outcast of his 1978 album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s manager at the time Jon Landau, raised concern to ‘the boss’, that Colombia records would attempt to make the song the album’s single, despite it being inconsistent with the album’s overall thematic vision. The Pointer Sisters would take the song to the top ten, actually upsetting Springsteen at first, as that he had not been able to deliver a rendition of his own to one of the three top ten hits; ‘Because the Night’, ‘Blinded by the Light’, and ‘Fire’.

‘Blinded by the Light’ – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (1977)

Arguably his most popular song that has been covered and made hugely successful by another band, this song was not given away and was in fact recorded by The Boss himself first. ‘Blinded by the Light’ appeared on Springsteen’s debut 1973 album Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ. Springsteen wrote the song for his debut album after his label told him he that the record lacked a single.

Allegedly, Bruce penned the song using a rhyming dictionary, resulting in the highly recognisable patterns of the nursery rhyme-like of the lyric. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band released a version of it on their The Roaring Silence album. Their version was a huge success, reaching number one on the Billboard charts. Ironically, this would be Springsteen’s only number one hit as a songwriter. His highest-charting single as a songwriter is ‘Dancing in the Dark’ in 1984.

‘Hungry Heart’ – Bruce Springsteen / The Ramones

In a bit of curveball, this song was originally intended for The Ramones, but Springsteen would instead keep this song to himself. This would be the only song that Bruce purposefully set out to write for another group, and as fate would have it (thankfully so), Bruce would keep hold of it. When Springsteen met Joey Ramone, the latter asked the jersey songster to write The Ramones a hit. Taking inspiration from Lord Tennyson’s poem, “For always roaming with a hungry heart”, Bruce penned in 1980 what would be Bruce’s first major hit, reaching number five on the Billboard charts. 

Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau, persuaded him to ultimately keep the song, given his past track record of the past three he had given away to other artists, which became massive hits for those respective artists. The song appeared on Bruce’s album, The River. 

‘Spirit in the Night’ – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (1975)

Another Springsteen song from his debut album that was turned to pure gold by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, as a single for their Nightingales and Bombers. The single peaked at number 40 on the top 40. As with the case, as ‘Blinded by the Light’, Springsteen wrote ‘Spirit in Night’ as a single.

The lyrics detail a place called ‘greasy lake’, which is near Howell, New Jersey. It is called greasy lake because of the homeless people that Springsteen mythologises in the song or the ‘spirits in the night.’ The homeless people in the area were known to bathe and wash their dishes in the lake. The song is a testament to Bruce Springsteen’s poetic way of singing songs about real happenings that real people can relate to.