White Rabbit Records - Blog

2023/4 Albums Thing 329 - Bruce Springsteen “Born To Run”

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I first heard this record after getting my first tax rebate, aged 18, that would put it sometime after April 1981, and asking a work colleague for a recommendation on an album to buy that was outside of what I would usually listen to. That work colleague, Rob, said  “Born To Run” without hesitation. I went to the record shop at the end of the street (Inferno  Dale End in Birmingham. I was possibly even served by Simon Efemey who I have worked with for years he being The Wonder Stuff’s long time sound engineer but at this time was the manager at Inferno), bought a copy and fell for it the very first time I played it. Me and Rob are still friends, we’ve been to see the Boss and the E Street Band together a couple of times and I’ve thanked him many times over for that suggestion.

After 2 critically, if not sales wise, well received albums “Born To Run” felt like it needed to be “the one” for Bruce Springsteen

I wanted to make the greatest rock record that I’d ever heard, and I wanted it to sound enormous and I wanted it to grab you by your throat and insist that you take that ride, insist that you pay attention, not to just the music, but just to life, to feeling alive, to being alive.”

Recording had begun in May 1974. Columbia had given Springsteen a huge budget in order to achieve that elusive hit. Springsteen was aiming for a “wall of sound” effect but recordings got bogged down. By the Spring of 1975 manager/Producer Mike Appel had been replaced by Jon Landau (a journalist and confidante of Springsteen’s and, since this period, his manager) and engineer Jimmy Iovine. The sessions proceeded much more successfully.

“Born To Run” was released in August 1975 with a huge marketing campaign prominently featuring Landau’s quote from a live review of a show in Boston, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen”. It worked, the album charted in the US in the second week of September 1975 peaking at #3. It broke Springsteen to the US and the world and has been certified 7x Platinum in the US (7 million sales).

The album is a loosely connected series of stories all taking place during one long summer day and night. Springsteen has said that it introduced "characters whose lives I would trace in my work...for decades”. It opens with the early morning harmonica of “Thunder Road”. You are introduced to the album’s central characters and its most important question…do you want to take a chance? Springsteen has described “Thunder Road” as an invitation, you can stay here where things will remain the same and you’re comfortable and safe or…you can jump in this car with me and we can see this world and have an adventure together.

“…Hey what else can we do now? Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair

Well the night's busting open these two lanes will take us anywhere…”

And so the adventure begins. “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” tells the story of the E Street Band (this was the first album featuring pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg) and their “full on block party” as Springsteen has described it. “Night” has one of our characters doing what he does, working all day with the boss on his back, then finding that girl, jumping in his car and losing himself in the night.

Side 1 finishes with “Backstreets”. We saw Springsteen in July last year in Italy and he played this song, the first time I’d heard it live since 1988 on The Tunnel Of Love Express tour. On the surface it’s a boy meets girl, they have a great time and then split up song. Springsteen has said it’s about

“…youth, the beach, the night, friendships, the feeling of being an outcast and kind of living far away from things in this little outpost in New Jersey. It's also about a place of personal refuge. It wasn't a specific relationship or anything that brought the song into being.

It’s one of “Born To Run”s epic set pieces that frame each side of the album, with the other songs supplying the little details in between. If you read his biography which shares a title with this album, many of the events places and characters in songs like “Backstreets” are in there so you know he was writing from experience.

Side 2 of “Born To Run” kicks off like a freight train smashing through a brick wall. That machine gun drum intro (played by Ernest ‘Boom’ Carter, the only Springsteen recording he ever played on. How about that as a claim to fame) is quickly followed by the now famous 6 note riff and the set up “In the day we sweat it out on the streets, Of a runaway American dream”. It’s a song about moving forward, getting away, freedom. It’s got that same invitation that “Thunder Road” had, are you willing to step into the unknown to look for something (better) ? “Tramps like us, Baby we were born to run”…and you thought he was just singing about cars and girls…

“She’s The One” is a love song driven by the Bo Diddley beat. Dance music for that hot summer evening. “Meeting Across The River” is a story within a story. Two small time Jersey guys are gonna cross the river to do a little favour for someone in the Big Apple and they just gotta be cool and they’ll earn some big bucks. It sits beautifully in a gentle Jazzy setting (Trumpet by the great Michael Brecker) and is a song of hope, aspiration, desperation and not a little sadness.

It all comes to a close with “Jungleland”. Everybody is in here, all the characters, winners, losers and the mid-nighters coming together for this grandest of finales

At record’s end, our lovers from “Thunder Road” have had their early hard-won optimism severely tested by the streets of my noir city. They’re left in fate’s hands, in a land where ambivalence reigns and tomorrow is unknown.

Is the barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge Wendy, or Terry maybe ? Fights in alleys become ballets, the car horns out on the roads become an opera and everybody wants to do battle…with guitars. All that is then taken on a soaring flight by one of the greatest Saxophone solo’s you’ll ever hear, I gots a lump in my throat just thinking about it, The Big Man Clarence Clemons at his finest. 

“This was the album where I left behind my adolescent definitions of love and freedom; from here on in, it was going to be a lot more complicated.”

“Born To Run” is quite simply one of the greatest albums made by anyone, ever. From the music within to the cover shot of Bruce and Clarence (unbelievably a picture of a white man in close proximity with a black man still caused consternation in some parts of the USA in 1975 !), it was a big deal. It set up a sound that people think of even now as Springsteen’s, Roy Bittan’s grandiose piano intro’s, Clarence Clemons huge saxophone solo’s, Bruce singing about cars and girls (even though he’s singing about so much more than that), a sound I’ve always thought of as cinematic, if you closed your eyes you could see those streets and the giant Exxon sign and Mary, Wendy, Terry and the Magic Rat. 

Jungleland - https://youtu.be/l6IwxpL-ZDk?si=HkK8hNv8mNvTnCKN 

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