Recently, I received a share from an artist (Lizzyspit), who had covered Bruce Springsteen‘s urgent “I’m On Fire” song.  While I admired her attempt to record the song in her own way, I felt that she missed out on the expressive urgency of the emotions running throughout that song.  In short, Springsteen’s subject is filled with a uncontrollable desire, and I sure bloody well know he is.  I can feel it.  He has translated that emotion perfectly. Hell, he transports me.

I’ve since listened to the Lizzyspit version several more times to see if I could catch any sense of that “bad desire”, and I couldn’t.  The translation was lost. Still, my hat is off to her for trying. Her other songs are definitely worth listening to.

This spurred a need within me to search around and find other covers of “I’m On Fire” in the hopes that I could actually find one that rivaled the original, or at least captured the essence.  Here’s what I came up with:

Chromatics: The music is a splendid version of the song, with the heat of it smoldering just below the surface.  But the vocals come in and the cover loses the urgency immediately. Still, like Lizzyspit‘s version, a nice attempt to capture a song.

Lady Antebellum: Honestly, Chromatics came closer musically to what was needed to recreate a successful version of the song. Next!

Mumford & Sons: I know they’re popular and all, but they get a fail here for the same reasons. Their cover of “The Boxer” (Simon & Garfunkel) loses out too. Emotion! Translation!

Bat for Lashes: I give them credit for changing the “daddy” word to “momma”, something I figured that the other females singles would – or should – do.  But, again, the emotion suffers making the song less than what it was meant to be.  Still, she’s on the right track…

Tori Amos: If there was one I thought might do it right, it was Tori Amos. Her pacing and tone was not bad, but she was unable to catch the essence.   I mean really unable…!

John Mayer: He gets a good running start on the song, then gets, uh, distracted? Because he loses the intensity heard at the beginning.  Plus, the music isn’t fiery enough.

There are quite a few attempts to cover “I’m On Fire”. For me, I haven’t heard a cover I liked of the song.  And trust me, I love a great cover of a great song.  Sometimes, a great cover is BETTER than the original.  Strumming a guitar and singing doesn’t always guarantee it comes out right.  The delivery is supposed to be there.  The engine!  The heat!

Artists insistent on covering “I’m On Fire”, remember…”there’s a freight train running through the middle of my ‘YOUR’ head”! Use it!

By MARowe

9 thoughts on “The Cover Search (“I’m On Fire” – Bruce Springsteen)”
    1. Y’know, Adam… I was going to put his version in, but out of respect to who he is, decided to not do so. To me, it is as unemotional as could possibly be sung. Some songs demand too much of one singing it. “I’m On Fire” is one of them.

      1. I agree. I don’t think he really “got” the song. He connected with “Highway Patrolman” because it’s a story song and it made sense to him. His version of “I’m On Fire” feels like somebody went, “Hey, you seemed to like that Springsteen kid. He wrote this, too.” And Johnny listened to it, thought it was pretty enough and said OK.

        1. You nailed it, Adam. One of the brilliant things that I miss about Bruce is his ability to make me believe this is a problem. He’s my best friend. He trusts me enough to tell me about it. I feel his intensity, his feelings. “I’m On Fire” helps underscore what I mean. It’s also why I have little to go on from Bruce lately. But you still have an open to try and change my opinion. So does Bill B.

  1. LOL…. Our views aren’t really that far apart Matt. We both agree that his earlier work is best. I just find more value in “The Rising” and “Magic” than you do. I also don’t expect a 60 year old millionaire to have the same angst and edge that a 20 year old does when they are trying to become a (millionaire) rock star. Therefore, I give him a little more latitude and don’t expect another BTR or DOTEOT.

  2. My main problem with Bruce is that he went from making great records to making great songs. The early records are wall to wall great, but even from the River, there are jewels and losers, and the further you go, the less jewels and the more losers there are. I think Last Carnival and Wrestler, (ironically the last and bonus track on WoaD) are as good as anything he’s done, but as for the rest, least said! Similarly Land of Hope and Dreams (WB) and 41 Shots (HH). Maybe we’re also expecting too much because of his early work? On his last tour he played Darkness in full, and it just blew me away and proved the point. I enjoy covers as well, e.g Dylan’s Make you feel my love is such a great song, I’ve not come across a cover I don’t like (Adele, Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, Neil Diamond), although that is pretty much an exception. Most are weak and sad!

  3. BTW, talking of covers and John Mayer, his “Call me the Breeze” was scary. I still believe they lifted the JJ Cale song and put it on JM’s record!

    1. Saw that one too, Peter. It didn’t work for me. What’s missing is the “sheets soaking wet”, and the “freight train running through the middle of my head” emotion that Springsteen conveys in the song, and the others do not. To be fair, that’s a tough one. But it does set apart the real ones from the ones who try to be. My take is that if you cannot bring intensity to a song, why bother.

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