Least to Most: Bruce – Born To Run

“One day I was playing my guitar on the edge of my bed, working on song ideas, and the words ‘born to run’ came into my head… I liked the phrase because it suggested a certain cinematic drama that I thought would work with the music I was hearing in my head.”

There’s probably very little I could add to anyone’s knowledge or appreciation of Born To Run, an album that’s undoubtedly at the top of many a list and is very likely many people’s favourite album of all time. ‘Born To Run’ may have taken six months to write but it and Born To Run changed everything for Bruce, both in terms of sales / success and writing. This was the album that lived up to the promise of ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)’, maintaining its excitement and drive “while delivering it’s message in less time and with a shorter burst of energy. This was a turning point, and it allowed me to open up my music to a far larger audience.”

It was this song that made sure the world would become aware of Springsteen in more ways than one. Neither his début or The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle had achieved the level of success that would make a record company throw money for studio time at him. He had to write something that would get him his last shot. He may be somewhat flippant about its origins (if not its impact) now but writing ‘Born To Run’  in early 1974 got him that chance – it was recorded during touring breaks (with drummer Ernest ‘Boom’ Carter*) and an early mix was released to radio in November of the same year. It’s popularity on radio meant previous Springsteen singles began picking up more airplay and gave him validation to get to work on the rest of the album.

Like, I’m sure, it was for many, ‘Born To Run’ was the first Bruce Springsteen song I was aware of. Specifically the 1987 video from a performance shot during Boss Mania. What strikes me most about the song, and the album as a whole, is the poetry of the lyrics. How many other FM rock songs used a lyric like the “the amusement park rises bold and stark” or “beyond the Palace, hemi-powered drones” found in ‘Born To Run’? And if we’re talking lyrics, let’s look at how the album kicks off:

“The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves. Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays.” Or what about the “One soft infested summer” of ‘Backstreets’ or ‘Jungleland’ with it’s “In a bedroom, locked. In whispers of soft refusal and, then, surrender”? Bruce may have claimed that “the poets down here don’t write nothing at all” (I’ll admit the double negative still bothers me some) but from a lyrical point of view, Born To Run saw the volley of words on Greetings.., the romance of The Wild, The Innocent… turn into something much more direct and universal (earlier characters and scenes were much more specific, that ‘screen door’ could be anywhere) and coupled with a new-found confidence from years of honing his act on the stage to produce some of Springsteen’s most evocative and memorable lines.

Work on the album is something of a legend in itself – Springsteen aware that it’s his make or break shot, agonising over takes and layering track upon track (there’s close to a dozen guitar tracks on the title song) as he struggled to explain the sounds he heard in his head, it lead to a changing of both studio location and began the changing of the guard with Appel vs Landau when the sessions got bogged down… or even the number of takes it took to get Clarence Clemons’ finest performance just right…

The thing is that such ardent efforts can sometimes lead to something that just sounds overworked**. In Born To Run though, it equals magic. You don’t hear what must have been a stressful session in those closing minutes of ‘Jungleland’ or the fact that it took nearly 14 months to record an album that fades out less than forty minutes later than a harmonica swept it in. What you hear is an album of meticulous detail and ambition underpinned by a songwriter hitting his stride and not holding back.

It’s packed with moments of magic – the intro of ‘She’s The One’*** giving away to the Bo Diddley beat that Springsteen admits he wrote just to hear Clarence blast all over, the jazzy film-noir intro for ‘Meeting Across The River’, the “hiding on the Backstreets” refrain, every single second of ‘Jungleland’ but especially it’s mid-point swing and ‘this ain’t over yet’ sax break….

Every song on this album works on its own. The biggest ‘hits’ from Born To Run – the title track, ‘Thunder Road’ ‘Jungleland’ – all stand as great songs in their own right but (and I urge you to go and do so) work best when played in sequence, they belong together. They ebb and flow as a story across one magnum opus and create one of the greatest albums ever made.

I will say, though, that it’s worth making sure that you get a decent master of this album. The first one I had… the remastering for CD was pretty crap. The version (that I guess is now in standard production) that came with the 30th Anniversary box really jumps out at you.

*If you’re only gonna be on one Bruce Springsteen song….

**Ahem; Human Touch

***Bruce wasn’t even sure if he should put this one on the album

5 thoughts on “Least to Most: Bruce – Born To Run

  1. What to say about this album that hasn’t already been said? I’m an old enough fogey that I can still remember the title song blaring out of cars. According to Wikipedia, it was released in August of 1975. And apart from “More Than A Feeling,” – as I mentioned in my own Bruce bloviation – is there a better pure summer song? No, it’s not about summer. But you definitely want to hit the highway, convertible top down when you hear this one.

    As to Clarence’s epic solo, didn’t they piece that together phrase-by-phrase? Where did I read that? Bruce’s book? Wikipedia? This album was definitely Bruce’s “last chance power drive” and he nailed it. If I had to pick a favorite song, it would be “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” It brings the funk and Little Steven saved the day when Bruce could not get the horn arrangement he wanted.

    “Born To Run” is, of course, on my Top Five. Not number one but I think you already know what is.

    Anyway, nice review. I look forward to your post on the only possible number one album it could be – “Chapter and Verse.” 😀

    • I’ve read / heard something similar about that solo – it may have been on Wings for Wheels but I haven’t watched that in some time. There’s no piecing it together live though…
      Oddly enough I was spinning Chapter and Verse yesterday. It’s such a strange thing for a compilation album – an entire side is given over to early / pre-signing stuff so that the rest feels like it’s being rushed through, BTR into Badlands and headlong into The River…. maybe it’s just because I’ve been spending so much time with each album but it doesn’t quite work.

      • I find it amusing/revelatory that on some stuff Bruce went through an Allman Brothers phase prior to establishing his own trademark sound. I know he never intended to be them but I’m heartened he was even listening to them.

  2. What a fantastic post! This is not really my favourite Springsteen album (Darkness for mine) but Lord I do love it and Backstreets is probably my favourite Springsteen song. As for this; “I’ll admit the double negative still bothers me some” I guess it’s important to remember he’s consciously writing very much in the American idiom. It really wouldn’t have worked as well if he’d written it any other way.

    • You are correct, sir. I don’t know about other “flavors” or our collectively shared language, but the double negative is so well-used in rock n’ roll, blues, etc. I don’t even notice it anymore.

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