Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s monumental, system-upending colossus Born to Run lit up, bowled over, and blew away the world for the first time on August 25, 1975. From that moment forward, no doubt existed anywhere as to whom rock fans were referring when any time they mentioned “The Boss.”
Born to Run is nothing less (and a whole lot more) than a cosmic-scaled coming-of-age confessional that connects Woody Guthrie folk strums to ’50s teenage rock rumbles to Roy Orbison longing to Bob Dylan stripped of cryptic acrobatics to songs about cars and girls (and vice versa) to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound dynamics to post-hippie working class youth finding their footing amongst Me Decade madness to the rock’s ever-evolving invitation to drop everything and let fly in the face of the infinite possibilities offered by an open road—any open road.
Let’s honor Born to Run now with 40 facts about this before-and-after line in music history that’s as crucial to rock as the moment on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” in which Bruce celebrates when “the Big Man joined the band!” (Cue awesome saxophone outburst).
1. Born to Run is the third album by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. “When I did Born To Run,” Springsteen has stated in hindsight, “I thought, ’I’m going to make the greatest rock ’n’ roll record ever made.’”
2. After the group’s first two efforts—Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey (1973) and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle (1974)—had failed to chart, Born to Run peaked at #3.
3. Springsteen’s BTR follow-up, Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978), topped out at #5. The River (1980) would be The Boss’s first #1.
4. Born to Run has subsequently sold more than six million copies.
5. Faced in 1974 with Columbia Records potentially dropping the E Street Band, Springsteen put his all into the group’s live performances, making particular waves with runs of shows at the Bottom Line in New York City and the Harvard Square Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
6. It was at the latter where Rolling Stone critic Jon Landau caught the Boss and subsequently wrote a review that changed everything. It centered on the line: “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”
7. The piece ran in the Boston-based The Real Paper, and the full quote is: I saw my rock ‘n’ roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.”
8. Later in the review, Landau clarifies his declaration thusly: “Springsteen does it all. He is a rock ‘n’ roll punk, a Latin street poet, a ballet dancer, an actor, a joker, bar band leader, hot-s-it rhythm guitar player, extraordinary singer, and a truly great rock ‘n’ roll composer. He leads a band like he has been doing it forever. I racked my brains but simply can’t think of a white artist who does so many things so superbly.”
9. From there, Springsteen and Landau hit it off considerably. As Landau had produced the MC5’s landmark Back in the USA album, Bruce ended up asking Jon to co-produce Born to Run.
10. Jon Landau ultimately became Springsteen’s manager and constant producer up through the 1992 double release of Human Touch and Lucky Town. To date, they remain close friends and Bruce is still handled by Landau’s management company.
11. Springsteen composed each Born to Run song primarily on piano. He said he wanted the record to sound like “Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan, produced by [Phil] Spector.” Think he nailed it?
12. BTR’s track listing is extremely precise, with each side bookended with an opening anthem of escaping to freedom and a heavy-duty bummer of a closing track. Bruce deemed this approach “four walling.”
13. Utilizing that strategy, side one of BTR starts with “Thunder Road” and ends with “Backstreets;” while side two ups every ante by bolting out of the gate with “Born to Run” and shutting it all down with the sprawling, operatic “Jungleland.”
14. With the exception of “Meeting Across the River” and (pretty much) “Night,” each of Born to Run’s eight tracks has become an endlessly rotated rock radio staple. Only two songs, however, were officially released as singles: “Born to Run” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”
15. “Born to Run” peaked at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart.
16. Springsteen turned perfectionist when it came to laying down BTR’s title track, taking six full months in the studio to record and re-record every minute detail of the song.
17. E Street Band guitarist and Springsteen consiglieri Steven Van Zandt later noted, “Anytime you spend six months on a song, there’s something not exactly going right. A song should take about three hours.”
18. Alternate takes of “Born to Run” include female chorus singers, layers of string instruments, pitch-black lyrics regarding violence and self-destruction (including some about suicidal surfers) and no mention of the song’s subsequently famous heroine, Wendy.
19. At least one early version even ends with Bruce paying local homage to a local AM Top 40 radio station by shouting into the fadeout, “WABC!”
20. Radio did proved fundamental in breaking the song, the album, and Springsteen himself, as DJ Ed Sciaky at WMMR in Philadelphia premiered the “Born to Run” single. Hugely influential DJs Scott Muni at WNEW in New York, Kid Leo at WMMS in Cleveland, and Maxanne Sartori (who first broke Aerosmith) at WBCN in Boston followed suit. In short order, “Born to Run” ruled as an FM airwaves sensation.
