Bruce Springsteen has become a resonant, genre-bending element of many rock, singer-songwriter, pop and country songs.
Sometimes, they even come from the guy next door: Country singer Gary Frost’s “Shutup Springsteen” is a tribute to the neighbor whose songs are forever playing in his head. His connection goes back generations: Frost had family that worked at a gas station next door to Springsteen’s childhood home in Freehold, N.J.
“My grandfather would give Bruce quarters for the cigarette machine,” Frost once recalled. “And when he was outside playing his guitar, squirt him with a garden hose.”
Plenty of musicians without such close bonds have used Springsteen as a sort of shorthand when recalling warm, top-down summer nights that carry a sense of freedom or nostalgia. They sometimes employ his rhyme-worthy name to get a musical point across; other times, these acts share a lyric from Springsteen’s catalog to give the song some punch.
Along the way, these scene-setting backdrops have reached far beyond Springsteen’s home state – and into a striking number of musical styles. We look at 44 songs that mention Bruce Springsteen below.
John Cougar, “Kid Inside” (1977)
“It’s getting hard to justify my position / When everything I’m sayin’ can be said better by Mr. Springsteen.”
The late ’70s and early ’80s were a time when John Mellencamp was searching for an identity that fit: He moved through the monikers Johnny Cougar, John Cougar and John Cougar Mellencamp before dropping the “Cougar” altogether in 1991. This song was meant to serve as the title track for Mellencamp’s second album but sat idle after his record label MCA refused to release it. The Kid Inside was finally issued in 1983, after Mellencamp’s commercial breakthrough.
Rick Springfield, “Bruce” (1978)
“As he pulled a piece of paper for me to sign from his vest / He said, ‘I thought “Born to Run” was one of your best’ / ‘Aw, wait a minute, man, who do you think I am?’ / He answered, ‘Mr. Springsteen,’ you’re a famous man.’”
For Rick Springfield, having the same first syllable in his last name as Springsteen was enough to confuse some fans. He recorded “Bruce” in 1978 as a joke, only to see the song belatedly released in 1984 as part of a cash-grab LP after he’d become famous. Coincidentally, the two rockers also shared a key song title. Springfield released the single “Human Touch” in 1983, while Springsteen issued an album and a song with the same name in 1992.
Tom Robinson, “Grey Cortina” (1978)
“Fur-lined seats and lettered windscreen / Elbow on the windowsill / Eight track blazing Brucie Springsteen / Bomber jacket, dressed to kill.”
Tom Robinson eventually made enough money to buy the dream car that gave this song its title, but then tragedy struck. “I bought the Cortina and it lasted one day before somebody ran into it,” he told Songfacts in 2009. Robinson didn’t mention what artist was playing on the radio at the time.
Ian Hunter, “Listen to the Eight Track” (1981)
“Sometimes I get a woman in here / And I put on Bruce Springsteen’s new double album / And then, just when everything’s getting hot / I start turning the volume right down low / Baby, let me snuggle right next to you.”
Ian Hunter has released a wide spectrum of solo material outside of his work with Mott the Hoople, crossing paths with Springsteen’s band more than once. Saxophonist Clarence Clemons played on Hunter’s song “All the Good Ones Are Taken,” while the E Street Band‘s rhythm section also appeared on “Just Another Night” from Hunter’s album You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic.
Randy Newman, “My Life Is Good” (1983)
“Just this morning / My wife and I went to the hotel in the hills / That’s right, the Bel-Air Hotel / Where a very good friend of ours happens to be staying / And the name of this young man / Is Mr. Bruce Springsteen”
Randy Newman used a speak-sing voice on this deep cut from Trouble in Paradise. According to Newman, the song had the approval of the Boss himself. “I saw him at some sort of awards thing or a charity function or something, and he said, “Oh, I like that song you wrote about me,” Newman told Huffington Post, adding that Springsteen seemed OK being name-dropped by one of his peers. “He seems comfortable with it all the times that I’ve seen him, if you can be fine being that deified and worshiped. He seems fine.”
