Born To Run
Released: September 1975
Chart Peak: #3
Weeks Charted: 60+
Certified Gold: 10/8/75
Born To Run is a magnificent album that pays off on every bet ever placed on Bruce Springsteen -- a '57 Chevy running on melted down Crystals records that shuts down every claim that has been made. And it should crack his future wide open.
The song titles by themselves -- "Thunder Road," "Night," "Backstreets," "Born to Run," "Jungleland" -- suggest the extraordinary dramatic authority that is at the heart of Springsteen's new music. It is the drama that counts; the stories Springsteen is telling are nothing new, though no one has ever told them better or made them matter more. Their familiar romance is half their power: The promise and the threat of the night; the lure of the road; the quest for a chance worth taking and the lust to pay its price; girls glimpsed once at 80 miles and hour and never forgotten; the city streets as the last, permanent American frontier. We know the story: one thousand and one American nights, one long night of fear and love.
In one sense, all this talk of epic comes down to sound. Rolling Stone contributing editor Jon Landau, Mike Appel and Springsteen produced Born to Run in a style as close to mono as anyone can get these days; the result is a sound full of grandeur. For all it owes to Phil Spector, it can be compared only to the music Bob Dylan & the Hawks made onstage in 1965 and '66. With that sound, Springsteen has achieved something very special. He has touched his world with glory, without glorifying anything: not the unbearable pathos of the street fight in "Jungleland," not the scared young lovers of "Backstreets" and not himself.
Those are a few lines from "Backstreets," a song that begins with music so stately, so heartbreaking, that it might be the prelude to a rock & roll version of The Illiad. Once the piano and organ have established the theme the entire band comes and plays the theme again. There is an overwhelming sense of recognition: No, you've never heard anything like this before, but you understand it instantly, because this music -- or Springsteen crying, singing wordlessly, moaning over the last guitar lines of "Born to Run," or the astonishing chords that follow each verse of "Jungleland," or the opening of "Thunder Road" -- is what rock & roll is supposed to sound like.
The songs, the best of them, are adventures in the dark, incidents of wasted fury. Tales of kids born to run who lose anyway, the songs can, as with "Backstreets," hit so hard and fast that it is almost impossible to sit through them without weeping. And yet the music is exhilarating. You may find yourself shaking your head in wonder, smiling through tears at the beauty of it all. I'm not talking about lyrics; they're buried, as they should be, hard to hear for the first dozen playings or so, coming out in bits and pieces. To hear Springsteen sing the line "Hiding on the backstreets" is to be captured by an image; the details can come later. Who needed to figure out all the words to "Like a Rolling Stone" to understand it?
It is a measure of Springsteen's ability to make his music bleed that "Backstreets," which is about friendship and betrayal between a boy and a girl, is far more deathly than "Jungleland," which is about a gang war. The music isn't "better," nor is the singing -- but it is more passionate, more deathly and, necessarily, more alive. That, if anything, might be the key to this music: As a ride through terror, it resolves itself finally as a ride into delight.
"Oh-o, come on, take my hand," Springsteen sings, "Riding out to case the promised land." And there, in a line, is Born to Run. You take what you find, but you never give up your demand for something better because you know, in your heart, you deserve it. That contradiction is what keeps Springsteen's story, and the promised land's, alive. Springsteen took what he found and made something better himself. This album is it.
- Greil Marcus, Rolling Stone, 10/9/75.
Sounds like the third LP from the Asbury Park kid is going to be the magic one that lifts him into the national spotlight. This effort reflects Springsteen at his best (with the exception of live performances), both lyrically and musically. The eight cuts (four to a side) are excellent fare for FM, and AM should also be jumping on the bandwagon with such cuts as "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" (3:11), "Thunder Road" (4:50) and "Born To Run" (4:30). The latter song already has a strong following on East Coast FM'ers via promotional tapes. Songs used vary nicely tempo-wise, but overall fare comes down to putting poetic imagery of the 70's together with some good ol' rock 'n' roll. Production quality is excellent throughout, and a tip of the hat goes to producers Jon Landau and Mike Appel. Strong performances by Clarence Clemons on sax, and other band members are key to the overall winning quality here. Good Spector-like sound on several cuts.
- Billboard, 1975.
"What Dylan and the Stones were to the Sixties, Springsteen is to the Seventies. Plus a lot of Robert DeNiro, but with more humor, on the side."
