In the summer of 1975, Bruce Springsteen was a popular nobody. Inspired, like every other young boy at the time, by the Beatlemania of the 1960s, he had formed a string of well received bands and played high school dances and open air shows for the better part of ten years. Reviewers who came to see said bands walked away in awe of Springsteen’s unique, and utterly genuine musical style. The 1973 release of his first album Greeting from Asbury park, N.J., on the same record label as Bob Dylan, saw him as a solid critical if not necessarily commercial success. His second later the same year – The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle – met much the same fate. The world seemed content to see him as a small-town, soulful rocker with a dedicated cult, if not particularly large, following.
That all changed in August, 1975.
The release of Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen’s third studio album, changed the face of rock and roll, and even that of music, forever. Released just over a week after a sold out five-night, 10-show stand at New York’s prestigious Bottom Line club that got the world’s media talking, Springsteen was catapulted from relative obscurity into the world’s consciousness. While the singles from the album charted only relatively well, reaching numbers 23 and 83 on the American Billboard chart, each and every song received near-constant airplay that autumn. The album now ranks in countless ‘Greatest Albums Of All Time’ lists, though its origins and perhaps the very reasons for its success are far more humble.
Class conscious and without pretension, Springsteen drew on his own experiences to compose and perform songs which spoke directly to those to whom he had always played. His music spoke to small town souls, to those trapped where they were but who dreamed of escape, of making it big.
The album’s title song, ‘Born To Run’ is fairly representative of everything the album set out to capture. The song is first person, comes across as intimate and personal, and tells the story of passionate young love, of working with no end in sight but with a need to get out. Covered countless times, featured and referenced even more – from The Simpsons to Childish Gambino – the song represents the everyman’s dream of a bright future.
If ‘Born To Run’ is that dream, then the building ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’ with its riotous, foot-stamping culmination feels like heady success. Though Springsteen himself confesses that even he does not quite know what the title means, it remains nonetheless important. When he sings that ‘a change was made up town and the big man, joined the band,’ you too honestly feel like somehow, you’ve made it.
‘Thunder Road’ is, perhaps, the greatest of all. Opening the album with six squeaky notes on a simple mouth organ, unlike others on the album the track tells nothing of success but only that of reaching for it; and is all the more raw and powerful as a result. From a rich opening line – ‘The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves’ – Springsteen delicately crafts a story of hope. He sings about having nothing, about being nothing, but still giving it all one last time. If you fail; at least you tired, and at least you won’t end up where you started. The song, building with thunderous energy, represented Springsteen’s invitation for anyone who would listen to join him on a journey, leaving your past behind you in search of a promised future. ‘Thunder Road’ will, unequivocally, always remain my favourite song in the world.
Born To Run spoke to a generation, capturing the world’s heart and in the process laying the foundations for a long career of commercial and critical success. His latest album and his 18th overall, High Hopes, was released only last year. Bruce Springsteen and his music continue to touch lives around the globe, and none such as that within Born To Run remind us quite so starkly that our dreams are achievable, if only we keep fighting towards them.
Born To Run was released on the 25th of August, 1975, via Columbia Records.