During his stunning career, there aren’t many moments where David Bowie can feel embarrassed. However, Bowie was once forced into abandoning his work on a Bruce Springsteen cover after he played it to The Boss who, in turn, rejected it.
The incident occurred in 1973 when Springsteen wasn’t the stadium conquering juggernaut that he would soon go on to become. The Boss had only released one record at the time of his meeting with Bowie, and his debut, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., was certainly no chart-topper. The fact that Bowie recognised his talent meant the world to the 23-year-old Springsteen.
Bowie producer Tony Visconti revealed in 2016 that Bowie planned to cover Springsteen’s song ‘It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City’ during the sessions for what would eventually become the Starman’s 1975 album Young Americans, he wrote in Uncut. Surely it was a match made in heaven?
However, the cover was suddenly ground to a halt after a recording was played to Springsteen which failed to get the seal of approval from The Boss. “David took him into another room for a private chat,” Visconti said. “By the time Bruce left, he was more pleasant and said his goodbyes to the rest of us. David and I never worked on ‘Saint’ after that, although it was finished or re-recorded eventually with someone else.”
Bowie’s version of the song, which originally appeared on Springsteen’s 1973 debut record, would eventually see the light of day when it made an incredibly welcome appearance on 1989 box-set Sound + Vision. It’s a crying shame that there was no recorded music from the session they had in 1973 and that Springsteen wasn’t keen on collaborating. However, Bowie’s stamp of approval provided The Boss with a great memory that he still cherishes today.
“We’re gonna take a moment and note the passing of our good friend David Bowie,” Springsteen said to his crowd in Pittsburgh following Bowie’s passing in 2016.
“Not enough people know it, but he recorded our music way, way, way back in the very beginning, 1973. He rang me up, and I visited him down in Philly while he was making the Young Americans record. He covered some of my music, ‘It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City,’ ‘Growin’ Up,’ and he was a big supporter of ours. I took the Greyhound bus down to Philadelphia; that’s how early on it was. Anyway, we’re thinking of him.”
Springsteen then flew through a blistering rendition of ‘Rebel Rebel’, which went down a treat with the Pittsburgh crowd and showed his respect to an icon of music. This meeting is a testament to Bowie’s character and showed that good music was the only thing that mattered to him.
Listen to Bowie’s take on ‘It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City’, below.