- Paul Nelson, Rolling Stone, 12/15/77.
"The definitive American rock LP. Wanna fight?"
- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone, 12/15/77.
Just how much American myth can be crammed into one song, or a dozen, about asking your girl to come take a ride? A lot, but not as much as romanticists of the doomed outsider believe. Springsteen needs to learn that operettic pomposity insults the Ronettes and that pseudotragic beautiful-loser fatalism insults us all. And around now I'd better add that the man avoids these quibbles at his best and simply runs them over the rest of time. If "She's the One" fails the memory of Phil Spector's innocent grandeur, well, the title cut is the fulfillment of everything "Be My Baby" was about and lots more. Springsteen may well turn out to be one of those rare self-conscious primitives who gets away with it. In closing, two comments from my friends the Marcuses. Jenny: "Who does he think he is, Howard Keel?" (That's a put-down.) Greil: "That is as good as 'I Think We're Alone Now.'" (That's not.) A
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Born to Run is rock's ultimate expression of the urban American experience and "The Boss"'s most highly regarded recording.
The title song has become a Springsteen anthem and a rock classic. It resisted several attempts at editing to suit the singles market, and indeed fell short of the Top 20 in America. It has never been a major hit in Britain.
Springsteen did not require a single for this album to explode. His live act, even then evolving into the best in the business, had won him a legion of loyal fans in the Northeast Corridor. When this album was released and Bruce was on the covers of Time and Newsweek simultaneously, a media hype he had to be sensational to survive, sales were instantaneous in the Northeast and in places such as Cleveland, where deejay Kid Leo had regularly played a pre-release version of "Born To Run." An artist who had not even charted with his first two albums went Top 10 within weeks.
In the summer of 1974, I visited Jon Landau, the young dean of American rock critics, and was shocked to hear him say, "I know what I want to do. I've seen this guy called Bruce Springsteen and I'd give it all up to produce him." I later learned that Landau had penned a piece in the May 22nd, 1974 issue of Real Paper, an alternative weekly. It was The Review Heard 'Round the World. "Last Thursday at Harvard Square Theatre, I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes," Landau wrote. "And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." Jon got to join the Springsteen production team with this album, later becoming his manager, and his prediction came true.
Many rock experts seem to believe that Springsteen and Bob Dylan are the outstanding solo album artists in rock history. The word "solo" is used in the trade to describe leaders who work with distinguished sidemen, and in Springsteen's case the musicians have always been top-rate. Saxophonist Clarence Clemons is the other figure on the classic sleeve adorning Born to Run. His work helps to make "Jungleland" deeply affecting.
Vinyl collectors know that early copies of the LP with a hand-scrawled title are worth many times the value of the standard edition.
In 1987, Born to Run was chosen by a panel of rock critics and music broadcasters as the #2 rock album of all time.
- Paul Gambaccini, The Top 100 Rock 'n' Roll Albums of All Time, Harmony Books, 1987.
The album that made all the promises come true. Made at The Record Plant in New York, Born to Run does not "free up" quite as would be expected on Compact Disc. Even the Brecker Brothers' horns do not cut through the slightly thickened sound. The title track has a thumping bass line and sounds unexpectedly congested from Compact Disc.
As the music grows louder it also becomes more muddled -- this in fact must be a feature of the master tapes. Indeed it was said at the time that this album had been intentionally "over-produced." "Meeting Across the River," with its simple piano, vocal and distant trumpet sound, survives and generates instant atmosphere. But in a track like "She's the One," Springsteen's close microphone technique and the chosen presentation of his voice some way back in the balance makes the lyric both booming and indistinct.
