Bruce Springsteen announced on Thursday (Sept. 29) that he’ll be releasing an album of classic R&B/soul covers on Nov. 11 called Only the Strong Survive. In a video announcing his 21st studio album, Springsteen explained that shortly after recording Letter To You with the E Street Band during the COVID-19 lockdown, he went into his home studio to record music he hadn’t written, but wanted to record.
The result is a 15-song album of songs by Jerry Butler, Dobie Gray, The Commodores, Jimmy Ruffin, Diana Ross & the Supremes, The Four Tops, The Walker Brothers, The Temptations and more. He’s joined on two tracks by Sam & Dave vocalist Sam Moore, as well as the E Street Horns and backing vocalists Soozie Tyrell, Lisa Lowell, Michelle Moore, Curtis King Jr., Dennis Collins and Fonzi Thornton. The project was recorded at Springsteen’s Thrill Hill Recording in New Jersey and produced by Ron Aniello, engineered by Rob Lebret and executive produced by the singer’s longtime manager, Jon Landau.
“This was something I hadn’t done since the Seeger Sessions,” he said of the format of the new project while nodding to his Grammy-winning 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, a collection of folk songs made famous by Pete Seeger that was the Boss’ first-ever collection of tracks he didn’t write. Christening the team who worked on the project “The Night Shift,” Springsteen said the crew worked in their “off hours.”
“Before I knew it, I had an album done,” he said, before noting that he threw that one out, because “that’s how I roll.” The second time around, however, he found an appropriate theme he wanted to explore. “Now I’d spent my working life, with my voice, at the service of my songs, confined by my arrangements, by my melodies, by my compositions and by my constructions — my voice always came second, third, or fourth to the expression of those elements,” he explained.
This time, however, Bruce decided to do something he’d never done before: record music that is firmly centered around singing. “Around challenging my voice,” he said, noting that in his 2016 memoir, Born to Run, he gave his voice “short shrift” by saying he didn’t think he had much of one. But once he started on this project, Springsteen said in his signature rasp, he thought, “my voice is badass! I’m 73-years-old, I’m kickin’ ass! I’m a good ole man!”
That epiphany came courtesy of classic soul music, one of the most crucial early building blocks of rock and a personal touchstone for the Boss. Springsteen said he leaned into the vocals as his recording team, “mastered and sonically modernized some of the most beautiful songs in the American pop song book. I had so much fun recording this music. I fell back in love with all these great songs and great writers and great singers. All of them still underrated in my opinion. And through the project I rediscovered the power of my own voice.”
The E Street Band will kick off an international tour in Feb. 2023, which a release said has already sold 1.6 million tickets in the U.S. and Europe.
Check out the Only the Strong Survive track list, album cover, Springsteen’s announcement video and his soaring cover of Frank Wilson’s “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” below:
Only the Strong Survive tracklist:
1. “Only the Strong Survive” (Jerry Butler)
2. “Soul Days” feat. Sam Moore (Dobie Gray)
3. “Nightshift” (The Commodores)
4. “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” (Frank Wilson)
5. “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (The Walker Brothers)
6. “Turn Back the Hands of Time” (Tyrone Davis)
7. “When She Was My Girl” (The Four Tops)
8. “Hey, Western Union Man” (Jerry Butler)
9. “I Wish It Would Rain” (The Temptations)
10. “Don’t Play That Song” (Aretha Franklin)
11. “Any Other Way” (Jackie Shane)
12. “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” feat. Sam Moore (William Bell)
13. “7 Rooms of Gloom” (The Four Tops)
14. “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” (Jimmy Ruffin)
15. “Someday We’ll Be Together” (Diana Ross & The Supremes)