John Wesley Harding, “Bastard Son” (1988)
“Bruce and James were family friends / Took my mind to Carolina through the New Jersey bends.”
Springsteen and John Wesley Harding have been traveling in similar circles for decades. They performed together in 1994 at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, Calif., and Springsteen had Harding – whose real name is Wesley Stace – as his opening act over two nights in 1995 at the Berkeley Community Theater during The Ghost of Tom Joad tour. Harding then asked Springsteen to discuss his creative processes in 2010 at a small lecture theater while he was writer-in-residence at New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Prefab Sprout, “Cars and Girls” (1988)
“Brucie dreams life’s a highway, too many roads bypass my way / … But look at us now, quit driving, some things hurt more, much more than cars and girls.”
The lead track from Prefab Sprout’s From Langley Park to Memphis “was my humorous way of playing around with some of the images that [Springsteen] uses. His way of talking about life always involves the image of a car or the metaphor of a journey,” frontman Paddy McAloon explained. “We’re having a bit of fun with something that is very American – from Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys, right through to Bruce Springsteen, cars have a very prominent place in American pop music.”
The Traveling Wilburys, “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” (1988)
“It was out on Thunder Road, Tweeter at the wheel” … “She made secret calls to the Monkey Man from a mansion on the hill.”
Bob Dylan took the lead on this impish Traveling Wilburys song about two New Jersey drug dealers and the undercover cop trying to take them down. “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” is made complete with help from Wilburys bandmates George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne – along with a host of references to Springsteen songs, including “Stolen Car,” “State Trooper,” “Factory” and “The River.”
Loudon Wainwright III, “Talking New Bob Dylan” (1992)
“I got a deal and so did John Prine / Steve Forbert and Springsteen, all in a line.”
Often compared to Bob Dylan early on, Loudon Wainwright III carved out a niche with meaty lyrics and introspection. His career got off to a quick start when Dylan fell silent for a while after a motorcycle accident and record labels looked to fill the void by signing singer-songwriters to find the next Dylan. Springsteen was one such musician … as was Wainwright. “It happened that fast,” the singer told The New Yorker in 2017. “I wrote my first song in 1968, and had a record deal by 1969.”
Link Wray, “It Was Elvis” (1993)
“Now Bruce is carrying on with ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ / His gun’s for hire, he is making fire in his pink Cadillac, he’s the boss of the rock ’n’ roll sound.”
Hailed for his influential guitar prowess, Link Wray was a direct influence on next-generation guitar gods like Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page. Springsteen paid tribute after Wray’s death in 2005 by playing “Rumble,” his most famous song, in concert at Trenton, N.J.
Warren Zevon, “The Indifference of Heaven” (1995)
“They tell us / These are the good times / But they don’t live around here / Billy and Christie don’t / Bruce and Patti don’t / They don’t live around here.”
Full of doubt and yearning for more, this melancholy track from Warren Zevon‘s Mutineer LP references Springsteen and his wife, along with Billy Joel and his ex-wife Christie Brinkley. Springsteen had a hand in writing “Jeannie Needs a Shooter,” from Zevon’s fourth album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School, but he’s acknowledged their very different viewpoints. He once called Zevon “a moralist in cynic’s clothing.”
The Cash Brothers, “Nebraska” (1999)
“I got nothing on my mind, I got nothing to do / I’m just driving around listening to ‘Nebraska.’”
The Cash Brothers don’t mention Springsteen by name, but this track does reference his darkest album, as the protagonist wallows in a pit of despair after being dumped by his girlfriend.
Dan Bern, “Talkin’ Woody, Bob, Bruce & Dan Blues” (1999)
“Well, above Beverly Hills one night real late / I snuck past a security gate … Climbed up a barbed wire fence and over … to the home of Bruce Springsteen.”
