Born to Run 40 Years
Released on Aug. 25, 1975, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” marked a turning point in the now-iconic performer’s career. While the New Jersey native had previously been considered a commercially unsuccessful critical darling, the release of “Born to Run” launched him to mainstream success and cemented him as a veritable rock and roll icon.
Music critic Greil Marcus said it best in his original Rolling Stone review of the landmark album:
No, you've never heard anything like this before, but you understand it instantly, because this music — or Springsteen crying, singing wordlessly, moaning over the last guitar lines of "Born to Run," or the astonishing chords that follow each verse of "Jungleland," or the opening of "Thunder Road" — is what rock & roll is supposed to sound like.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of this landmark rock album, here are 30 facts about the recording, the touring, and the legacy of “Born to Run.”
- Springsteen started writing the album’s iconic title track when he was just 24 years old.
- It took Springsteen six months to perfect the song “Born to Run” in the studio. Over half a year, he made numerous alterations that didn’t all stick, including a backing chorus and various string arrangements.
- The first documented live performance of “Born to Run” took place at Harvard Square Theater on May 9, 1974. Springsteen’s future manager Jon Landau was in the audience, and his review of that show featured this iconic line: “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”
- One of Springsteen’s inspirations for the production of “Born to Run” was Phil Spector, whose Wall of Sound recording style was behind countless hits of the ‘60s, including Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” and The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”1
- The single “Born to Run” made its radio premiere on Nov. 3, 1974 on Philadelphia rock station WMMR, nine months before the album dropped.
- “Born to Run” was Springsteen’s first album to officially feature longtime bandmates Steven Van Zandt, Roy Bittan, and Max Weinberg.
- All tracks on “Born to Run” were originally composed on piano. That fact is especially evident on songs like “Backstreets,” something Springsteen has called a “particularly theatrical way of writing” unique to this album.1
- Springsteen and saxophonist Clarence Clemons worked on the “Jungleland” saxophone solo for 16 straight hours on the day before they had to go on the road to launch their tour. They cut it so close, Clemons said, “They were packing the truck up, and I was playing the last notes of the “Jungleland” solo.”1
- Thank Stevie Van Zandt for the iconic horn sound on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” The horns players were having trouble translating Springsteen’s sonic vision from paper to reality, so Van Zandt jumped in and sang the soulful, Stax-inspired riff that ended up on the record.1
- To stay awake during the excruciatingly long studio hours, engineer Jimmy Iovine would chew the aluminum foil wrapper from sticks of gum.1
- After the album dropped, Springsteen’s then-manager Mike Appel arranged for Bruce to appear on the covers of Newsweek and Time on the same day (Oct. 27, 1975).
- Springsteen and the E Street Band played 10 concerts at New York’s Bottom Line to build hype before the album was released. You can listen to New York station WNEW’s full broadcast of the early show on Aug. 15, 1975 online.
- Photographer Eric Meola, who captured the iconic “Born to Run” cover image, took nearly 600 photos in this album’s two-hour cover shoot. Springsteen was only looking directly at Clemons in two of those photos.
- The guitar featured on the “Born to Run” cover reportedly cost Springsteen just $185. The iconic rock instrument later appeared on covers of “Human Touch,” as well as a live and a greatest hits compilation.
- Springsteen wanted to bring Clemons to the photo shoot so the cover would embody one the record’s main themes. Springsteen said, “That was enormously significant, I think, as a message to send to our fans: the sense that it was a record about friendship.”1
- Meola also noted that there are more people than just Springsteen and Clemons on the cover. Springsteen is also sporting an Elvis pin, and there’s a tiny painting of people in a street scene on his guitar.
- On the first “Born to Run” pressing, producer Jon Landau’s name was spelled incorrectly (as “John”). Instead of reprinting the covers, Columbia Records printed tens of thousands of stickers that had to manually be placed on each album to cover up the mistake.1
- “Born to Run” was Bruce Springsteen’s first top 10 album. It peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart. All but one of his 15 subsequent studio albums have also landed in the top 5 slots.
- During his 1976 tour in support of the album, Springsteen became the first rock act to headline Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House (April 28, 1976).
- On April 30, 1976, the day after the Born to Run Tour stop in Memphis, Springsteen jumped the gates to Elvis’ Graceland mansion. Before reaching the front door, he was caught by security guards and promptly escorted off the property.
- Springsteen and the band began a tradition of playing softball against the roadies to pass time on the 1976 Born to Run tours. Rolling Stone writer Jim Petersen wrote a particularly enjoyable recap of a game in New Orleans that summer.
- Due to managerial conflicts with Mike Appel in 1976, Springsteen was unable to begin recording his follow-up to “Born to Run.” Instead, the band went on the road for a venture that was tongue-in-cheek unofficially titled The Lawsuit Tour.
- The Lawsuit Tour featured Springsteen’s first headlining arena show at The Spectrum in Philadelphia on Oct. 25, 1976. (He partitioned off sections of the venue with curtains to make it feel smaller.)
- The band’s first European show took place at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on Nov. 18, 1975. The venue was littered with promotional materials that Springsteen felt were over the top, so he personally went through and tore all the posters down.1
- According to BruceBase’s tally, “Born to Run” is the most performed song of Springsteen’s career, with 1,383 live plays as of July 24, 2015.
- The first time Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed “Born to Run” live in its entirety was May 7, 2008, at a fundraiser for New Jersey’s Count Basie Theatre.
- “Born to Run” is Springsteen’s only album that has been selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry. The album was chosen for the honor in 2003.
- Handwritten “Born to Run” lyrics sold for $197,000 at auction in 2013. That number was $97,000 over Sotheby’s original estimated worth.
- “Born to Run” ranks at No. 21 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The album of the same name is listed at No. 18 on the publication’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.
- In 1980, the General Assembly of the State of New Jersey passed a resolution naming Bruce Springsteen the New Jersey Pop Music Ambassador to America, and his song “Born to Run” as the “unofficial rock theme of [the] State’s youth.” (The resolution was never approved by the state Senate.)