The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the Los Angeles area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some L.A. TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. In this edition we discuss Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.
For those of you not up on your music history, Bruce (Frederick Joseph) Springsteen was born on September 23, 1949. Springsteen, nicknamed “The Boss,” is an American singer-songwriter. He frequently works with the E Street Band and is best known for his heartland rock signature sound and his Americana monologues about growing up in his birthplace of New Jersey.
His work to date has included commercially successful rock recordings as well as folk-oriented albums. One of his most successful studio albums was Born to Run. Springsteen has sold over 65 million albums in the US and over 200 million globally. One of these hit albums was Born to Run.
After the promotional tour for his 1973 platter The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, Springsteen headed back into the studio to begin work on his next album. Springsteen led the way on lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitar, harmonica and even percussion. He was backed by The E Street Band consisting of: Roy Bittan (piano, Fender Rhodes, background vocals), Ernest “Boom” Carter (drumson “Born to Run”), Clarence Clemons (saxophones, tambourine, background vocals), Danny Federici (organ, glockenspielon “Born to Run”), Suki Lahav (violinon “Jungleland”), David Sancious (piano, organ on “Born to Run”), Garry W. Tallent (bass guitar), Steven Van Zandt (background vocals on “Thunder Road”, horn arrangements) and Max Weinberg (drums). Additional artists were also brought in to work on the project including: Wayne Andre (trombone), Mike Appel (background vocals), Michael Brecker (tenor saxophone), Randy Brecker (trumpet and flugelhorn), Richard Davis (double bass) and David Sanborn (baritone saxophone).
He quickly became bogged down in the actual recording process struggling to produce a wall of sound production. Luckily, the release of an early mix of what would soon be his 1975 hit single “Born to Run” to progressive rock radio stations and the anticipation of the album’s release urged him on through the rough spots. The album took over 14 months to record.
All the music was composed on piano and not guitar. Most cuts were first recorded with a core rhythm section band made up of Springsteen, Weinberg, Bittan, and Tallent with other members’ contributions added on later. Six months were spent on finalizing the tune “Born to Run”. Springsteen was often frustrated and angry as he heard sounds in his head that he simply could not adequately explain to anyone else in the studio. He brought in Jon Landauto assist with producing the platter.
The Born to Run album would finally be released in 1975 on Columbia Records. While it is fair to say the near 40-minute recording was as heavy as previous releases, this 8-track album also revealed a wide array of influences. It was a concept album and the Phil Spector-like production gave the sound a sense of continuity. (Springsteen wanted this album to sound like “Roy Orbison singing Bob Dylan produced by Spector”.)
Springsteen took a “four corners” approach to the album’s song sequence. The opening cuts for both sides–“Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” were both—in the words of one critic—“uplifting odes to escape” whereas the closing cuts to both sides—“Backstreets” and “Jungleland” tuneful tales of betrayal, defeat and loss. Springsteen had first decided to open and close the record with alternative versions of “Thunder Road”.
The progression from the lead-in “Thunder Road” to the closing cut “Jungleland” was not only diurnal but actually one long, Springsteen-composed story. The album employs intros to set the tone for each tune. Springsteen sacrificed nothing achieving this homogeneity of purpose.
He made no concession to nonrock music. The album was Springsteen’s assertion that he could do everything and that he wasn’t just another rocker but a truly great one. His clarity of purpose and significant ambition ooze from every groove.
The album was a commercial and critical success debuting at number 84. The next week it took the number 8 slot and spent the following two weeks at number 4. It was Springsteen’s breakthrough album climbing to the top slot on the Record World chart and number 3 on the Billboard 200 and number 36 in the UK. When the promotional hype died down the album dropped off the charts after almost 30 weeks and yet it had given birth to a solid fan base for Springsteen.
The album debuted on the Billboard album chart on September 13, 1975 at #84. The following week it made an impressive increase entering the top 10 at #8, then spent two weeks at #4, and finally, during the weeks of October 11 and October 18, Born to Run reached its peak position of #3. It quickly went gold (and would sell over 6 million copies by the new millennium).
Two singles would be released from the LP. The first, “Born to Run”, would be put out that same year and would help Springsteen go mainstream. The second, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, would be released the following year (1976). “Born to Run” would hit number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” would hit number 83 on that chart the next year.
Born to Runwould not be forgotten and even reentered the Billboard chart in 1980 after The Riverwas released. It reached number 66 on the Billboard 200 chart. It would again reenter the charts in 1985 following the big success of Born in the U.S.A., peaking at 101 on the Billboard 200 and camping out for the majority of the year somewhere on the chart. In the UK it would take the number 17 slot.
The next year (1986), it would hit triple-platinum. (This was the first year that pre-1976 albums were eligible for platinum and multi-platinum awards.) The year after that (1987), Born to Run was slotted in at number 8 on Rolling Stone’s “100 Best Albums of the Last Twenty Years”.
2001 witnessed the VH1 network naming the album “the 27th-greatest album of all time”. The honors continued in 2003 when Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” ranked Born to Run at number 18. The first Zagat Survey Music Guide called it “the most popular album”.
2005 was the 30th Anniversary of the album’s release and so Columbia Recordsreleased Born to Run 30th Anniversary Edition in box setform. It included a remaster of the original album on CD and two DVDs: a production diary film and a concert movie. A special Best Buy retail box set also included a CD single of the “Born to Run” 45. The box set debuted at number 18 on the Billboard200chart and remained on the chart for 6 weeks.
Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run/Col. PC-33795 has been included on numerous “best ever” lists and is listed in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry of historic recordings. More recently it has been given a five-star rating by Allmusic and Sputnikmusic. Slotted in at number 18 on Rolling Stone‘s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”, it is widely considered his magnum opus.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.