Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Bruce Springsteen unveils jubilant cover of the Ben E. King classic, ‘Don’t Play That Song’

For a musician as legendary as Bruce Springsteen, reinvention and experimentation are a must. 

The New Jersey-born rocker has been writing and performing timeless tracks since the 1970s, but his 2006 album, ‘We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions’ was the first to make use of other people’s material, promoting folk music and the lyrics of activist and singer Pete Seeger. Now, Springsteen is creating another body of work focused on a genre-specific collection of song covers.

His 21st album, ‘Only The Strong Survive’, will feature Springsteen renditions of soul music classics and ‘Don’t Play That Song’ is the third single to debut ahead of its release. Originally performed in 1962 by Ben E. King, the track has already received the cover treatment by several artists, notably including Aretha Franklin. Springsteen’s version includes a black-and-white music video of the rocker singing alongside a band and choir, the energy of which gifts the track a cheery exuberance. It doesn’t hurt that a swinging horns section is also included to amp up the chorus.

More than anything on ‘Don’t Play That Song’, it sounds like Springsteen is having fun with his signature raspy baritone swelling alongside the gospel-like chorus. His vocals also add an undeniable expressiveness, especially to the track’s more emotive moments: “I remember those summer nights down by the shore / As the band played with you in my arms”.

It’s a song ostensibly about conflict and forgiveness in a relationship, but Springsteen’s rendition adds a sheen of joyful nostalgia. The nonchalance with which he delivers the pivotal line, “Well, all I’ve got to say is / I don’t care if you lied / Let’s dance”, confirms it – this is a celebration, above all else. 

The singer, nicknamed ‘The Boss’, spoke of his upcoming album saying, “I’ve spent my working life with my voice at the service of my songs, confined by my arrangements, by my melodies. My voice always came second, third or fourth. But this time, I decided to do something I had never done before - make some music that is centred around singing, around challenging my voice.”

He describes ‘Only The Strong Survive’ as a tribute to the greats of the soul genre, which will modernise the production of some of the tracks and allow Springsteen to stretch his vocal range. Despite not featuring any original material, ‘The Seeger Sessions’ won Springsteen a Grammy back in 2007. It remains to be seen whether ‘Only The Strong Survive’ will reach such impressive heights, but judging by ‘Don’t Play That Song’, 'The Boss' certainly hasn’t lost his magic touch.

‘Only The Strong Survive’ is out November 11th. You can pre-order the album now and buy tickets to Bruce Springsteen’s 2023 world tour with The E Street Band.

Eleanor Burleigh


Image: ‘Only The Strong Survive' Official Album Cover


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