Singer-songwriter Dan Bern has collaborated with producer Chuck Plotkin, who also worked with Springsteen, but that doesn’t mean he places himself on the Boss’ level. When asked what he would talk about with heroes like Springsteen, Dylan and Woody Guthrie, Bern told Salon: “I don’t think I’d say very much. I’d be very quiet and hope they wouldn’t see me hiding behind the couch. That’s like asking a ballplayer would you rather sit down with: Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb? What are you going to talk about?”
Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan, “Rock and Roll Call” (2000)
“Bruce is the Boss, Elvis is the King / Ol’ Blue Eyes, he’s the Chairman of the Board / and Dylan’s the Muse, he’s always the muse.”
Joe D’Urso shares a vibe and a sense of hometown pride with Springsteen, describing his group Stone Caravan as “an Americana, Jersey Shore rock ‘n’ roll band.” He prominently mentioned Springsteen in this track from 2000’s Rock and Roll Station, one of more than a dozen albums he and his band have released since the early ’90s.
Bran Van 3000, “Speed” (2001)
“See Mary dancing across the porch … she was born to run / … She was blinded by the light / She was holed up in Jungleland.”
Canadian alt-rock hip-hop hybrid act Bran Van 3000 strung together about a dozen Springsteen song titles on this 2001 track, morphing them into a narrative that also featured references to the Boss’ New Jersey home and his love of motorcycle riding.
Highway 9, “Between Your Eyes and Mine” (2002)
“We danced around in the midnight moon / And fell in love to a Springsteen tune.”
It’s no surprise that these guys name-checked Bruce Springsteen. After all, Highway 9 runs through Asbury Park, N.J., which is both hometown to this band and the inspiration for the title of Springsteen’s debut album. Springsteen, who grew up in nearby Freehold, also famously referenced the road in “Born to Run.”
Kimya Dawson, “Being Cool” (2003)
“I was sitting on a couch somewhere watching VH1 / When I found out that Bruce Springsteen is his mother’s only son / I’m my mother’s only daughter and we were both born to run.”
Folk singer Kimya Dawson featured this tune on her 2003 album My Cute Fiend Sweet Princess. She later joined Springsteen and an all-star lineup to complete 2008’s Body of War: Songs That Inspired an Iraq War Veteran. The 30-song album also included music by John Lennon, Eddie Vedder and Neil Young.
Marcel, “Country Rock Star” (2003)
“Springsteen sang the ‘Glory Days’ / I was born in the USA.”
Montgomery Gentry, “Hell Yeah” (2003)
“She yells out to the band, ‘Know any Bruce Springsteen?’ / Then she jumps up on the bar and she starts to scream.”
Long before Troy Gentry formed a country duo with Eddie Montgomery, he and his mother would sing along at home to Elvis Presley and Springsteen. He developed a love for legendary country artists like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash, too. Montgomery Gentry ended up mentioning almost all of them in “Hell Yeah.” Gentry died in a 2018 helicopter crash in New Jersey.
Bowling for Soup, “1985” (2004)
This song was originally written and released by the group SR-71. Stories differ on whose idea it was to have Bowling for Soup cover the tune, but regardless, the pop-punk band’s version was a hit in 2004. Springsteen gets name-dropped in the chorus. Other ’80s-specific mentions throughout “1985” include The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire and Pretty in Pink, as well as hitmakers from the era like Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Wham! and Van Halen.
The Hesh Inc., “Bruce!” (2007)
“He was the boss, the doctor, the angel of soul / King of the Jersey Shore, crown prince of rock ’n’ roll.”
The Hesh Inc. leader Heshy Rosenwasser wrote this song in celebration of Springsteen, though he has since offered some friendly advice about his hero’s turn toward activism. “I believe it is better to address issues that matter without overtly taking political sides. Bruce himself did that for a long time, and the way he did it was in such a way that people of any political persuasion could get behind it,” Rosenwasser argued. “Soon as he took a side, the way he did in 2004, which is when he lost me, he shut out everyone else he may have reached.”
The Gaslight Anthem, “Meet Me by the River’s Edge” (2008)
“We tattooed lines beneath our skin / ‘No surrender, my Bobby Jean’ / And we’ve been burned by all our fears / Just from growin’ up around here.”
The Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon has never been shy about his undying admiration for Bruce Springsteen. Fallon grew up a few blocks from E Street in Belmar, N.J., and has drawn a multitude of comparisons to the Boss in his career. Still, the Gaslight Anthem singer never wanted to be defined by his Springsteen connections. “It really does frustrate me, and it’s harder because I love Bruce Springsteen,” Fallon admitted to NPR. “And I don’t want to say anything negative about it, because I love him so much, musically and personally. But I don’t want to get lost — I don’t want my career to be lost in a Bruce Springsteen comparison.” The artists have crossed paths on several occasions. Fallon made a guest appearance on “No Surrender” from Springsteen’s London Calling: Live in Hyde Park, and Springsteen, in turn, joined the Gaslight Anthem for a surprise appearance in 2011 at Asbury Park.
Weezer, “Heart Songs” (2008)
“Mr. Springsteen said he had a hungry heart.”
“Heart Songs” finds River Cuomo returning to the many artists and records of his youth, from Nirvana to Springsteen, but not all of them were key influences. “The references in ‘Heart Songs’ came about very quickly, spontaneously, and with very little thought,” the Weezer frontman told Rolling Stone. “I didn’t go back and fill in any blanks or prioritize. So, there are some songs that I just remember hearing when I was 5, and some that were extremely important to me, and others that I didn’t like at all, but they have a certain nostalgic value.”
Rodney Atkins, “It’s America” (2009)
“It’s a high school prom, it’s a Springsteen song, it’s a ride in a Chevrolet.”
Rodney Atkins described “It’s America” as “just one of those pick-you-up and make-you-pump-your-fists-and-sing-along kind of songs” in an interview with the Augusta Chronicle. “It has become kind of an anthem for folks struggling. I have seen people at shows pumping their fists and singing along with tears in their eyes, and realized how real the lyrics are for some people.”
Lady A, “Stars Tonight” (2010)
“Girls in their heels and a skinny pair of blue jeans / Boys in black-pearl buttons looking just like Springsteen.”
Lady A opened for Springsteen at London’s 2012 Hard Rock Calling Music Festival, an opportunity they didn’t take lightly. “It’s Springsteen. There is no entertainer we look up to more than him,” Lady A member Charles Kelley told The Boot beforehand. “I’m going to be like a little kid at Christmas watching his show.” Lady A completed their set, but Springsteen found his microphone cut off midsong during the closing act because his allotted time was up.
Titus Andronicus, “The Battle of Hampton Roads” (2010)
“I’ve destroyed everything that wouldn’t make me more like Bruce Springsteen / So I’m going back to New Jersey, I do believe they’ve had enough of me.”
Hailing from Springsteen’s home state, indie rock band Titus Andronicus set him apart as an ideal on this epic 14-minute track. “The Battle of Hampton Roads” completes a song cycle focusing on the Civil War, but the themes still very much resonate. “Really, it is a record about how the conflicts that led our nation into that great calamity remain unresolved,” singer Patrick Stickles told NME.
David Nail, “Sound of a Million Dreams” (2011)
“My 18th summer I was a cocky up-and-comer / Crankin’ up ‘Born to Run.’”
Besides Springsteen, “Sound of a Million Dreams” also references Bob Seger‘s “Main Street.” That’s in keeping with David Nail’s diverse tastes. “I saw Merle Haggard and Van Halen in the same week, so that kind of sums it up for me music-wise,” Neil told The Boot in 2015 with a laugh. “I always wanted to be Merle Haggard and David Lee Roth at the same time!”
Frank Turner, “Redemption” (2011)
“I was walking home to my house through the snow from the station / When the Springsteen came clear in my headphones with a pertinent question”
Variety asked what Springsteen had on his iTunes playlist as part of a 2017 cover story, and you could say Britain’s reflective singer-songwriter Frank Turner was honored to be mentioned. “Holy. Mother. Of. God,” a stunned Turner later tweeted. Other artists to capture Springsteen’s attention back then included Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and Jakob Dylan.
