1001 Albums You Must Hear (and Blog about) Before You Die

My attempt to blog all of the entries from the book 1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die

658. Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen

Brief Background: Born to Run is the third album by Bruce Springsteen and was released in 1975. The stakes for the album where high for Springsteen who needed a commercial breakthrough in order to continue recording for Columbia Records. Subsequently, the album took over a year and a half to record, with the title track alone taking six months.

What I think: I’ve been anticipating/dreading and wondering what to say about this album for three hundred and some posts. This is my Holy Grail, my favorite album of all time. I came to it a little over ten years ago at the time of the 30th anniversary box set. Springsteen had always seemed like a dirty word in the circles I knew. Something happened around this time where younger people started speaking up for him and acknowledging his influence on them. So I decided to check this one out.

I’ve always been someone that listens to music while I’m driving. That’s my sweet spot for introspection, that’s where I best take music in. What I found with this album was the greatest driving record that ever existed. And in my mid-twenties I just wanted to get in a car and go wherever the road took me, to reinvent myself and like the albums protagonists I failed in that respect. But like Bruce says to Wendy in “Born to Run” I found that place I “really want(ed) to go and We’ll walk in the sun” right where I was.

When people ask me why I consider it my favorite, what I explain is that I can listen to every song on the album and like them all so much and be so gripped by one song to the next, thinking “This is the best song on the album, no wait it’s this one…”. It started with the title track being my favorite song, from there I think “Backstreets” took it’s place, then into “Thunder Road” and through time I think most have taken a turn as the honorable favorite. So, I’m going to break these tracks down one by one and let you know what my favorite lyric in each is. And while doing that I don’t expect to break any new ground, but that’s the thing about an album, I have a shared experience that a million other people have had.

  1. “Thunder Road” No album has ever started with a more perfect and epic song. One of many on the record that are about escape. It climaxes with Springsteen begging Mary to leave that town of losers with him by saying “It’s a town full of losers and we’re pulling out of here to win”, which is an amazing if not a bit corny lyric, but my favorite comes just before that when Springsteen alludes to those never ending summers when “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”. I can just see the cool damp summer morning where you know something happened the night before, but now all is quiet and no trace exists. Check out the live version of this song from Hammersmith Oden, it’s piano based and completely gripping. 
  2. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” Nobody knows what a Tenth Avenue Freeze-out is, so don’t think too hard about it.  The song essentially is a legend of the formation of the E Street Band, the best lyric is easily “When Scooter (Bruce) and The Big Man (Clarence) bust the city in half, with the Tenth Avenue Freeze-out”.
  3. “Night” Probably the most unremarkable song on the album, it’s never really stood out to me. It’s about someone who waits for the work day/ work week to end so he can live his real life in the streets racing cars. This theme would be explored much more fully in Springsteen’s next album Darkness on the Edge of Town. Favorite lyrics, “The rat traps filled with soul crusaders, The circuits lined and jammed with chromed invaders”
  4. “Backstreets” Another epic song, and still easily one of my favorite Springsteen songs. It’s a tale of two lovers hiding away (there have been theories that it could be a homosexual relationship, which actually makes a lot of sense with the lyrics and the lovers name of Terry), things don’t end well for them as the narrator feels betrayed by his lover in the same way he felt betrayed by his absent father(?).  Favorite lyrics, “Trying to learn how to walk like the heroes we thought we had to be, and after all this time to find we’re just like all the rest.”
  5. “Born to Run” The title track, to the best album of all time, brings what I’m comfortable in saying is the greatest Rock and Roll song of all time (I often think “Thunder Road” is a really close second!).  It’s like a giant bolder rolling down a hill and nothing can stop that momentum. The theme is finding redemption in anywhere but the place you are. It’s a dream and it doesn’t matter if it comes true, the fact that it might not come true isn’t even an option. It’s the ultimate do or die track. Favorite part, the insane drum spaz out (I never knew that was Ernest Carter on drums and not  Mad Max Weinberg), breakdown and count back into the song. Favorite lyrics, “Girl I want to know if your love is wild, Girl I want to know if love is real”. Speaking of the lyrics and vocals… Springsteen always sounds drunk to me during this song.
  6. “She’s the One” This one sort of snuck up on me slowly and has been a favorite for a long time. I think hearing the live version of the Hammersmith show really made me appreciate it more. The story to this one isn’t all that original, the narrator loves the girl, but she’s no good for him. The highlights of this one come in the music. I love Clarence’s solo and the drumming on those tom’s kills me every time. Even the epic fadeout keeps me shuffling. Favorite lyrics, “Oh she can take you, but if she wants to break you, she’s gonna find out that ain’t so easy to do”.
  7. “Meeting Across the River” I always think that the album takes a weird left turn with this song, and wasn’t so sure if I liked it all that much. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate it for the story telling and set-up of “Jungleland”. It concerns a guy and his buddy that have one last chance at being successful criminals, but they’ve blown it before and are sure to blow it again this time. Favorite lyric, “…And tonight’s gonna be everything that I said, and when I walk through the door, I’m just gonna throw that money on the bed.”
  8. “Jungleland” The nine and a half minute closer to the album which really brings all of the characters together in their separate lives. Some are (at least in the beginning) enjoying the Summer night, others might be the lover’s in “Backstreets”, but trouble soon arrives and “The Rat” ends of getting shot (by the police? or by other gangsters?) and ends up dying, but he gets off easy because it is the musician and writers, those trying to express themselves that end up the worst, because as Springsteen says in my favorite lyrics on the whole album, “and in the quick of the knife, they reach for their moment and try to make and honest stand, But they wind up wounded, Not even dead, Tonight in Jungleland”. And with that these losers can even be martyred they just go on hurting.

Further Listening:

  1. Hammersmith Oden, London 1975
  2. War of Roses Bootleg, with alternative versions, and unreleased songs from the sessions. I think the most impressive thing about this bootleg is the songs that had string parts and doubled vocals. In the end they are interesting to hear, but Springsteen certainly made the right choices by dialing them back.


Do I agree or disagree with the writers as to this being an album you must listen to? I certainly do, I can’t see any album topping this one. I welcome any comers… after all, I’ve only known this album for just over 10 years.

Rating (Out of 5) 5

Born to Run Amazon Rating(Out of 5):4.5

Is this my first time hearing this album? No (75/344)

Percentage of Albums that are new to me: 78%


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This entry was posted on September 27, 2016 by and tagged , , , .

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