David Bowie’s favourite Bruce Springsteen song: “It scared the living ones out of me”

At first glance, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen might appear to have originated from entirely different worlds – and in many ways, they did. While Bowie crafted an alien-like persona in the 1970s, morphing between various androgynous characters, Springsteen remained distinctively human, singing about relatable issues of American life with an everyman sensibility. However, despite the differences in their music, the pair respected each other greatly, even if Bowie initially had doubts.

In 1973, when Bowie was gaining traction following the release of his acclaimed album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, he saw Springsteen play at New York’s Max’s Kansas City. Bowie told Musician, “I used to go and see him. I hated him as a solo artist, when he came on and did this Bob Dylan thing.”

Bowie continued: “It was awful, so cringe-making. He’d sit there with his guitar and be folky, have these slow philosophical raps in between the songs. As soon as the band came on, it was like a different performer and he was just marvellous.”

Bowie was won over, however, by Springsteen’s 1973 debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., which was received with critical praise, although it didn’t become a hit in the UK until 1985. The record contained the song ‘It’s Hard to Be A Saint in the City’, which detailed the crime littering the streets of big cities, with lines such as “The devil appeared like Jesus through the steam in the street/ Showin’ me a hand I knew even the cops couldn’t beat”.

The song became one of Bowie’s favourite Springsteen tracks, and he eventually released a cover of it in 1989. Although it appeared as a Station to Station outtake, Tony Visconti believes it was most likely recorded a few years earlier. In The Complete David Bowie, he said: “It would seem that this was part of the Diamond Dogs recording sessions, but worked on later. The added instruments, vocals and mixing sound like a couple of years later, because of the sonic fingerprints.”

Despite his love of the song, in 1979, Bowie admitted on BBC Radio One that the song “really scared the living ones out of me”.

He explained: “After I heard this track I never rode the subway again”.

With descriptions such as “But it’s too hot in these tunnels you can get hit up by the heat/ You get up to get out at your next stop/ But they push you back down in your seat/ Your heart starts beatin’ faster as you struggle to your feet,” it’s no wonder Bowie found himself affected by the song.

Revisit Bowie’s cover below.

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