Escape, that’s what most people look for out of music, a way to leave hum-drum reality behind and be part of something bigger, those who play it aspire to be remembered, to leave this Earth knowing they’ve accomplished something and mean something greater than existence itself. It’s no easy thing to accomplish and there’s proof in the pudding, for every band that made it big, there are thousands of others that drifted in unrecognition, dreams never realized, their existence at best maybe a footnote in some musical history book (if they’re lucky). It takes a combination of unstoppable focus and drive to make it big, and even more to stay once you’re there, but the reward is worth the risk for if you succeed, you will be remembered for a long long time. Perhaps there was no greater example than Bruce Springsteen.
He wasn’t completely unknown before Born to Run came out, he had two albums released previously, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ and The Wild the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle which both garnered critical success and comparisons as “the next Bob Dylan” and “the next Van Morrison”, high praise but both misunderstood his genius and commercially he was a failure, only having a small gathering of fans from New Jersey, ground zero for the development of his E Street Band. Both his two previous efforts had shown his artistic promise, but for the common consumer they were too wordy and musically too busy (see Blinded By the Light) and the great songs from that time period (New York City Serenade, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), Kitty’s Back, E Street Shuffle) were in danger of becoming footnotes rather than starting points. His pianist David Sancious had departed for a career in jazz fusion and his drummer at the time Vinnie Lopez would leave in 1974 after fighting with the bands manager over money issues.
He convinced his record label, Columbia, to grant him a larger budget for one last chance at making a commercially successful album, if it failed, his career would be pretty much over.
Springsteen knew that he wanted this album to have an epic scope. His album productions which were predominately heavy and warmly mixed would be replaced by a wall of sound technique (made famous by Phil Spector and Motown) to augment his songwriting in a midst of grandeur and epic beauty. He would later recall this decision saying he wanted the album to sound like “Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan, produced by Spector.” During the early writing of Born to Run, Roy Bittan, a pianist, and Max Weinberg, a drummer were added to the E Street lineup, and the modern version of the E Street Band was born. The album would take him 14 months to complete, 6 months alone were spent on Born to Run itself, with 11 guitar tracks in on the mix, and Thunder Road the albums opener is rumored to have 30 different guitar overdubs. Simply put Springsteen was a perfectionist, spending hours looking for the right sound because he had huge aspirations “When I did Born To Run, I thought, ‘I’m going to make the greatest rock ‘n’ roll record ever made.’ “
And what a record it is, when it comes to songs, one of the most important things is the introduction, if you get a listener hooked at the very beginning, you’re pretty much guaranteed a hit song, Born to Run didn’t just have one good introduction, it has 8 of the best introductions in rock and roll. From the bittersweet harmonica and piano opening of Thunder Road, to the horn and drum swaggering rhythm of Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, to the immediacy of the snare drum and saxophone blast of Night, to the beautiful swirling piano intro of Backstreets, to the epic snare drum and guitar line of Born to Run, the low guitar rumble and high organ playing on She’s the One, to the stark piano and horns of Meeting Across the River, to the absolutely beautiful violin and piano intro of Jungleland. Born to Run doesn’t let up from beginning to end.
Lyrics are another key element of songs, ones that have a strong chorus and message are the ones that stand the test of time, and Springsteen’s on Born to Run are a thing of epic grandeur, the finest poetry ever committed to rock form. Springsteen is so detailed you not only hear his words but you can see his characters fleshed out. Mary dancing across her front porch listening to Roy Orbison singing “Only the Lonely” on the radio. Bad Scooter (Bruce Springsteen) overcoming the odds to find himself on top with a band, saved by the Big Man (Clarence Clemens) and his saxophone. Driving around at Night with the world busting from its seems, driven to escape from the menial day time job and breathe in the beauty of it all, thats just the first three, all of them are magnificently written.
Springsteen would never look back after Born to Run, becoming a huge commercial success and have a great live act. Only Dave Matthews Band would hold only a candle to the reverence with which his followers held his live act and there was no one better from the 70’s-80’s. Born to Run is by all means a classic album, and is in the Top 10, if not the Top 5 of all time.
Top Picks: Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Backstreets, Born to Run