David Bowie’s It’s Hard To Be A Saint in the City Cover Was a Welcome Surprise

David Bowie Songs

Photo: By Adam Bielawski (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

After David Bowie passed away, Bruce Springsteen paid tribute to the legendary Bowie by opening up his concert with David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.” Before Springsteen performed the song, he gave thanks to Bowie for the singer’s support of him during the early days of his career. Springsteen made a reference to Bowie covering one of his songs. Bruce didn’t mention which song Bowie had covered,but longtime fans knew which one the boss was talking about.

The songs Bruce Springsteen were referencing were the tracks “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City.” and “Growing Up.” Both songs were originally released on Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park New Jersey. The album was originally released in 1973. The song Its Hard To Be A Saint In The City was the closing song on the album.

David Bowie recorded versions of “Its Hard To Be Saint in the City,” and “Growing Up,” back in 1974. .Many may think that Bowie covering Springsteen at the time would have been a rather odd choice. Bowie’s space glamour personality and stage persona at the time were in stark contrast to the street image of Bruce Springsteen in the early 1970’s. But great artists always recognize great artists.

There are stories that Springsteen went to hear what David Bowie was doing in the studio at the time when he was covering the Springsteen material. Supposedly both singers engaged in a bit of small talk but not much more came from the meeting. There had been hopes by some that Bruce would have played on the Bowie versions of the songs, but in the end David Bowie never even played Bruce the tracks.

The recorded version of “Its Hard To Be A Saint in the City,” by David Bowie was eventually shelved at the time and remained unreleased until years later when it appeared on David Bowie’s 1989 box set Sound and Vision.

It’s fascinating to listen to David Bowie’s version of the songs. It was recorded at a time when Bowie was releasing the Young American’s album. You can hear the same vocal inflections on “It’s Hard to Be A Saint in the City,” that you hear on the Young Americans LP. Bowie was interpreting American pop and soul music on that record. As one listen’s to Bowie’s interpretation of “It’s Hard to Be A Saint in the City,” you can hear as the track progress Bowie getting more comfortable with the song. Its in the last few verses where the magic of David Bowie ignites into a soulful spin on the melodic line and lyrical content that made it such a great song in the first place. Bowie nailed it with his own signature vocal phrasings. It took years for fans to discover that Bowie had recorded two Springsteen songs. David Bowie’s It’s Hard To Be A Saint in the City Cover was a¬†welcome discovery for many.


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