40th Anniversary Retrospective of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run

A little over a year ago, on this very website, I wrote my 30th Anniversary Retrospective of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA which was a fun experience and an endeavor that didn’t hit me to do until the evening of the day of. I am much more prepared for Born to Run… I’m beginning the adventure the night before Run’s 40th birthday.

Not to overstate the importance of Born to Run, but this album is the reason that Bruce Springsteen is Bruce Springsteen. The lead single off the album was the title track which gained Springsteen popularity and, to use a phrase that is overused, the rest is history.

It doesn’t even take you an hour to listen to the album as a whole, 39:26 to be exact, but the term ‘short, sweet and to the point’ was made for this remarkable Springsteen album.

So without further delay, let’s talk about each song on Born to Run on it’s 40th anniversary (August 25, 2015).

 

Thunder Road

Bruce Springsteen entered my life late in high school. Senior year is when it finally hit that this guy from New Jersey was speaking right to me. The first time I listened to The River was driving to move into my freshman dorm for college. That album felt like newfound freedom. Maybe it was just ‘Independence Day’, but whatever that feeling was is multiplied tenfold in ‘Thunder Road’.

You would never think that the combination of harmonica and piano would sound so good, but it sounds like pure gold to kick off this album.

As I grow older, I grow fonder of the namecheck of Roy Orbison in the opening breaths because Orbison is amazing and not enough people are exposed to Orbison. YouTube him, kids.

The thing Bruce does better than anybody is he names his characters. I care about Mary and Mary is fictional, at least to us. I hope Mary took that long walk from her front porch to Bruce’s front seat.

Yes, I am cheating with the favorite line portion. The last stanza is just too darn good to pick apart.

Favorite line: They scream your name at night in the street, your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet. And in the lonely cool before dawn, you hear their engines roaring on, but when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind. So Mary climb in. It’s a town full of losers and I’m pulling out of here to win.

 

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

This is one of the weirdest Springsteen songs. Anyone that doesn’t think it’s a little bit weird is a little too weird themselves. To prove the weirdness, nobody knows what a ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ actually is… at least, Springsteen isn’t really telling us what it is. Whatever it is, it sounds cool.

This song is about the formation of the band, mainly how Springsteen paired up with the late great Clarence Clemons, one of the best saxophone players to ever grace this little marble we call Earth. That is what makes this song great.

I have only seen Springsteen once in my life. That was back in 2012, about the toddler stage of my Springsteen fandom, they played this song at the show I was at and it hit me how important Clarence Clemons was. Right after Bruce sings ‘Big Man joined the band’, the band quit and the crowd went nuts. The crowd showed their love of Clarence for minutes where his sax solo should have been and that was one of the coolest concert moments I have ever been a part of. When I catch live performances of this song on E Street Radio on SiriusXM, I get goosebumps and choke up when that part hits. It’s special.

Some songs you don’t get until you really start to know the artist and this is one of those songs. If you are just getting into Bruce, this song seems like just a fun little song, but when you are a die-hard, well, then it becomes a true classic.

Favorite line: Well everybody better move over, that’s all. I’m running on the bad side and I got my back to the wall.

 

Night

Bruce Springsteen has the ability to paint the blue-collar life so beautifully. Maybe that’s why sportswriters love him so much. Sportswriters love the guys who leave it all on the field and Springsteen describes that kind of character in a good handful of his songs.

This song is about working, cars and wanting to get some loving from a lady. That is a deep shade of blue-collar. As someone deeply surrounded by blue-collar folk, I don’t know if many would come up with the line ‘she’s so pretty that you’re lost in the stars’.  I am literally jealous of that line.

I am well aware that I am very biased when it comes to Springsteen, but I think this song is so good and it’s my least favorite on the album. I don’t dislike it, but I like the mysterious Bruce. I like thinking a little bit and Bruce almost did this one too straight forward.

I am weird. That’s probably why I like ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ more.

Favorite line: She’s so pretty that you’re lost in the stars.

 

Backstreets

This song is perfection.

I love this song so much. First off, sonically this thing is kickass. There’s songs out there that just sound good and this is one of them. When I die the piano in ‘Backstreets’ will still be playing in my mind. That’s how good this song is.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the elephant in the room, no this song is not about a homophobic relationship. The Terry, another named character from Bruce, is a woman. His live performances early had an interlude that he would improvise and it would say ‘little girl’, ‘she’ and such. Not that that kind of thing matters, but wanted to clear that up.

There is such passion and heartbreak in this song. You hear it all the way through. It’s what makes this song special. The sonic matches perfectly to the lyrics, it’s like French fries and ice cream, my friends.

The question that remains is, what the hell did Terry do to ruin this?

