Bruce Springsteen has described the songs on Born To Run as different scenes happening on the same summer night somewhere in New Jersey and New York City. This third album commenced as Springsteen’s admitted effort to break into the mainstream, with accessible songs, rich production methods and deliberative sequencing. The strategy worked as the album peaked in the Top 5 and received near universal critical acclaim, with many today considering this the best work of his career.
Springsteen’s first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle were both released in 1973. On those albums, Springsteen made several specific lyrical references to his hometown area near the Northern part of the Jersey Shore. Born To Run includes more general references to reach a wider audience, with Springsteen later calling the work a “dividing line” in the progression of his writing.
Impressed by his first Springsteen concert, music critic Jon Landau enlisted as Springsteen’s manager and co-producer of this upcoming album in 1974. Columbia records invested a sizeable budget in the album’s production, which led to Springsteen being entangled in the recording process for over a year while frustratingly trying to achieve the perfect sound. Like on his previous album, Springsteen enlisted the “E Street Band”, complete with new members, pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg, who each play a vital role on this album.
Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen
|Released: August 25, 1975 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen, Mike Appel, & Jon Landau
Recorded: Record Plant & 914 Sound Studios, New York, May 1974–July 1975
|Side One||Side Two|
Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
|Born To Run
She’s the One
Meeting Across the River
|Bruce Springsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Roy Bittan – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Clarence Clemons – Saxophone, Percussion, Vocals
Garry W. Tallent – Bass
Max Weinberg – Drums
While all songs were composed by Springsteen, it was Bittan’s piano, not Springsteen’s guitar which took the main musical role throughout Born To Run. “Thunder Road” starts things off with an odd harmonica and piano intro where Springsteen and Bittan struggle to reach the right tempo before the song launches and builds with fine lyrics and inspired music. Along with its folk-style lyrics, the music is like a journey into a night of adventure, which grows in intensity as the building musical arrangement perfectly matches the mood of this opening song. With horn arrangements by Steven Van Zandt, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” effectively adds this extra element that gives the upbeat sense of celebration on the song which tells of the formation of the E Street Band. Springsteen’s vocals are superb on this track as he hits the different chord changes with razor precision.
While a step lower in quality, “Night” is an apt and upbeat number with a rich arrangement and would become a concert favorite. The music features a heavy presence by bassist Gary Tallent. The album’s first side wraps with the extended track, “Backstreets”. This track patiently begins with a piano and bass intro that builds the tension as the listener awaits some explosion into the scene, which finally does arrive after about a minute. This track is the first where Springsteen’s guitar plays a significant role with strong rhythms throughout and a middle guitar lead, while the vocals are delivered with intensity throughout, often using repetition to great effect.
The strongest point of the album is the romanticized title song with majestic production. “Born To Run” may be the quintessential Springsteen song with such a unique and exquisite sound not paralleled anywhere else in his catalog or beyond. Each member of the musical ensemble is at their absolute best, from the insatiable bass of Tallent to the dry but bouncy drums of guest Ernest “Boom” Carter to the frenzied sax solo of Clarence Clemons, to the complementing orchestration of the piano of David Sancious, the organ of Danny Federici, and the harpsichord/glockenspiel of Bittan. And that brings us to Springsteen himself, who plays a sharp electric guitar with a strong tremolo effect and vocally delivers the best lyrics of his career. This song, which was the first recorded for the album of the same name, is the four and a half minutes where it all truly comes together.
“She’s the One” is a simple song which builds off a simple underlying rhythm, and never really changes much, just building on the established vibe and melody. “Meeting Across the River” follows with a unique arrangement and a dark, jazzy feel. Springsteen’s vocals are right up front in the mix with the rest of the arrangement, including a signature trumpet by Randy Brecker and double bass by Richard Davis, in the distance. The epic closer “Jungleland” starts with a violin part by Suki Laha which gives it a strong theatrical feel. Eventually, the full rock arrangement arrives and a middle lead guitar brings it to a crescendo. This is soon broken by Clemons’ slowly building sax solo, a true highlight which soon progresses into the most memorable part of the song before the suite dissolves into a very slow section with just piano chords. This ushers Springsteen’s vocals back in as he dramatically navigates through the final suspenseful moments of the song and album.
The album’s release was given a huge promotional budget, which led to Springsteen landing on the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week in October, 1975. Through the decades, Born To Run has reemerged several times onto the album charts, with the latest peak coming in 2005 when the 30th Anniversary edition reached the Top 20 in the US. In recent years, Springsteen has frequently performed the album in its entirety and in order for special concert ocassions.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1975 albums.