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
It all comes together here -- the E Street Band, the drama, the romance, the grandiose vision for the common fan. This is a concept recording -- which owes a strong production nod to Phil Spector -- that distills down to some of the best rock songs of the decade (the title cut, "Thunder Road," "Jungleland," "Backstreets," and "Tenth Ave. Freezeout," among them). It all amounts to a territorial imperative by a man whose vision encompasses all things American. Both the CD and LP suffer from very noticeable compression and some mudiness, but the CD is a bit brighter, with slightly enhanced detail. Considering what has been done with much older, and assumably more primitive master material (e.g., almost anything Bill Inglot reworked at Rhino), it is a crime that something sonically better couldn't have been done with the first CD release of this true Seventies classic recording; the heroic nature of which would nicely mesh with more heroic sound. Columbia remastered the digital conversion in late 1987, so more current copies of the CD sound appreciably better than the first disc releases. This was a very difficult, daring recorded statement which Springsteen has called "the most intense experience I ever had." A+
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
Bruce Springsteen's make-or-break third album represented a sonic leap from his first two. Where Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle had been made for modest sums at a suburban studio, Born to Run (with the exception of the title track) was cut on a superstar budget at the Record Plant in New York. Springsteen's backup band had changed, with his two virtuoso players, keyboardist David Sancious and drummer Vini Lopez replaced by the professional but less flashy Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg. And the production team had added Jon Landau, who went on to become Springsteen's manager. The result was a full, highly produced sound that contained elements of Phil Spector's melodramatic work of the 1960s. Layers of guitar, layers of echo on the vocals, lots of keyboards, thunderous drums -- Born to Run had a big sound, and Springsteen wrote big songs to match it. The overall theme of the album was similar to that of The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle: Springsteen was describing, and saying farewell to, a romanticized teenage street-life. But where he had been affectionate, even humorous before, he was becoming increasingly bitter. In "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" from the earlier album, Springsteen had declared, "For me, this boardwalk life's through," and told his prospective girlfriend she ought to come with him. On "Thunder Road," the compelling ballad that opened Born to Run, he was more judgmental: "This is a town full of losers/And I'm pulling out of here to win." "Backstreets," the second of the album's four major songs, was a howl of betrayal; "Born to Run" suggested Springsteen's heroes -- "tramps like us" -- were just roaring around, however heroically they might be depicted; and in the album-closing "Jungleland," "the poets down here... wind up wounded and not even dead...." If Springsteen had celebrated his dead-end kids on his first album and viewed them nostalgically on his second, on his third he seemed to despise their failure, perhaps because he had not yet succeeded in making good his escape and was beginning to fear he was trapped himself. Nevertheless, he now felt removed, composing an updated West Side Story with spectacular music that owed more to Bernstein than to Berry and idealized (or demonized) characters. To call Born to Run overblown is to miss the point; Springsteen's precise intention is to blow things up, both in the sense of expanding them to gargantuan size and of exploding them. If The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle was an accidental miracle, Born to Run was an intentional masterpiece. It declared its own greatness with songs and a sound that lived up to Springsteen's promise, and many found that exalting. (After 20 years, it was still turning up at or near the top of "best record of all time" lists.) Some found it oppressive, and thought it took itself too seriously, and they had a point, too.
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
A bombastic masterpiece, his breakthrough is a testament not only to the sound of Phil Spector's '60s hits, but to the romanticism, the longing, and the determination of those hits. The title cut and "Thunder Road" are anthems that deserve that status. * * * * *
- John Floyd, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Born to Run mines themes of escapism (the title track, "Thunder Road") and nostalgia ("Backstreets"), and delivers a rare four-on-the-floor love song in "She's the One" and an epic street tale in "Jungleland." * * * * *
- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
Despite being famously preceded by glib hype that dubbed him "the future of rock'n'roll," Born To Run proved to be the breakthrough album for Springsteen and despite decades of superstardom that would follow, remains his most powerful statement. Copiously laced with lyrical street poetry which shamelessly romanticized the tough, urban, blue-collar American lifestyle, the album's musical content is stunningly simple. Towering peaks and dark troughs of surging sound are all dominated by the fiery sax of Clarence Clemons, (there's also David Sandborne's sax on "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out"). The album's title track, such a striking presence on rock radio for over twenty years, is matched by such mini rock operas as "Thunder Road," "Backstreets" and "Jungleland." Its sound is clear, loud and unrestrained. The cover image, a stark black and white shot of Springsteen in a black leather Schott biker jacket and thin-line semi Telecaster, became an instant rock'n'roll cliché. Surprisingly, the punk generation, who lay in wait around the corner, gave Springsteen the benefit of the doubt -- at least until Born In The U.S.A.
- Collins Gem Classic Albums, 1999.
A classic from the first drum beat, this cinematic vision of American teenage romanticism that changed the face of R&R and the role of the singer-songwriter was voted the Zagat Survey's Most Popular, as well as Top Rock recording. With this epic song cycle, perhaps never equaled in scope, the Boss delivers towering ambition, utter desperation and passion by the truckload, providing tremendous views from the Joisey shore about girls, cars and the promise of the endless Saturday night.
