Born To Run is the best album ever written. It contains within its eight tracks the two best rock and roll songs ever written and three other songs that are damn close. The album cover is the best album art ever put on a record. This review does not reflect my bias of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, but rather my honest opinion about what I (and many others) consider to be the record that saved rock and roll music.
When a 25-year-old Springsteen released Born To Run in 1975, he was almost ready to hang up his hat on music. Columbia Records did not approve of the cult following that Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shufflecreated; they signed Springsteen with the very specific idea that he was going to sell as many records as Bob Dylan. They wanted his face on billboards on the highway, and they wanted his name on top of the Billboard singles charts every week. Springsteen has said that the only thing that made him write Born To Run was that he never wanted to have a 9-to-5 job in his life. In Dave Marsh’s biography of Springsteen, Marsh writes that Springsteen was finally going to call it quits if Born To Run didn’t succeed. Well, the record didn’t just succeed – it went down as one of the most important records ever released, and Springsteen filled an empty void as America’s beloved and adored rock and roll superstar.
To write that Springsteen wanted Born To Run to be perfect would be one of the most criminally understated sentences ever typed. Columbia gave him a ridiculous budget to record the album, as they considered it a last chance for this Springsteen fellow to finally make something worthwhile. He holed up in the same New York recording studio where his last two records were made, only instead of recording it in two months, it took over a year. A total of 14 months went into recording Born To Run, and a well-known rock and roll trivia fact is that it took six months to record and produce the title track by itself. “Born To Run” has 12 layers of guitar recordings, a prime example of the amount of thought that went into the record. A simple Wikipedia search tells it better than I can:
The album is noted for its use of introductions to set the tone of each song (all of the record was composed on piano, not guitar), and for the Phil Spector-like “Wall of Sound” arrangements and production. Indeed, Springsteen has said that he wanted “Born to Run” to sound like “Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan, produced by Spector.”…. In terms of the original LP’s sequencing, Springsteen eventually adopted a “four corners” approach, as the songs beginning each side (“Thunder Road”, “Born to Run”) were uplifting odes to escape, while the songs ending each side (“Backstreets”, “Jungleland”) were sad epics of loss, betrayal, and defeat. (Originally, he had planned to begin and end the album with alternative versions of “Thunder Road”.)
Like I said, the amount of thought given to every single crevice of this record is something that cannot accurately be fathomed by people outside of Springsteen’s circle. For the first time, Springsteen brought well-known music critic Jon Landau to help produce the record, which signaled the beginning of the end of Springsteen’s relationship with Mike Appel. Landau is perhaps most famous for a quote he delivered in a Rolling Stone magazine review of a live Springsteen performance he attended: “I saw rock’n’roll’s future – and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Not only was Landau correct in his now-famous quote, but he played a key role in the development of the record that would prove him right.
”Born To Run” was the single that launched Springsteen from a concentrated cult following in the northeast to a mainstream superstar. A leaked version of the song received airplay across the nation and ended up causing more hype for the release than Springsteen originally intended, as he later said the hype provided a distraction in the already stressful process of recording.
Opener “Thunder Road” is, in my own opinion, the best song ever written, but not the most important song on this record. Like I said, “Born To Run,” which is the first track on Side B of the record, is the most important song of Springsteen’s career and one of the more influential tracks in all of rock and roll. But “Thunder Road,” from its highly emotional harmonica lines to its instantly memorable piano fills to its trademark guitar parts later in the track – is the best opening number ever (I’m looking at you, “Come Together”). As is the case on both sides of the record, the first and last songs on each side are the most impressive. The two middle ones on Side A are the short and catchy “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “Night.” The former is a more groove-based jazzy song, while the latter is a straight-up rock and roller that probably should have seen some success as a single.
”Backstreets” closes the first side, featuring one of the more memorable piano parts that Springsteen has written. This 6+ minute song, with its repeated cries of “Hiding on the backstreets” in the bridge, has become very celebrated in Springsteen’s illustrious live career. I would challenge any appreciator of musicianship to listen to just the first 50 seconds of this track and see if he wasn’t intrigued enough to hear the rest of it.
The double-shot of “Born To Run” and “She’s The One” that kick off Side B is a duo that needs hardly any introduction. Most everyone has heard “Born To Run” in their life, so I’ll save about 300 words from this review by not discussing the intricate details of that track. “She’s The One” is the lighthearted follow-up that features the catchiest hook Springsteen wrote that wasn’t on “Dancing In The Dark.” “Meeting Across the River” is the only song on Born To Run that doesn’t receive much attention, but that’s because it’s meant to be a calmer in between the high tempo of “She’s The One” and the epic closer “Jungleland.”
The nearly 10-minute “Jungleland” is the cement on Born To Run. If the first six songs weren’t enough, “Jungleland” has the power to move people on its own. It tells the type of story that listeners became familiar with on The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, with some of Springsteen’s most imaginative lyricism.
In case you didn’t notice, I used the word “ever” a lot in this review. This is the best album released by arguably one of the best musicians of all time. Born To Run is Springsteen’s magnum opus, the album that helped skyrocket him out of the shadow of Bob Dylan and into the spotlight as The Boss. The release of Born To Run came at a time when there was no superstar rock and roll band, when there was no cultural icon for both working-class parents and their teenagers to turn to. Springsteen, with a scruffy unshaven beard and a full head of thick, moppy hair, became a heartthrob among teenage girls and a rock and roll god among their boyfriends. It’s hard to put into words what this record means to me personally. Without it, I probably never would have picked up a guitar or become enthralled with music at all – I probably wouldn’t be a writer for this website.
Without this record, it’s impossible to tell where rock and roll would have gone. There were plenty of phenomenal releases in the 70s after Born To Run, but it’s safe to say that without Springsteen’s immeasurably important contribution to the genre, it would have developed much differently than it did.
Notable Fact: Ranked No. 18 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.