Produced by Bruce Springsteen, Mike Appel and Jon Landau
Label – Columbia
Before “Born To Run”, Bruce Springsteen was generally considered as an honest blue collar singer songwriter/ street poet, partly running in the slipstream of a sound that was associated with Bob Dylan (Columbia records promoted his debut LP as the sound of “The new Dylan”), and a reputation that was virtually unknown outside his home state. If his profile wasn’t strengthened by record sales, then there was always an avid live following that kept a slow burning level of interest and the continued positive referrals from the rock press gave the Asbury Park native just enough time to create his third album. It’s all a magnificent statement from a man who just knew his back was against the wall, and his recording career pretty much rested on a commercial upturn that maintained his artistic integrity. Super fan Jon Landau famously stated “I’ve seen the future of rock and roll, and his name is Bruce Springsteen”, a fortuitously adopted piece of marketing spiel, which could have shot the artist in the foot had he not responded with an outstanding release. The departure of drummer Ernest Carter and keyboardist David Sancious just prior to recording the main body of the record turned out to be less catastrophic than at first thought, as the new musicians (Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg) brought a fresh outlook to his compositions. Landau in particular is vital to the record; the sounding board for Springsteen’s ideas, a silent mentor, buddy, and critic. The music is a meticulously compiled amalgam of rock and tight R&B, and extraordinarily dramatic stories of romantic escape from seedy streets and cold back alleys. He makes every sentence sound like it’s a monumental victory for the down trodden victims that rise from their empty existence and either ride or drive on a four way highway to paradise. It is in many ways hopeless romanticizing, but the point that’s viscerally clear is that at some stage of teen-dom we all have that lure of a route away from life’s challenges and mundanities. If the record had a visual companion, it would undoubtedly be “Rebel Without A Cause”.
Unusually for Springsteen, “Born To Run” was written on piano rather than guitar, and the simple accompaniments and most of the iconic introductions remain, albeit fully imagined by Bittan . Every song is carefully structured, passionately toiled over to ensure each instrument provides the necessary muscle to add to the drama of his lyrics. The harmonica introduction to “Thunder Road” almost fools the listener into thinking that Dylan still paves an influence, but it’s a momentary diversion as the band burst into an epic prelude to the title track, a preview to a thrilling ride. Guitarist Steve Van Zandt showcases his inimitable skills, but it’s his suggestion for the “muscle shoals” styled horn arrangement for the exhilarating “10th Avenue Freeze Out” that’s just as vital. “Night” revs the pace up, fully impacting the race, as our hero sits at the traffic lights “as it changes to green, with your faith in your machine.” By “Backstreets” Springteen is in full vocal throttle, delivering one of his most overwhelmingly committed performances. Many words have been written about the title track, a fully blown wall of glorious noise, but rarely mentioned is the superb performance of bass player Garry Tallent and Carter’s drumming, which adds the explosive gusto to the instrumental passages. Randy Brecker’s subtle trumpet on “Meeting Across The River” may temporarily slow down the tempo, but none of the impetus is lost in the dark adventure. Clarence Clemons’ distinctive saxophone bursts are paramount to the essence of the record, but the simplistic, yet wonderfully effective solo on the closer “Jungleland”, adds a grandiose dimension that makes one realize the reason he was always Springsteen’s closest instrumental ally.
Beyond all previous suggestion and momentum, beyond all wildest hopes and dreams, beyond all standards set in rock music, “Born To Run” is still an astonishing achievement.
1 – Thunder Road (10)
2 – Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out (10)
3 – Night (9)
4 – Backstreets (9)
5 – Born To Run (10)
6 – She’s The One (9)
7 – Meeting Across The River (9)
8 – Jungleland (10)