I admit I was scared to do my turn for our Flashback Friday series. Trying to think of just one album to cover that means a lot to me is near impossible. It made me anxious, like staring down a bottomless pit when I considered just how many albums I hold with incredibly personal experiences and feelings. It wasn’t until I needed to psych myself up for something by playing my ultimate psych up song that I realised what it would be. What it HAD to be. Born To Run by the boss, the one and only, Bruce Springsteen.
This November marks 40 years since Born To Run came out. 40 years since Springsteen went from New Jersey’s son to New Jersey’s hero. This album was it for Bruce. Following on from two albums that both left would-be fans unsure, hearing rumours about his live performances but with no proof of such in the records previously, Bruce needed to do something big. He and his E-Street band were known for their spectacular 3 hours sets, and sure his first two albums were received well enough, but were hardly commercially successful. He was being heralded as the new Dylan, but many remained on the fence. They needed persuading, so Bruce teamed up with music critic Jon Landau and began creating what was to become one of the best albums of all time.
From the tracklist alone, it stands for everything Bruce represented. Thunder Road, Backstreets, Born to Run – Bruce was the all American man, singing of fear, and love, and freedom. He was the human version of jumping in your car and just driving until you see the sun, across sprawling American landscapes and long highways. He sung of the terrific fear of falling in love, of being scared but doing it anyway because you can’t help it. Nothing he covered was all that groundbreaking, it had all been said before – but no one else had say it the way Bruce could.
Of course, I was a good 18 years off even being born at this time, let alone the few more years it took for me to discover Brucey for myself, but such is the quality of the album that it transcends generations, and is still able to deliver just as much as it did then today. I can only talk about my personal experiences with the record, but rest assured they are just as valid as the personal experiences that occurred in 1975.
The title track is one of my absolute favourite songs of all time. I listened to this at the start of every school year, before every job interview, any remotely confronting situation. Born To Run is sheer brilliance, romantic and packed full of tremendous imagery. He sings of wanting to know if love is wild, of running away and not looking back and that exhilarating fear of risk. It’s a song that has too many personal connections for me to even begin to go through, and is more inspirational and motivating than most people could possibly be. I can’t even comprehend what it would have been like to be in America when this song was released, amidst the rising punk movement and having a generation of kids unsure about their next move. Whatever that move was, Born To Run would have had a hand in helping them get over the line.
From the first harmonica melody of opener Thunder Road, I immediately get goosebumps every single time. It reminds me of me moving cities, leaving my sister behind and starting the next chapter of my still pretty short life. It’s grand piano chords and Bruce’s roar are enough to get you through any unnerving situation, his lyrics painting images so vivid you can almost feel yourself in the passenger seat of his ’57 Chevy. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out is a song I share a love for with my dad, who can’t stop smiling when it comes on. The band is so tight, with Clarence Clemons leading the track with his groove. That sax, the way Springsteen sings, “I’m on my own and I can’t go home”, the staccato piano chords – it still has the same effect on me as it did on the first listen.
Just look at that face!
Each and every song on this record is exhilarating, but exhilarating in their own ways; the “all in” promise and borderline frantic urgency of Night, the tale of gang war in Jungleland, me desperately wanting to be the “she” Springsteen sings about in She’s The One, but it never once becomes monotonous or boring. Backstreets, the completely gut wrenching track about betrayal, is somehow more upsetting and emotive than a sprawling track literally about violence in the epic Junglelands. His desperation and heartbreak is felt in every cry as he not just shows you how he was feeling, but makes you feel it with him.
A huge part of why it was so polarising was that it was, and still is, expertly produced in a way that would bring a tear to Phil Spector’s eye. I can only imagine how eye opening and game changing this would have been in the mid-70’s. It would have been enough for people to quit the game entirely, knowing that this is one of those records that changed everything. Bruce somehow sticks to effortless cool with his rock & roll, but packs enough passion and emotion into every single song that you can feel his cries in your heart.
Each song carries that feeling of being “born to run”, of knowing you still have something to lose but risking it all anyway. All or nothing. Bruce Springsteen took his reality and sent it into hyperdrive, all over dramatic and over romantic. He took what he had and made the best of it, in his stories and in his career, spinning the average and mundane into adventures that could bring you to tears. It’s incredibly empowering for me, someone who is not a risk taker by nature. Yet somehow, when I know I need to do something but I’m scared to take that final step, Bruce is there waiting for me with the passenger door open, smiling and ready to go with me.