Born to Run
Springsteen, Bruce and the E Street Band
"The Door's Open but the Ride, It Ain't Free"
Born to Run is the basic rock and roll impulse—we gotta get out of this place—blown up larger than life and written in the block letters of flashing neon signs. In this American classic of the open road, New Jersey singer and guitarist Bruce Springsteen follows smalltime toughs, would-be Casanovas, and unsuspecting pretty girls on desperate, and often ill-fated, quests for a payoff, a kiss, a chance at glory on Highway 9. The opening image—"The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves"—suggests the unremarkable start of a shore-town date, but nobody in these high-revving songs is passive. Mary and everyone else are chasing down some type of destiny. Springsteen brings you into their anxiety, through breathless stanzas that not only express but share the aspirations of his characters. For these people, staying put means rotting; escape is the last chance power try, the final grab at redemption.
Few rock albums breathe with the romance of life's possibilities the way Born to Run does. Springsteen has said that as he was writing "Thunder Road," "Jungleland," "Backstreets," and the other operatic marvels here, he recognized he'd need to create a sonic vocabulary massive enough to carry the narratives. With help from his redoubtable Asbury Park crew, one of the most assured bands ever to play rock and roll, he got that, exactly. Born to Run encompasses the wild-eyed innocence of early rock and the muscular torque of the great bar bands. The beats charge forward with Cadillac swagger and Porsche finesse; the guitars are engines revving. Everything surrounding the meat-and-potatoes—the yowling sad-dude saxophone of Clarence Clemens, those pinpoint chimes from the glockenspiel, dancing upper-octave piano arpeggios spilling from some ballet studio— becomes an elegant, perfect counterpoint.
Each of these songs is a suite defined by distinct episodes—a songwriting approach Springsteen largely abandoned after this, in favor of tighter and less sprawling pieces. There are sudden pensive pauses, tempo changes, and massive crescendos that underscore the overwhelming drama in the lyrics. The music on this album is riddled with ups and downs—the fireworks-blazing exuberance of that "pulling out of here to win" line in "Born to Run" is eclipsed, moments later, by the despairing 4 A.M. wail that echoes through "Jungleland." Those mood swings help Springsteen realize another of his goals for Born to Run: In a documentary about the making of the album, he recalls that he wanted it to feel as though "it could all be taking place on an endless summer night."
Released: 1975, Columbia
Key Tracks: "Thunder Road," "Born to Run," "She's the One," "Night," "Backstreets," "Jungleland."
Catalog Choice: Darkness on the Edge of Town; The River; Nebraska
Next Stop: The Who: Who's Next
After That: U2: War
Book Pages: 733–734