A History of Bruce Springsteen’s Collaborations


Riley Letendre, Managing Editor

Since the pandemic began, iconic musician Bruce Springsteen has been hard at work, forging new musical projects. In 2020, he premiered his album Letter To You, performed with his usual tour partners, the E Street Band. But he has also taken part in three new collaborations.

Up first in the trio of collaborations is “Chinatown.” Working alongside Springsteen, the pop-band Bleachers assisted in composing this sonically beautiful song – a vague synthesizer adorning a landscape of wailing guitar and echoing vocals. Lyrically, the song sounds like it could be a track from Springsteen’s Born To Run – talking about spending time and caring about a girl of dream-like quality. But the backing track and Springsteen’s aging vocal, though nonetheless emotive, bring the song into reality – the present, 45 years later.

Another collaboration, “Dustland,” with British rock band The Killers, premiered this summer. The track is a re-recording of their 2008 song, “A Dustland Fairytale,” with the addition of Springsteen’s vocals. What’s interesting to me is that it sounds like a song Bruce would have produced for his 2019 album, Western Stars. The new recording maintains the original’s orchestral sound, but now with Bruce adding his own flair to the second verse, chorus, and bridge.

These two collaborations, being with much younger and lesser-known artists, is a rather unusual feat for an artist of his age. Springsteen, now 72, has long since passed the peak of his career, though he has never stopped making music. In more recent years, he has been on tour and held a residency in New York City with Springsteen On Broadway. Through these collaborations, Bruce nearly appears as a mentor, working with younger people that likely grew up listening to his music and are still fans. He even takes a backseat in most of the projects, merely being featured in the title rather than listed alongside the other artists. He rarely advertises he is a part of these projects so that way credit can go to those who actually did the song, rather than be overshadowed by “the boss” himself.

Bruce Springsteen’s most recent collaboration was released at the end of September – “Wasted Days” with fellow ‘heartland rock’ artist, John Mellencamp. Both Mellencamp and Springsteen are in their 70s, having reached the peak of their careers in the 1980s and maintaining a following even today. 

Though these artists have maintained a friendship for years, this is the first track they have recorded together in a studio. The lyrics are perhaps more accurate to their age, lines like “How many minutes do we have here” and “we watch our lives just fade away” reflecting a sense of mortality only older individuals can understand.

While Bruce Springsteen is no stranger to collaboration with others, it is not often that they come as a studio recording, and so close to each other. In fact, the only other single Springsteen has ever collaborated on was “We Are The World” for USA For Africa in 1985. Though he has been featured vocally and on various instruments for different albums, none of these were advertised as featuring him.

I think these collaborations are a significant representative of how the Coronavirus pandemic has influenced the music industry. Artists are working together and collaborating on new music for the sake of promoting togetherness and overcoming the isolation every person felt during lockdown. Springsteen is often an activist for unity, acting through his songs and performances to promote togetherness, so his appearance in this time is not unexpected. It seems Bruce always comes with music right when we need him – “The Rising” after 9/11, and now Letter To You and a series of collaborations in a pandemic.

Bruce Springsteen has been dubbed “the boss” for a reason. He sets a standard of personality and quality for his music and the industry that very few can live up to.