Eric Church, “Springsteen” (2012)
“Funny how a melody sounds like a memory / Like the soundtrack to a July Saturday night, Springsteen.”
Springsteen is the catalyst for falling in love in this popular song, an ode to couples who bond over music. “The interesting thing about this song is it has probably less to do with Springsteen than it is about what’s happening at this amphitheater up on the lawn,” Church later argued. “I had this experience. If you’ve had this experience, no matter whether you stay together or don’t stay together, when you hear that person’s music – whether it’s Springsteen or anybody else – you always think of the person you were with at that show, and I have that.”
Hannah Hennessy, “Just Like Springsteen” (2012)
“Under the neon lights, he moves just like his heroes have before / Rockin’ out in his denim jeans / Looking just like Springsteen.”
Country rocker Hannah Hennessy’s 2012 single “Just Like Springsteen” may have been inspired by the Boss, but it was a different classic act’s logo that briefly made an appearance in the song’s music video. The male lead in the video wore a denim shirt emblazoned with the famous Rolling Stones‘ tongue-and-lips logo, a costume choice the singer later joked about on social media.
Lana Del Rey, “American” (2012)
‘Springsteen is the king, don’t you think’ / I was like, ‘Hell yeah that guy can sing.’”
Springsteen returned the compliment, calling Lana Del Rey “one of the best songwriters in the country as we speak” on his radio program in 2012. “She just creates a world of her own and invites you in. So a big favorite of mine, the lovely Lana Del Rey.” Springsteen played “American” on his show that day, acknowledging that “she’s name-checking some guy from New Jersey in there. I’m not sure who.”
Steve Forbert, “My Seaside Brown-Eyed Girl” (2012)
“I’m in Tennessee, you’re not here with me / You’re in Springsteen land, summer waves and sand.”
Steve Forbert had a connection to Springsteen through E Street bassist Garry Tallent, who approached him at a Buddy Holly tribute show at New York’s Lone Star Cafe in the late ’80s. Tallent offered to produce some songs for Forbert at his Shorefire Studio in New Jersey. The results reportedly led to a new deal with Geffen.
Deaf Havana, “22” (2013)
“I’m somewhere between happy and okay / With Springsteen in my headphones singing mockingly away / Oh, Brucie, baby, I’ve seen better days.”
When Deaf Havana’s 2013 album Old Souls caught on, it led to a chance to open a show for Springsteen. Singer James Veck-Gilodi described the experience to Aesthetic Magazine as “mind-blowing, really. He’s one of my all-time favorite artists. It was pretty surreal watching him play later that day, knowing that we’d opened up for him.”
The Felice Brothers, “Saturday Night” (2014)
“I ain’t the Boss but I’m his illegitimate son / ’Cause baby, I was born to run.”
Springsteen is just one recognizable reference included as part of the Felice Brothers’ folksy storytelling. Other famous lyrical nods include Harry Potter (“Woman Next Door”), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (“Meadow of a Dream”) and Elvis Presley. “Saturday Night” appeared on the group’s fifth LP, Favorite Waitress.
Dar Williams, “FM Radio” (2015)
“To feel the sexiness, the passion, and the fusion and the fission / Remember Bruce Springsteen divorced a model and married a musician.”
Springsteen was one of many artists mentioned by Williams in this song from her 2015 Emerald album, but it didn’t come easy. At one point in the painstaking process, she said: “This line doesn’t make sense, and if I don’t think of the right line, this isn’t going to sound good and Bruce Springsteen’s going to hate me.” Williams eventually nailed it, with help from her friend Jill Sobule.
Lifehouse, “Hurt This Way” (2015)
“Open the screen door, the transistor plays an old Springsteen song from my father’s glory days.”
Lifehouse chose the perfect Springsteen song for this callback since the appropriately named Out of the Wasteland found the group reuniting after a long period apart. Their drummer was working with the Goo Goo Dolls, and the bassist and guitarist had respective side projects going. Then frontman Jason Wade’s proposed solo record, set to be called Paper Cuts, started sounding more and more like a Lifehouse studio project. The band quickly reassembled to complete a seventh LP that peaked just outside the Top 25.