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
Born to Run is one of the great short-story collections of the second half of the twentieth century. A rock 'n' roll symphony as well, the album is a glorious fusion of lyrics and energy, of imagery and passion. In his induction speech for Springsteen at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, U2's Bono noted some of the differences between Bruce and most rock stars. "No drug busts, no blood changes in Switzerland...No bad hair period, even in the eighties." This is because, for Springsteen it was never about the fame, the girls, the drugs, the fast times. He cared about one thing: the music. On Born to Run, we see the total focus on his art, the blood-letting sacrifice, the single-minded dedication that raises the merely great into the realm of the legendary and unforgettable.
Born to Run was voted the 27th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.
- Harlan Coben, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.
Bruce Springsteen spent everything he had -- patience, energy, studio time, the physical endurance of his E Street Band -- to ensure that his third album was a masterpiece. Springsteen's reputation as a perfectionist on record begins here: There are a dozen guitar overdubs on the title track alone. He was also spending money he didn't have. Engineer Jimmy Iovine had to hide the mounting recording bills from the Columbia paymasters. "The album became a monster," Springsteen told his biographer Dave Marsh. "It just ate up everyone's life." But in making Born to Run, Springsteen was living out the central drama in the album's tenement-love operas ("Backstreets," "Jungleland") and gun-the-engine rock & roll ("Thunder Road," "Born to Run"): the fight to reconcile big dreams with crushing reality. He found it so hard to get on tape the sound in his head -- the Jersey-bar dynamite of his live gigs, Phil Spector's Wagnerian grandeur, the heartbreaking melodrama of Roy Orbison's hits -- that Springsteen nearly scrapped Born to Run for a straight-up concert album. But his make-or-break attention to detail -- including the iconic cover photo of Springsteen leaning onto saxman Clarence Clemons, a perfect metaphor for Springsteen's brotherly reliance on the E Street Band -- assured the integrity of Born to Run's success. In his determination to make a great album, Springsteen produced a timeless, inspiring record about the labors and glories of aspiring to greatness.
Born to Run was chosen as the 18th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
Born To Run, recorded at the Record Plant in New York, was the first of Springsteen's albums to enter the charts in both the US, where it reached Number Three, and the UK, where it achieved a more modest Number 17 placing. The record sold more than 700,000 copies within weeks of its release in the US -- it reached gold status on 8 October that year and was to become the first album to be awarded the US music industry's new platinum certification.
Two singles from the album made it into the US Hot 100, "Born to Run" reaching Number 23 and "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" reaching Number 83, although neither achieved a high placing in the UK. The album's success saw Springsteen on the front covers of Time and Newsweek. Jon Landau, one of the producers, later became Springsteen's manager.
As of 2004, Born To Run was the #34 best-selling album of the 70s.
- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.
Everything you have heard about Born To Run is true. It's a wannabe soul singer with pseudo-Spector production. It's constantly threatening to buckle beneath its own self-importance. And it sounds like a template for Bon Jovi. But its exhilarating classics are sing-a-long-able as "You Give Love A Bad Name."
It could have been a disaster. Determined "to use the studio as a tool and not in an attempt to replicate the sound of when we played," Springsteen envisaged a concept album, with prospective titles including The Legend of Zero and Blind Terry. Happily, those conceits were abandoned -- as were (mostly) the Dylanisms of his earlier albums. The harmonicas of "Thunder Road" have a whiff of Zimmerman, but thereafter it is the tinkling pianos and bells, muscular guitars, and dramatic drums that hallmarked Springsteen's sound. There are also elegant epics -- "Backstreets," "Jungleland" -- whose intros alone make grown men weep. There is "Born To Run," which still thrills after a thousand listens when Bruce revs onto that highway "jammed with broken heroes." There are subtle delights too: Randy Brecker's trumpet showcase "Meeting Across The River"; the Bo Diddley beat conveying lovesick tension on "She's the One." And, of course, the smiling memoir "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out."
More classics would come. But this is how it started: a snowballing live reputation and a rising tide of hype met a songwriter who understood sonic sophistication and lyrical simplicity -- and the winners were us.
