My early albums were about being someplace and what it was like there, Born to Run is about being nowhere at all.
Released on August 25, 1975, Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run remains his most epic statement, a make it or break it album for an artist on the verge of losing his major label record deal. He made it, selling more than six million copies, and the rest is history. Springsteen, 25, would say he was born, grew old and died in the fourteen months it took to make his third album. You can hear the anxiety in every groove, the last chance power try.
Here are five fun facts about Born To Run.
1. It might have been called The Legend of Zero and Blind Terry. Springsteen was always interested in making a concept album and already had an epic eight minute song in his back pocket called "Zero and Blind Terry" about two runaway lovers hiding from the police. He dropped the song but came up with one that shares similar themes : the album closer "Jungleland". Born To Run is a concept album. Springsteen has said he imagined everything that happens in the album occurs on an endless Summer night.
2. The single "Born To Run", was first recorded by Allan Clarke of The Hollies. But Springsteen's version was the first to be released, and is the only song on the album produced with his manager Mike Appel and featuring departing members Ernest "Boom" Carter on drums and David Sancious on keyboards. Springsteen spent six months in the studio recording "Born To Run", building a Phil Spector like "Wall of Sound" by laying down as many as 11 tracks of guitar alone. He knew the driving tune would be a hit.
After playing a tape of the song for Crawdaddy he reportedly punched the air, yelling "WABC!", the top 40 station in New York City. The song did hit the Top 40, peaking at #23 on November 1, 1975.
3. The album begins with a whiff of Dylan. There's a very Dylanesque harmonica at the very top of the first song, "Thunder Road", which might have given fans and critics pause. Springsteen had survived the "new Dylan" hype. He'd even recovered from the "new Van Morrison" hype, and soon he would face his own hurricane of hype ( Creem Magazine readers voted 1975's biggest fads as 1) Disco, 2) Springsteen and 3) Trying to Kill the President). So he needed to come up with his own sound, one that would go over with the rock n roll kids coming to his concert.
That's where rock critic Jon "I Saw Rock and Roll's Future and its name is Bruce Springsteen" Landau came in, first as a friend, then advisor and finally as co-producer. Landau had once produced the MC5 so he had bona fides. He prodded Springsteen through sessions at the Record Plant that often began at 6 PM and went to 3 AM but states everything on the record is Springsteen's vision.
4. Steve Van Zandt saved the day on 'Tenth Avenue Freeze Out'. Bruce wanted some horns to accompany Clarence Clemmons. With the Brecker Brothers in the studio, Roy Bittan tried to help Bruce write horn charts but they didn't sound like anything Bruce had in mind. A visiting Miami Steve was asked to help. His band's often covered Memphis soul tunes. Van Zandt told the musicians to put away their horn charts and sang the parts he wanted them to play. It worked.
Springsteen turned to manager Appel and reportedly said "It's time to put the boy on the payroll. I've been meaning to tell you --he's the new guitar player". Miami Steve would be a permanent member of the band for more than ten years.
5. Springsteen hated all ten Jimmy Iovine masters of Born To Run. He even threatened to toss out half of the album and record the rest live at an upcoming gig. But Landau talked him out of it, saying "You're not supposed to like it. You think Chuck Berry sits around listening to 'Maybelline'?...C'mon it's time to put the record out".
Two weeks later, Born To Run came out.
Your reward for reading today's post: The Born to Run documentary, Wings for Wheels.