Born to Run is the third album by Bruce Springsteen, released in 1975. The album is very well-regarded for Springsteen's maturation in both lyrical content and musical style, and represents his breakthrough into the public consciousness. Among the first positive depictions of The American Dream in music, the album conjured a romantic vision of optimism and idealism in the wake of hard work and difficulty. The album's rich production and uplifting lyrics helped shape a mythos of American culture that resonated with a generation of Americans who were tired of social upheaval and pessimism toward political turmoil.
However, during the production, Springsteen was fed up with his perceived inability to capture the sound he wanted, and he spent over a year in the recording studio trying to finalize his songs. The title track itself took six months to produce, and Springsteen did his best to create a "Wall of Sound" aesthetic similar to that of Phil Spector. He clashed with the members of his E Street Band and fired his producer and manager. However, positive reviews toward his live performances spurred him on, and Springsteen ultimately achieved the "majestic" sound that later made him an American icon.
While numerous figures in the recording industry (all shamelessly promoted by his label, Columbia Records) pegged him as "the future of rock 'n roll," Springsteen himself hated the label and did his best to allow the hype to die down. Because of this, the singles "Born to Run" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" had modest success in terms of airplay. The album itself fared extremely well; it became a Cult Classic for many, especially among blue-collar, middle-class youth. It continued to garner further support over the years especially after Springsteen's future albums garnered acclaim and Born to Run was soon established as a seminal classic, with "Jungleland" and "Thunder Road" being standouts, among others.
Critics and audiences now hold Born to Run in high regard. Rock historians credit the album with inspiring youth to continue to have a voice in politics and find patriotism, even in the wake of The Vietnam War and distrust toward authority. Rolling Stone named it as the #18 greatest album of all time, and it was instated into the National Recording Registry. With its vivid image of American values and optimism in the face of much discontent, the album loudly portrays vivacity and strength amid disillusionment and desperation.
- "Thunder Road" (4:49)
- "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" (3:11)
- "Night" (3:00)
- "Backstreets" (6:30)
- "Born to Run" (4:31)
- "She's the One" (4:30)
- "Meeting Across the River"note (3:18)
- "Jungleland" (9:34)
'Cause tropes like us, baby, we were born to run:
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Repeated multiple times in the record, from the references to girls riding in the back of motorcycles on "Thunder Road" to the gang fights in "Jungleland".
- The Alleged Car: The Chevrolets in "Thunder Road" are burned out, which is why Springsteen urges the girl to go for a ride on his motorcycle.
- The Big Race: "Night" is about street-racing in general, and the joy it brings to people who are bored out of their minds at the end of the day.
- Break His Heart to Save Him: "She's the One" describes how the protagonist's heart has to break in order for him to be saved from his own innocence:Oh she can take you, but if she wants to break you
She's gonna find out that ain't so easy to do
And no matter where you sleep tonight or how far you run
Oh she's the one
- Broken Record: "I walked into a Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out! Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out! Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out!"
- Color Contrast: The album cover features Springsteen leaning against the black Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist, who is on the back. See the quote underneath Mundane Made Awesome below.
- Con Men Hate Guns: Described in "Meeting Across the River". The protagonist doesn't want to carry a gun, so he insists that he and his friend should give the appearance of having one, while appearing cool, calm, and collected:And all we gotta do is hold up our end
Here stuff this in your pocket
It'll look like you're carrying a friend
And remember, just don't smile
Change your shirt, cause tonight we got style
- Crapsack World: "Backstreets" makes references to the squalor of the city, amid the appearance of a humble lifestyle:At night sometimes it seemed
You could hear the whole damn city crying
Blame it on the lies that killed us
Blame it on the truth that ran us down
- Does Not Like Shoes: The "barefoot girl" who's dating Rat in "Jungleland".
- Drag Queen: Referred to in "Backstreets". They also seem to face abuse while keeping their glamorous façade:Endless juke joints and Valentino drag
Where famous dancers scraped the tears
Up off the street dressed down in rags
Running into the darkness
- Epic Rocking: "Backstreets" and "Jungleland", though all the songs are usually extended to epic degrees of length live.
- Femme Fatale: "She's the One":With her killer graces
And her secret places
That no boy can fill
With her hands on her hips
Oh and that smile on her lips
- God-Is-Love Songs: Averted with "Thunder Road", which mocks the idea of someone who waits for a savior to deliver someone redemption, when they can go out and get it themselves:You can hide 'neath your covers and study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets
Well now I'm no hero that's understood
All the redemption I can offer girl is beneath this dirty hood
- A Good Name for a Rock Band: Springsteen's lyrics in this album have inspired numerous rock band names, such as Suicide Machines from "Born to Run", Duke Street Kings from "Backstreets" the list goes on.
- Heavy Meta: Springsteen mentions in "Thunder Road" that he's "got this guitar and learned how to make it talk", before playing a funky riff.
- Heavy Mithril: Not quite mythological in the fantastic sense, but "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" is a tall tale about the formation of the E-Street Band:I'm stranded in the jungle
Taking all the heat they was giving
The night is dark but the sidewalks bright
And lined with the light of the living
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Terry and the protagonist of "Backstreets" have this relationship, which borders on Ho Yay.
