In this article I’m going to write about the album that was Bruce Springsteen’s breakthrough album. Born To Run took him from also-ran to major recording artist, reaching number three in the Billboard 200. It was his third album, released in August 1975, and since then, the album has sold over six million copies. This was the first time Bruce had been given a big budget to produce an album, and it was almost make or break for him. His future as a recording artists was at stake. If the album hadn’t been a success, who knows what the future would’ve held for Bruce? Given how much was at stake, it’s no wonder that the album took fourteen months to record. The title track, Born To Run took six months to record. Bruce was looking to produce a Wall of Sound, similar to what Phil Spector had previously used, and this caused him problems during the recording session. He then decided to bring Jon Landau onboard to help with production. Together with Landau and manager Mike Appel, the trio produced the album. Little did they know then, that when the album was released, they were about to turn Bruce into a worldwide superstar after years of striving for a breakthrough.

During the recording sessions for Born To Run, Bruce made several changes to his personnel. Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg were brought in to play piano and drums respectively. Jon Landau helped with the production of the album. These weren’t the only changes Bruce made. When writing the songs, he wrote them on piano, not guitar. He also decided to use introductions to set the tone of the songs on the album. Another change he wanted to make was a Wall of Sound production, like Phil Spector had previously used. So, much had changed from his previous album, The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle. The question is, would critics and the public like Bruce’s new sound? 

By the time the album was ready to be released, people were looking forward to its release after an early mix of Born To Run was released to a progressive rock radio station. Listeners liked what they heard, and quickly, word spread about Bruce’s new album. When the critics heard it, they loved it, and the album was critically acclaimed. This was a pleasant change for Bruce, as when his previous album was released, positive reviews were scarce. 

Columbia, Bruce’s record company, decided to spend $250,000 promoting Born To Run. However, some of their marketing ploys didn’t auger well with Bruce, especially the use of Jon Landau’s quote “I saw rock ‘n’ roll’s future-and its name is Bruce Springsteen.’” When the album was released, it entered the Billboard 200 on the second week of its release. Eventually, it reached number three and was certified gold. Since then, the album has consistently sold well, and by 2000, had sold over six million copies. Rolling Stone magazine put the album at number eighteen in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Having told you about the album, I’ll now tell you what it sounds like.

Born To Run opens with Thunder Road, which like all the tracks on the album has a theme, that of escape. It begins with piano and harmonica playing before Bruce sings. When Bruce sings, it’s just him and the piano before the rest of the band join. This is highly effective bringing a sense of drama to the track. Then, the sound gradually fills out, drums and guitars joining the arrangement. Bruce’s voice is strong, full of frustration as he sings of escape. Behind him, the arrangement has grown, and by now, Clarence Clemons’ saxophone blows, the piano adds dramatic touches, guitars solo and drums fill out the sound. It’s a powerful arrangement and passionate vocal from Bruce, and a really good, rousing track to open the album.

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out has a really great opening, piano, saxophone and combining. The piano especially, sets the tone, while behind it, Clarence saxophone drenches it with some great saxophone playing. Straight away, it’s apparent this is one of the best songs on the album. Much of this is down to the addition of a horn section. They punctuate the track throughout, uniting masterfully, giving the track a bluesy feel. Combined with Roy Bittan’s piano playing this is a great arrangement that’s unfolding. Bruce meanwhile, produces a really powerful, almost angry vocal. He’s singing at the top of his voice, roaring almost. His band have really upped their game, Bittan’s piano playing drives the song along, while the horns add the finishing touches to a brilliant arrangement. What makes this such a great track is the arrangement, that and Bruce’s passionate vocal. After listening to the track, I was fascinated by the lyrics, and was trying to work out the meaning. I think that it’s about how, and where, the band met. Scooter is Bruce, the big man is Clarence Clemons. 

Unlike the two previous tracks, Night has a frantic, hugely loud and powerful introduction. Screaming guitars, pounding drums and saxophone combine before Bruce sings. As he sings, it’s noticeable that his voice is different, it isn’t as loud or clear on this track, Still, his vocal is laden with passion, while behind him, the band produce a much fuller, louder and powerful arrangement. Clarence’s saxophone and  the piano, help drive the track along dramatically. The guitars soar, screeching and screaming, while the drums thunder along in the background. Like al the songs on the album, it tells a story. Night tells of the nine to five grind of work, with the only thing keeping him going is that one night he’ll find the woman of his dreams.The lyrics have a really strong narrative, so strong you can almost picture the scenes unfolding before your eyes. Combined with a good performance from Bruce and his band, Night is an evocative, powerful track.

Backstreets is a sad song, one about loss, betray and defeat. It begins with a piano playing, the mood is quite sombre. The introduction on piano is lengthy and dramatic, and drums, chiming guitars and organ join in before Bruce sings. When he does, his voice sounds sad as he sings some really good lyrics. Like the previous track, they’ve a strong narrative, and are highly descriptive. During the song, the arrangement retains a sense of drama which Bruce’s vocal adds to. Later in the track, a really great guitar solo plays. An organ plays during the track, and it and the piano help set the dramatic scene. Overall, the arrangement is full of drama, and the sense of loss, betrayal and defeat is tangible. On the original album, this was the final track on side one. Bruce’s idea was to end each side of the album with a song about loss, betrayal and defeat. Here, he has achieved this when you listen careful to the lyrics. Personally, I think Backstreets is a hugely dramatic track, with a good arrangement and charismatic vocal from Bruce.