22. In 1980, WNEW-FM disc jockey Carol Miller mounted a campaign to get “Born to Run” declared the official state song of New Jersey. “It was a political year,” she said, “so it only got as far as being the official rock theme of New Jersey. The House voted on it, I believe, in Trenton, but the Senate didn’t,” Miller recalls. “I went down for it. It was pretty funny.”
23. Several years later, Howard Stern loudly and hilariously summed up what countless other observant wisenheimers had been pointing out when he yelled at her, “Hey, Carol! ’Born to Run’ is about getting the hell out of New Jersey!”
24. Weirdly, a cover of “Born to Run” by Hollies singer Allan Clarke actually beat Bruce to vinyl, but his version was held back until after Springsteen’s hit.
25. The B-side of the “Born to Run” single is “Meeting Across the River.” It’s an intense character study of New York mobsters crossing the Hudson to pull off a job in New Jersey.
26. First-run pressings of Born to Run feature cursive writing on the front cover and list “Meeting Across the River” as “The Heist.” Known as the “Script Cover,” any copy of this LP is arguably the most cherished collectible among Springsteen obsessives.
27. The book Meetings Across the River: Songs Stories Inspired by the Haunting Bruce Springsteen Song by Jessica Kaye and Richard Brewer is a collection of short fiction pieces published in 2008. Although conveniently affordable now in Kindle form, original hard copies of the book are pricey collector’s items.
28. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” tells the origin story of the E Street band. As a single, it peaked at #83 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. Regardless, rock radio loved the song immediately, and it still gets played all the time.
29. Springsteen has never explained the title. In fact, in the 2005 documentary Wings for Wheels: The Making of ‘Born to Run’, Bruce admits with a chuckle: “I still have no idea what it means—but it’s important!”
30. “Wings for Wheels” was the original title of Born to Run’s album opener, “Thunder Road.” Springsteen ultimately took the song’s name from the big-screen 1957 Robert Mitchum moonshine potboiler, Thunder Road. During a 1978 concert, Bruce divulged, “I never saw the movie, I only saw the poster in the lobby in the theater.”
31. The Springsteen song “The Promise,” written in 1978 and performed sporadically throughout the years, is a direct sequel to “Thunder Road.” It finally got an official treatment as the title track of the 2010 Bruce album, The Promise.
32. “Jungleland” closes Born to Run as a nine-and-a-half-minute saga of gang warfare and mortally doomed romance. Every E Street Band member shines incandescently on the song while Springsteen delivers a vocal unlike anything he’d ever pulled off in the past.
33. In Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest Singers, Melissa Etheridge proclaimed: “When Bruce Springsteen does those wordless wails, like at the end of ’Jungleland,’ that’s the definition of rock & roll to me. He uses his whole body when he sings, and he puts out this enormous amount of force and emotion and passion.”
34. Acclaimed photographer Eric Meola snapped Born to Run’s iconic cover image. The pic shows Springsteen, holding a Fender Telecaster guitar with an Esquire neck, leaning on the shoulder of saxophone player Clarence Clemons in mid-wail. It was one of 900 shots Meola took during the three-hour photo session.
35. Columbia Records launched Born to Run with a mammoth, $250,000 multimedia saturation campaign aimed both at rock fans and rock journalists. It worked brilliantly.
36. On October 27, 1975, Bruce Springsteen graced the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines. It was a feat reserved in the past almost exclusively for politicians, and it had never happened previously with a rock star.
37. Springsteen booster Jay Cocks penned the laudatory Time piece, titled “Rock’s New Sensation.”
38. Newsweek’s take, “The Making of a Rock Star” by Janet Huck managed to praise Bruce’s talent, but primarily focused on Columbia’s calculated promotional efforts. Huck pointedly concludes the article by writing, “Hypes are as American as Coca-Cola so perhaps — in one way or another — Bruce Springsteen ‘is’ the Real Thing.”
39. Bruce got quickly embarrassed by the hoopla and proclaimed that the corporate campaign to sell him as “the future of rock was a very big mistake and I’d like to strangle the guy who thought that up if I ever get a hold of him.”
40. Years later, Springsteen lightened up and took his whole monumental Born to Run moment in stride. While inducting U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, Bruce said: “It’s embarrassing to want so much, and to expect so much from music, except sometimes it happens—the Sun Sessions, Highway 61, Sgt. Pepper’s, the Band, Robert Johnson, Exile on Main Street, Born to Run—whoops, I meant to leave that one out.”