Born to Run
Bruce Springsteen’s third album is as close to a perfect record as he would ever make. His first two efforts had featured epic tales, populated with wild characters. But with Born to Run, released in 1975, he finally cracked the cipher on how to compress and tighten those long-form stories—making the songs easier for listeners to absorb, and for radio DJs to spin. Springsteen envisioned Born to Run as a song cycle, one that starts at daybreak and ends at dawn, with the harmonica in “Thunder Road” acting as reveille, and with “Jungleland” at the end bringing the curtain down—in more ways than one. In between, there’s plenty of drama and noir, with Springsteen’s vivid characters getting into trouble down dark alleys, where they fight for freedom (or, at least, redemption). The mid-album highlight is the title track, which Springsteen would later pinpoint as the moment he learned to successfully combine power and emotion—lyrically and musically—in a shorter form, while still delivering the same impact his longer epics did. “Born to Run” became an anthem for FM rock radio, with stations in cities like Cleveland and New York playing it at 5 pm on Fridays to commemorate the start of the weekend. Born To Run also marks the first record in which Springsteen had more impact on the album’s overall sound. He sought help in its arrangement and production from his good friend Steven Van Zandt, as well as the music writer Jon Landau (who’d later become Springsteen’s manager). Together, they fashioned a record that sounded like a grittier, more fantastical version of Phil Spector’s infamous Wall of Sound. Perhaps most importantly, though, Born to Run was the album that solidified the lineup of the E Street Band: Pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg had recently joined the group, giving Springsteen a backing team that not only had solid musical chops, but also an energy that matched the challenge in front of them. Born to Run manages to feel exhilarating, heartbreaking, thoughtful, and tragic—the truly defining moment for Springsteen as a performer and as a songwriter.