Norma, “Badlands” (2016)
“I know he ain’t Springsteen.”
The accompanying video for Norma’s “Badlands” goes well beyond pining for a favorite rock star via bedroom posters. Instead, the French singer-songwriter is out and about with a life-sized, bandana-clad Springsteen cardboard cutout. The Boss released a song of the same name in 1978 as the sophomore single from his fourth studio album Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Roger Davies, “Springsteen” (2016)
“I’m going down to the river right now / Gonna find Bobby Jean somewhere, somehow / I’ve been working on a dream, underneath the hot sun / Singing, ‘Tramps like us, we were born to run.’”
Roger Davies’ tribute to Springsteen continues with lyrical references to E Street and “Born in the USA.” He released a full-length debut album a couple of years later and more recently had artwork on display at the U.K.’s Harrison Lord Gallery and AC Gallery.
Adam Sandler, “Chanukah Song, Part 2” (2017)
“So many Jews are in showbiz / Bruce Springsteen isn’t Jewish but my mother thinks he is.”
Adam Sandler met Springsteen in the unlikeliest of circumstances: working out at an off-brand New York City gym while still a cast member on Saturday Night Live. “I keep seeing this guy. I’m like, ‘That guy looks like Bruce Springsteen.’ So I go, ‘Oh, this can’t be Bruce Springsteen,’” Sandler said during an interview on Late Night With Seth Meyers. Eventually, Springsteen came over to say hello. “He goes, ‘Hey.’ I go, ‘Hey,’” Sandler remembered. “And he goes, ‘I know you,’ and I go, ‘You do?’ And he goes, ‘You’re, uh, [four-time Stanley Cup-winning hockey player] Allan Stanley.’”
Rich O’Toole, “Springsteen Gold” (2017)
“Take me back to Springsteen gold, and Detroit steel / Yeah, something I can hold and feel … when radio was something real.”
Houston-based Rich O’Toole’s “Springsteen Gold” helped its parent album American Kid into the Top 50 on the Billboard country chart. He’d earlier covered “Dancing in the Dark” on 2013’s Brightwork.
The Maguas, “Seaglass and Springsteen” (2020)
“Caught me tongue-tied, but I can’t forget / Your eyes remind me of summertime / You call me yours, I’ll call you my Seaglass and Springsteen.”
The name Springsteen has become synonymous with summer, sunsets and freedom, and the Maguas’ song continued the trend. Formed in 2018 in Scranton, Penn., this emo-leaning group included “Seaglass and Springsteen” on their 2020 EP, One of Us Is Lying.
Ryan Hurd, “Every Other Memory” (2021)
“That last call, first kiss never left my mind / That old-school Springsteen gets me every time.”
Springsteen is a metaphor for nostalgia once again in this song. Ryan Hurd aimed to complete the feeling with the accompanying clip. “I hope everyone that sees the ‘Every Other Memory’ video feels like they are watching their favorite rock band from high school again,” he told CMT.
Gary Frost, “Shutup Springsteen” (2022)
“Shut up Springsteen, you know that I’m on fire / If I said I didn’t hear her when I hear you, I’d be a liar / Shut up, Springsteen. Leave me the hell alone.”
Frost tried to look at his favorite tracks from a different perspective when constructing the surprisingly emotional “Shutup Springsteen.” “When I was writing the song, I was thinking particularly about his love songs and what special significance they might have to people in relationships,” Frost said. “Then I asked myself a question: What does the song mean when the relationship is over?”
Michael Austin, “Shotgun Seat” (2022)
“Little diners, Wrangler jeans and Springsteen / Yeah it’s a shotgun seat to the American Dream.”
Michael Austin’s loving look back also includes mentions of Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good,” Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” among others. Together, they complete a song that’s all about “remembering the fun and easy times,” Austin explained, “where your biggest concern was where you were going to hang out on a Friday or Saturday night.”
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