Rock icon Bruce Springsteen celebrates his 67th birthday today, with the release of Chapter and Verse, a remarkable career-spanning compilation that serves as a companion LP to his new memoir, Born to Run. Throughout the New Jersey native’s five decades of superstardom, his vivid story-songs of American life have been covered by hundreds of artists. Shaped as he was by early rock & roll, Springsteen also took inspiration from country artists, going back as far as the original King of Country Music, Roy Acuff, whose somber 1942 record “Wreck on the Highway” (originally written as “Didn’t Hear Nobody Pray” in 1937) was a direct influence on the 1980 tune of the same name from The River.
Springsteen was perhaps most famously name-checked in Eric Church’s 2012 hit and he’s also been the writer of several songs that have been covered by country acts, including Mel McDaniel, who hit Number 12 in 1986 with his rousing version of the “Glory Days” B-side “Stand on It,” and Kenny Chesney who cut “I’m on Fire.” That tune was also recorded by Johnny Cash, who paid homage to no less than three of Springsteen’s tunes, including “Highway Patrolman” and “Johnny 99.” Several Springsteen tribute LPs have included country artists in the mix (Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Natalie Maines, the Mavericks’ Raul Malo, Travis Tritt and Steve Earle, to name but a very few).
Perhaps no other country artist, however, has sung Springsteen’s praises (and phrases) than Emmylou Harris. A passionate interpreter of a sweeping variety of songwriters, Harris has included songs from the massive Springsteen catalog on both her studio LPs and in live concerts and their corresponding album releases. In 1994, her acoustic At the Ryman album included Springsteen’s mournful “Mansion on the Hill.” But her first foray into his work took place in 1981 with “The Price You Pay.” Another cut from The River, she featured her version on the Grammy-nominated Cimarron LP, placing it next to “Born to Run,” a track on the LP that shares its name with what is perhaps Springsteen’s best-known song, but was in fact penned by her soon-to-be husband Paul Kennerley.
The following year, on her first live recording, Last Date, Harris cut one of the all-time great Springsteen compositions, “Racing in the Street.” As heard on 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, the tune is a contemplative ballad about a grim, dead-end existence, opening with the description of the narrator’s prized muscle car. In the above clip from the early Eighties (which unfortunately omits the first line, “I got a ’69 Chevy with a 396”), Harris is seen performing live with her Hot Band for about two minutes, before a cut to an interview segment in which she discusses Springsteen’s obvious connections to country music.
“If you listen to the lyrics of a couple of Bruce Springsteen songs I’ve done, especially ‘Racing in the Streets,’ in their attitude and their style, they’re country,” she says, noting that his tunes are simply told stories. “Maybe the people who are supposed to be writing country [songs] are too locked into it and can’t see the forest for the trees, so you go out to somebody who’s a rock and get something and just do it in your own style and you make it into a country song.”
Subsequent Harris LPs that featured Springsteen songs have included Thirteen (“My Father’s House”), Brand New Dance (“Tougher Than the Rest”) and Western Wall with Linda Ronstadt (“Across the Border”).