Thanks to all who read and provided feedback to my review of the song Born in the U.S.A. I promised a track-by-track review of the BITUSA album, so here is track two, Cover Me. Because I am writing these in my free time, it takes me a bit longer to get them completed (not that I think anyone is anxiously refreshing this page hoping for a new post).
The best thing I can say about Cover Me is that it is not my least-favorite song on BITUSA; but even this is subject to qualifications. It is hard to think of the songs on the BITUSA album as ordinal data because they are all good. The 12th best song is not necessarily two songs worse than the 10th best song.
The times are tough now, just getting tougher/This old world is rough, it's just getting rougher
So where does Cover Me rank? Somewhere among the bottom three to me, and here is why. First, the lyrics don't take me anywhere. I get my opinion on this is not universal, but I look toward Springsteen lyrics to tell a story about someone. Take me some place I would not ordinarily go. Force me to consider a life situation I might not normally encounter. Cover Me does not do that. It is the story of someone looking for a lover who will come on in and cover him. Bruce’s character desires to be wrapped up in someone’s love and affection. There is nothing wrong with that. Maslow emphasized the importance of love and belonging and Springsteen regularly shares his quest for love and belonging in his songs. Much of the Tunnel of Love album, which immediately followed BITUSA, chronicles this journey.
Cover Me’s protagonist does not take us anywhere. For all we know, it is about a dude who has locked himself inside a home waiting for something to fall in his lap, Turn out the light, bolt the door/I ain't going out there no more. He is putting in no effort to seek a lover to cover him.
That this song was included on BITUSA while so many other excellent songs written at the same time were left off is criminal. Johnny Bye Bye is a wondrous dedication to Elvis Presley relegated to the B-side of I'm On Fire.
They found him slumped up against the drain
With a whole lot of trouble, yeah, running through his veins
Shut Out the Light was the perfect companion to Born in the U.S.A. and was released as that song's B-side. It tells a slightly more hopeful version of a Vietnam veteran returning home, while simultaneously examining the PTSD veterans experience.
Well on his porch they stretched a banner that said "Johnny Welcome Home"...
Oh mama mama mama come quick
I've got the shakes and I'm gonna be sick
Throw your arms around me in the cold dark night
Hey now mama don't shut out the light
Both of those songs (or This Hard Land... or County Fair...) are better than Cover Me.
Second, as with most Springsteen songs, the live version is sooooo much better than the album version. I love the beginning of live Cover Me with Patti Scialfa channeling Martha Reeves and the Vandellas to wail, “Got nowhere to run to people, got nowhere to hide”. This is immediately followed by Bruce seemingly coming out of the darkness to bellow “Cover Me” with an exaggerated emphasis on the “CUH-ver” portion of the lyric.
Third, in typical 1980s fashion, the 12-inch Cover Me single released in 1984 had three (!) alternate overdubs. These are unlistenable with a ridiculous amount of synthesizers.
Finally, this song was almost given to Donna Summer, and maybe with its simple lyrics and frequent chorus, it should have been. It would have done well on the disco charts, like Summer's Protection, given to her by Springsteen in 1982. But Jon Landau thought it had potential to be a pop hit, and it did hit number 7 on the Billboard charts.
One of the conundrums at a Springsteen concert is when to go to the bathroom. He plays for 3-plus hours after all, and you don't want to miss something spectacular or rare. Cover Me is my bathroom song.