The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen’s 25 Biggest Heroes – Rolling Stone
Home Music Music Lists

The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen’s 25 Biggest Heroes

The artists, activists and friends that have shaped Springsteen’s world

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Brilliant and big-hearted, Bruce Springsteen is as close as a rock musician gets to being a hero. But heroes have heroes of their own, and Bruce has never been shy about giving a shout-out. That generous impulse extends to his newest album, High Hopes, which features covers of tracks by Springsteen faves the Havalinas and Suicide. Bruce even heralded the album with a pre-release statement praising some of his key influences.

100 Greatest Artists: Bruce Springsteen

So in the High Hopes spirit of inclusiveness and generosity, we’ve compiled a list of Springsteen’s 25 biggest heroes: the musicians, friends, filmmakers, authors and activists who mean the most to this man who means so much to us.

Ray Avery/Redferns

Phil Spector

 

Famous for his Wall of Sound production style, Spector and his grandiose pop influence are recurring strains in Springsteen's catalog. The use of a dense, operatic sound, booming kick drums, and reliance on non-traditional rock instrumentation like strings and glockenspiels are Spector hallmarks, and those elements can be heard in Springsteen albums from 1975's Born to Run through to 2009's Working on a Dream. Former Los Angeles Times rock critic Robert Hilburn once brought a young Springsteen along with him to a mid-Seventies Spector recording session. Eyeing the upstart, the super producer jokingly told Springsteen, "If you wanted to steal my sound, you shoulda gotten me to do it!" 

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

John Steinbeck

Reading the work of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist helped broaden Springsteen's songwriting perspective. In landmark achievements like 1939's The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck focused on the hardscrabble lives of the underclass and their struggles to achieve dignity. Springsteen's stark 1995 folk album The Ghost of Tom Joad is an explicit nod to the protagonist of The Grapes of Wrath and the title-track includes lyrics taken directly from the book. The raging "Adam Raised a Cain," from 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town is also loosely based on the plot of Steinbeck's 1952 novel East of Eden

David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Joe Strummer

When the Clash hit the scene in 1977 it seemed like their mission was to destroy giant arena rock acts like Bruce Springsteen. But it turned out that Clash frontman Joe Strummer was a huge Springsteen fan. "Bruce is great," Strummer wrote in a 1995 fax to Mojo. "If you don't agree you're a pretentious martian from Venus. His music is great on a dark, rainy morning in England, just when you need some spirit and some proof that the big wide world exists." The admiration worked both ways, and when Strummer died in 2002 Springsteen was more than happy to honor him furing the Grammy telecast with a killer performance of "London Calling" alongside Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl and Steve Van Zandt. 

Peter Noble/Redferns

Suicide’s Alan Vega

It's quite possible that Bruce Springsteen would have never recorded 1982's super low-fi Nebraska without the influence of the New York punk group Suicide. "They had that two-piece synthesizer-voice thing," Springsteen told Rolling Stone in 1984. "They had one of the most amazing songs I ever heard called &apo