Tom Sinclair
September 06, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

VERSION ‘MARY’ In rock & roll, the distinction between homage and rip-off is often murky. Case in point: Bruce Springsteen’s ”Mary’s Place,” from his current top 10 album, The Rising, a song that some folks have pointed out bears a distinct resemblance to the late Sam Cooke’s 1964 tune ”Meet Me at Mary’s Place” (included on last year’s Cooke compilation Keep Movin’ On). Check the two tracks’ respective choruses: ”Meet me at Mary’s place/We’re gonna have a party,” sings Springsteen; ”Meet me at Mary’s place/We’re gonna have us a ball today,” runs Cooke’s version. It’s true that Springsteen — who introduces members of the E Street Band during the song’s midsection on his current tour — sings the chorus of his ”Mary” with more rootsy exuberance than Cooke sang his gospel-tinged, good-time tune. And the verses of Springsteen’s song are quite different from Cooke’s, both musically and lyrically: They’re eerily impressionistic, whereas Cooke’s are relatively straightforward. (”I got seven pictures of Buddha/The prophet’s on my tongue/Eleven angels of mercy/Sighin’ over that black hole in the sun,” sings everyone’s favorite working-class hero.) A representative for Springsteen declined to comment, but even veteran Bruce watchers are taking note of the apparent, er, tribute. ”’Mary’s Place’ was intended as a healing song, and the idea of having this party probably made Bruce start thinking about those old party records that he listens to, and that Sam Cooke record in particular,” says Andrew Massimino, assistant editor of the Springsteen fanzine Backstreets. Massimino notes that the Boss gave co-writing credit to bluesman Sonny Boy William-son for the track ”Cross My Heart,” from the Hu-man Touch album, and has been known to give props to Curtis Mayfield when including the latter’s ”Move On Up” in his own ”The E Street Shuffle” in concert. ”Springsteen’s generally been pretty good about giving people writing credits,” says Massimino. Not this time — The Rising’s CD booklet clearly proclaims ”All songs written by Bruce Springsteen.”

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