Also, what a killer way to close side one of a record for all you vinyl lovers out there.

Favorite line: Blame it on the lies that killed us, blame it on the truth that ran us down. You can blame it all on me, Terry, it don’t matter to me now. When the breakdown hit at midnight, there was nothing left to say, but I hated him and I hated you when you went away.

 

Born to Run

This one of those songs that get people hooked on Springsteen and there’s not a real mystery as to why. It’s still weird to have this song as the official anthem of New Jersey when Springsteen is signing about needing to get out of Jersey. It seems counterintuitive to me.

‘Born to Run’ makes you want to roll down the windows and blast your speakers as loud as they’ll go. I’ve done this multiple times. Living in Minnesota, I will tell you that this song has made me do that at temperatures where most people would have the heater blasting in their vehicle and not being even close to thinking about rolling down their windows.

If I ever quit a job, I am probably going to walk out the door with a Bluetooth connected speaker blasting this song just because it’s another song that just exudes freedom.

Plus, Wendy, another named character, has to strap her hands across ‘his engines’ and I think I know what that means… Go Bruce!

Favorite line: Baby this town rips the bones from your back, it’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap. We gotta get out while we’re young, ’cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

 

She’s The One

Do not let the title fool you. She is not ‘the one’. Whereas ‘Backstreets’ had heartbreak pouring all over it from the beginning, this song is has a sense of haunt and excitement all wrapped up in one. Springsteen basically signs about a bad addiction and that addiction just happens to be a woman.

The narrator in the song realizes that this woman isn’t great for him, but she makes him feel good… at least she used to. She’s always there and he keeps going back. I’m just a guy that likes to write and play music, but that sounds like the definition of addiction. Some may insanity, but I am nicer than most people.

Sometimes the live versions of songs are even cooler than the studio version and I’d say this song would have that going for it. In certain live versions, Bruce and the E Street Band lead into the song with a cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’ which is maybe one of the coolest things to ever do.

The song reads like a country song, that’s what corral Springsteen would be in if he magically appeared today, but we’ll talk about that more on the next track.

Favorite line: With her soft French cream, standing in that doorway like a dream, I wish she’d just leave me alone.  Because French cream won’t soften them boots and French kisses will not break that heart of stone.

 

Meeting Across the River

Change this from gangsters going from Jersey to New York to, umm…, outlaws running away from cowboys and you have, my friends, the perfect country song. This song needs no changing though. The storytelling in this song is beautiful. Some details are missing, but that makes the song that more haunting, a really good haunting feeling.

We need to take a moment and point out the trumpet in this song. I could barely play saxophone in middle/high school and now am a very mediocre guitar player, but this song makes me want to learn the trumpet. This whole album makes me want to learn piano, but that trumpet is one of the highlights of this album.

Cherry is a really cool name for a chick. I wouldn’t name a future daughter Cherry, but I like it. No matter what I do, I see Steve Van Zandt every time I think of Eddie. Maybe it’s his time on The Sopranos, I don’t know.

Favorite line: Tonight’s gonna be everything that I said and when I walk through that door, I’m just gonna throw that money on the bed. She’ll see this time I wasn’t just talking. Then I’m gonna go out walking.

 

Jungleland

This song is almost too much of an epic to totally understand. Romance and violence all wrapped up together in one song which works all too well. Springsteen does a lot of things magically, but one he does better than most is now how to structure an album. ‘Born to Run’ as a whole sounds a whole lot differently on shuffle than it does in the intended order of play.

It takes a while when getting into Springsteen that he isn’t where the music stops and ends. The E Street Band is a major part of the magic in this music. The band itself is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame if you need some proof about how amazing they are. Once again, Clarence Clemons takes the cake on this song with the beautiful sax solo smack dab in the middle of the song.

The Rat didn’t quite have the ending he wanted, but his ending was only the beginning for his creator, the Bruce Springsteen.

Favorite line: The poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be.

 

Springsteen fans absolutely adore this album. Rolling Stone did a fan poll of fans’ favorite songs and the top ten features four songs from ‘Born to Run’. ‘Backstreets’ was at seven, ‘Jungleland’ at three, ‘Born to Run’ at two and ‘Thunder Road’ at one.

Yes, the three most favorited Springsteen songs come from this one eight-song album. Half the album gets in the top ten. That is insane.

The magic of music is that if it is good it will stand the test of time. Good music you don’t really have to explain to your children, you just have to press play or put the needle down and let everybody listen and soak in what’s going on in the album.

‘Born to Run’ stands the test of time. 40 years later, people are still trying to write songs that are good as these and rarely are people succeeding.

The future of rock and roll was Bruce Springsteen and now that we are in that future, it is safe to say, Springsteen was an excellent choice.

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