- I Can't Do This by Myself: "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" is a touching number about how Springsteen wouldn't be anywhere without his backing band, especially saxophonist Clarence Clemons (whom he refers to as "the Big Man" in the song).
- Lead Bassist: Springsteen plays a bass guitar in "Born to Run", and even has an epic bass solo halfway through.
- Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: Springsteen has released many versions of this album over the year, each with various B-sides and promising more tracks than the previous.
- Location Song: The songs all take place in small towns in New Jersey. They also seem to refer to specific locations: the "giant Exxon sign" in "Jungleland" could be the Bayway Refinery facility in New Jersey.
- Longest Song Goes Last: The album closes with "Jungleland" (9:34).
- Love Redeems: While "Thunder Road" seems to play this straight, "She's the One" refers to various things that remind the protagonist of the girl he lost and how her love used to redeem him.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The poets at the end of "Jungleland" can't seem to express the sense of hopelessness and loss in words:Outside the streets on fire in a real death waltz
Between what's flesh and what's fantasy
And the poets down here
Don't write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be
- Mundane Made Awesome: The appeal and charm of the record is through its ability to take regular, blue-collar people and make their lives seem amazing and fantastic. As described by Peter Carlin, a Springsteen biographer, who epitomizes the album cover:Carlin: [T]ake a long look at the album itself: the black-and-white shot of Bruce cloaked in black leather, guitar in hand, Elvis button on his strap leaning hard on the mighty shoulder of Clemons, whose white shirt is set off by a broad-brimmed black hat and, of course, his radiant black skin. For in this picture, Bruce knew, resided the heart of the band: unity, brotherhood, a small fulfillment of the American ideals of strength, equality, and community. The essence of e pluribus unum, as filtered through the unity of rock n roll and rhythm and blues.
- Music Is Politics: There have been multiple attempts over the years by US Congressmen to instate Born to Run. The title track is also repeatedly raised as a candidate for New Jersey's state song (the Garden State has never had one).
- Music Stories: "Jungleland" is a metaphorical representation of bands who duke it out against one another, in ways similar to most gang fights.
- Non-Appearing Title: "Meeting Across the River" does not feature the title in the song. The song was originally called "The Heist", and original pressings feature this title before Springsteen decided to change it.
- Nostalgia Filter: Born to Run has a contentious relationship with this, since on one hand it tends to romanticize escaping to a distant land; on the other, it does directly refer to problems plaguing the middle-to-lower-class such as gangs and drugs.
- One Last Job: "Meeting Across the River":You gotta promise you won't say anything
Cause this guy don't dance
And the word's been passed this is our last chance
- Overt Rendezvous: "Meeting Across the River" describes a shady deal taking place in the middle of the night, but hints that it's just across the New Jersey tunnel to New York, in a relatively public location.
- The Power of Rock: The songs collectively refer to how beautiful Rock 'n Roll can be in bringing people out of depression and humdrum lifestyles in order to gain a new, exciting perspective in life.
- Sexy Sax Man: Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist of the E Street Band, appears on the back cover (Springsteen is leaning on him on the front). He became such a prominent Face of the Band that he received a lot more coverage for his appearance than anything else.
- Senseless Violins: Referred to metaphorically in "Jungleland":Man there's an opera out on the turnpike, there's a ballet being fought out in the alley
Until the local cops, cherry tops, rips this holy night
The street's alive as secret debts are paid
Contact's made, they vanished unseen, kids flash guitars just like switch-blades
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: The end of "Jungleland" features the protagonist, Rat, failing at his dreams and losing his girl after his act is "shot down".In the tunnels uptown the Rat's own dream guns him down
As shots echo down them hallways in the night
No one watches when the ambulance pulls away
Or as the girl shuts out the bedroom light
- Shout-Out: Springsteen has stated that he created the record with the intent to have his voice sound like Roy Orbison, while the sound should sound like Phil Spector. There's even a direct reference to the former in "Thunder Road".
- Silly Love Songs: "She's the One" is much more lighthearted than all the other material.
- Stealth Insult: "Thunder Road" has one of the most famous ones in the history of Rock & Roll:Show a little faith there's magic in the night
You ain't a beauty but hey you're alright
Oh and that's alright with me
- Street Urchin: The protagonist and Terry of "Backstreets" seem to live on the streets as vagrants in a poor Jersey town.
- Titled After the Song: "Thunder Road" is an inversion as it was named after the Robert Mitchum movie. Interestingly, Springsteen claims he hadn't seen the film at the time he wrote the song; he just found the poster inspiring. In turn, there was a Jim Cummings film, also titled Thunder Road, inspired by Springsteen's song, making for an interesting recursive case of this trope.
- Wanderlust Song: "Born to Run", obviously. "Thunder Road" and "Meeting Across the River" reference this too.
- Working-Class Hero: This album solidified Springsteen's image as one, to the point where Columbia made sure to promote the label in various press releases so often that Springsteen himself was sick of it. "Night" is a good example, since it touches on the fact that the working poor need a release at the end of their shifts:And you're in love with all the wonder it brings
And every muscle in your body sings as the highway ignites
You work nine to five and somehow you survive till the night
Hell all day they're busting you up on the outside
But tonight you're gonna break on through to the inside