- Bruno MacDonald, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
Born to Run is the basic rock and roll impulse -- we gotta get out of this place -- blown up larger than life and written in block letters of flashing neon signs. In this American classic of the open road, New Jersey singer and guitarist Bruce Springsteen follows small-time toughs, would-be Casanovas, and unsuspecting pretty girls on desperate, and often ill-fated, quests for a payoff, a kiss, a chance at glory on Highway 9. The opening image -- "The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves" -- suggests the unremarkable start of a shore-town date, but nobody in these high-revving songs is passive. Mary and everyone else are chasing down some type of destiny. Springsteen brings you into their anxiety, through breathless stanzas that not only express but share the aspirations of his characters. For these people, staying put means rotting; escape is the last chance power try, the final grab at redemption.
Few rock albums breathe with the romance of life's possibilities the way Born to Run does. Springsteen has said that as he was writing "Thunder Road," "Jungleland," "Backstreets," and the other operatic marvels here, he recognized he'd need to create a sonic vocabulary massive enough to carry the narratives. With help from his redoubtable Asbury Park crew, one of the most assured bands ever to play rock and roll, he got that, exactly. Born to Run encompasses the wild-eyed innocence of early rock and the muscular torque of the great bar bands. The beats charge forward with Cadillac swagger and Porsche finesse; the guitars are engines revving. Everything surrounding the meat-and-potatoes -- the yowling sad-dude saxophone of Clarence Clemons, those pinpoint chimes from the glockenspiel, dancing upper-octave piano arpeggios spilling from some ballet studio -- becomes an elegant, perfect counterpoint.
Each of these songs is a suite defined by distinct episodes -- a songwriting approach Springsteen largely abandonded after this, in favor of tighter and less sprawling pieces. There are sudden pensive pauses, tempo changes, and massive crescendos that underscore the overwhelming drama in the lyrics. The music on this album is riddled with ups and downs -- the fireworks-blazing exuberance of that "pulling out of here to win" line in "Born to Run" is eclipsed, moments later, by the despairing 4 A.M. wail that echoes through "Jungleland," Those mood swings help Springsteen realize another of his goals for Born to Run: In a documentary about the making of the album, he recalls that he wanted it to feel as though "it could all be taking place on an endless summer night."
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
(30th Anniversary Edition) To sound like Phil Spector, write lyrics like Bob Dylan and sing like Roy Orbison: Those were Bruce Springsteen's ambitions for Born to Run, the 1975 masterpiece that made his career. These were immense goals for a twenty-five-year-old Jersey guy who, after two promising albums, was in imminent danger of losing his record contract. Says E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan, "It felt like everything was on the line."
Springsteen went for broke. The eight songs on Born to Run, each telling a story that takes place, he says, on "one endless summer night," capture all his desparation and hope. The album's characters -- the ravaged friends in "Backstreets," the two-bit gangsters in "Meeting Across the River," the working-class wastrels in "Jungleland" -- are trapped and yearning to breathe free. "Thunder Road," "She's the One" and the title track depict lovers who seem eternally on the verge of something, their lust indistinguishable from their liberation. The tension all of them feel, powerfully evoked by the monumental Wall of Sound production and operatic arrangements, is overwhelming -- and exalting.
And this set is a worthy commemoration. The album has been digitally remastered, so its textures are all the richer and more enveloping. The two accompanying DVDs each provide essential context. Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run is an excellent ninety-minute documentary that uses contemporary interviews and archival footage to powerfully re-create the drama of its subject. The recollections by Springsteen, the E Street Band and Jon Landau (the former Rolling Stone editor who co-produced the album and eventually became Springsteen's manager) are nothing short of inspiring. An additional DVD consists of a full-length concert (two hours, sixteen songs) the E Street Band performed in London not long after Born to Run came out. The exquisite band version of "Thunder Road" and explosive renditions of "Spirit in the Night" and "She's the One" demonstrate why Springsteen had earned a reputation for his live shows long before Born to Run made him a significant songwriter and recording artist.
Born to Run, says Landau, is a hymn to "the grandiosity of youth." Now thirty, the album "ain't young anymore," to cite a line from "Thunder Road." But its grandness is no less apparent. * * * * *
- Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone, 12/1/05.
Forget Edward Hopper and his static diner patrons: The Boss' breakthrough album, starring optimistic tramps and engine-revving sax solos, is the greatest living embodiment of the American dream.
Born to Run was chosen as the 15th greatest album of all time by the editors of Entertainment Weekly in July 2013.
- Entertainment Weekly, 7/5/13.
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