If I was to say that the next track took six months to record, you’d expect it to be a rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece. Well, whether Born To Run is a masterpiece or not, it’s certainly a brilliant song. Six months in the making, Born To Run begins with the familiar strains of drums, guitars and saxophones combining. After that, Bruce gives one of his most passionate vocals on the album, as he sings about escaping the tediousness of everyday life. Behind him, chiming, screaming and soaring guitars, thunderous drums and Clarence’ frantic saxophone combine to produce a potent and powerful backdrop for Bruce’s passionate vocal. Together, they produce one of the best tracks Bruce has ever recorded, proving that the six months they spent producing this track was well worth it.

She’s The One is a song about a woman who forever, will be out of touch for every man. She’s beautiful, graceful but not interested in the guy in the song. However, she’s the one for him. It’s a meandering and subtle guitar and sparse bass that open the track. They’re then joined by piano and then Brice sings. His voice is strong as he builds up the drama and tension. He leaves gaps in the vocal that the guitar fills theatrically. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds, the piano prominent in the mix, while powerful guitars and pounding drums add to the drama. Later, the saxophone blows, softening the near frantic arrangement. By now, Bruce and The E Street Band have hit their stride, really upping the tempo, and the arrangement gets much fuller, louder but wonderfully melodic. Evocative lyrics, a powerful arrangement and passionate vocal from The Boss make this a great track.

A trumpet plays, a jazzy sound emerging, before the piano joins in, playing slowly, melodically yet sombrely. Like every track on the album, the introduction to Meeting Across the River sets the song’s tone. When Bruce sings, his vocal is much quieter, calmer as he sings the lyrics which are edgy, fraught with danger. They’re instruction from a guy who is nearly desperate, to his friend. This is last chance to make some money, and if he doesn’t his girlfriend will leave him. The arrangement is perfect for the song. It starts of slowly, subtly and meanders along. A piano takes the lead, and trumpet punctuates the track with a haunting sound that matches the desperation in the lyrics. Although very different from every other track on the album, the understated arrangement perfectly suits the song’s lyrics, and Bruce’s delivery is full of character, so much so, that he brings the lyrics to life.

Jungleland is the final track on Born To Run. It’s an epic track, about loss, betrayal and defeat and has some of the best lyrics on the album. They’re so strong, that you can imagine everything happening as Bruce sings. The scenes come to life before your eyes. These lyrics have the same qualities as poetry or a short story. A violin and piano play slowly and thoughtfully, at the start of the track. This sets the scene for this pic track lasting nine and a half minutes. Slowly, the arrangement takes shape and eventually, it bursts into life. Drums, guitars and organ combine, with the guitars driving the track along now. After such a slow and quiet introduction, Bruce and the band quickly move through the gears. Guitars soar, screaming and chiming, drums pound, the piano plays behind the band and Clarence plays a stunning saxophone solo. By now, the sense of drama is increasing, driven along by the saxophone and piano, and Clarence Clemons nearly steals the show. Such is the power and emotion of his playing. When the band drop out, the piano takes the lead, accompanying Bruce who slowly and sadly sings the lyrics. As the track heads to the end, the arrangement builds back up, and heads to a dramatic climax, lead by the piano and Bruce. Quite simply, Jungleland is a stunning track of epic proportions and a perfect way to end the album.

Born To Run isn’t just the album that turned Bruce Springsteen from also-ran to superstar, it’s also one of the best albums he has ever recorded. After that, he released numerous great albums including The River and Born In the USA, but Born To Run is still one of his best albums. Although it took fourteen months to record, it was well worth the wait. Each of the nine songs on the album are of the highest quality. There are no poor songs or filler, just some great music. His songwriting on the album includes some of the best songs he has written. Every song is like a mini-drama, with a strong narrative and fascinating storyline. With the help of The E Street Band and a number of guest musicians, they succeeded in bringing these lyrics to life. When you hear the band on this album, you realize that Bruce was fortunate to have one of the best bands behind him. Clarence Clemons’ on saxophone and Roy Bittan on piano especially deserve credit. Sadly, Clarence died not long ago, and Born To Run is a poignant reminder of the big man’s considerable talents. However, the man who deserves the most credit is Bruce Springsteen. After years of trying he finally made his big breakthrough, and in the process, recorded one of the best albums of all time. Should you never have heard the album, or are unfamiliar with his music, you can now buy a box set The Collection: 1973-1984 which contains his first seven albums including Born To Run, The River and Born In the USA. It’s an inexpensive introduction to the music of Bruce Springsteen and is packed with some great music. Standout Tracks: Tenth-Avenue Freeze-Out, Born To Run, She’s The One and Jungleland.


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