Chart Week: December 22, 1984
Song: “Bruce” – Rick Springfield
Chart Position: #33, 6th week on the chart. Peaked at #27 for a week in January.
As artists move through their careers they often jump from one record company to another. This can lead to uncomfortable situations when the artists break through and their previous employers attempt to capitalize.
Rick Springfield was about as big of a second-tier pop star as there was in the early 1980s. He never quite reached the heights of the giants of the era: Hall & Oates, Prince, Madonna, or Michael Jackson. But he was a consistent hit-maker in the first half of the decade. After some minor hits in the 1970s, his ‘80s run began with the classic “Jesse’s Girl,” which hit #1 in 1981. Over the rest of the decade he had 14 more Top 40 hits and four Top 10’s, including the #2 “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” He sold out concerts. He had a major role on the wildly popular soap opera General Hospital. And he was one of the biggest male sex symbols of the era.
By many measures, he was a bigger star than Bruce Springsteen.
Until the Boss broke through with Born in the USA in 1984, Springsteen had been more of a critical darling than commercial star. Sure, he had a wildly devoted following and sold out arenas. But his songs were never mainstays on the pop charts the way Springfield’s were. Only 1980’s “Hungry Heart,” which peaked at #5, made a real dent in the public consciousness.
Born in the USA changed that. “Dancing in the Dark” made it to #2 and began a run of eight-straight top 10 hits over the next two years. Bruce added two more top tens from the Tunnel of Love album before the decade was over. Springsteen became one of the biggest acts in music, a spot he’s maintained for over 30 years despite massive changes in the music industry.
With Springsteen’s success came an effort by record companies to push artists similar to him. John Cougar Mellencamp and Bryan Adams were touted as Springsteen-like. John Cafferty sounded a whole hell of a lot like Bruce, and in 1984 catapulted from the clubs of Rhode Island to the pop charts. Billy Vera and the Beaters got some run for their Springsteen-light vibe.
Rick Springfield didn’t sound a thing like Bruce Springsteen. But apparently some folks got their names confused. Which kind of makes sense. They were born a month apart, struggled through the ‘70s before breaking through in the ‘80s, both had dark hair, and both had last names that began with ‘Spring…’.
This had apparently been a problem dating to before the men became stars. For his 1978 album Beautiful Feelings, Springfield recorded this track, a humorous account of getting confused for another young singer. A woman calls out “Bruce” name during sex with Rick. An autograph seeker tells him he loved “Born to Run.” It’s light-hearted, fun, and weightless. I don’t think Springfield was trying to piggyback on Springsteen’s success, since there wasn’t much to piggyback on at that point. It was just him sharing a funny story of life as a struggling artist.
With Springsteen’s ascension in 1984, Springfield’s former label, Mercury Records, pounced. They held the rights to Beautiful Feelings. Without any input or involvement from Springfield, Mercury re-recorded the music for the album, slapped his original vocals over these new tracks, and re-released Beautiful Feelings with “Bruce” as its lead single.
It worked. Kind of. Despite the combined Springfield/Springsteen mojo, it could only climb to #27. The album could only make it as high as 78 on the Billboard 100 album chart.
I can’t find any comments from Springfield related to the song or album. I would bet he wasn’t thrilled. His Hard to Hold album, released by RCA, was still on the charts, spawning three top 20 singles. A fourth single did not quite reach the Top 40, but its lack of success may be more because it was a B-side than because “Bruce” was taking away airplay and sales.
I was also unable to dig up any comments from Springsteen. I’m guessing he realized the song was from a different time and totally harmless.
I wonder if Bruce and Rick ever talked about the song, and swapped stories from those early days when they were both trying to carve out identities for themselves.
This video features the original backing music tracks. Below is a Spotify link to the 1984 single version.