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Written at 7½ West End Court in Long Branch, New Jersey in early 1974, the song was Bruce Springsteen's final attempt to become successful. The prior year, Springsteen had released two albums to critical acclaim but with little commercial movement.
Written in the first person, the song is a love letter to a girl named Wendy, for whom the hot-rod-riding protagonist seems to possess the passion to love, just not the patience. However, Springsteen has noted that it has a much simpler core: getting out of Freehold. U.S. Route 9 is mentioned from the lyric "sprung from cages out on Highway 9".
In his 1996 book Songs, Springsteen relates that while the beginning of the song was written on guitar around the opening riff, the song's writing was finished on piano, the instrument that most of the Born to Run album was composed on. The song was recorded in the key of E major.
In the period prior to the release of Born to Run Springsteen was becoming well-known (especially in his native northeast) for his epic live shows. "Born to Run" joined his concert repertoire well before the release of the album, being performed in concert by May 1974, if not earlier.
The first recording of the song was made by Allan Clarke of the British group The Hollies, although its release was delayed, only appearing after Springsteen's own now-famous version.
In recording the song Springsteen first earned his noted reputation for perfectionism, laying down as many as eleven guitar tracks to get the sound just right. The recording process and alternate ideas for the song's arrangement are described in the Wings For Wheels documentary DVD included in the 2005 reissue Born to Run 30th Anniversary Edition package.
The track was recorded at 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, New York amidst touring breaks during 1974, with final recording done on August 6, well in advance of the rest of the album, and featured Ernest "Boom" Carter on the drums and David Sancious on keyboards; they would be replaced by Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan for the rest of the album and in the ongoing E Street Band (which was still uncredited on Springsteen's records at the time). The song was also recorded with only Springsteen and Mike Appel as producers; it would be later in the following year, when work on the album bogged down, that Jon Landau was brought in as an additional producer. Future record executive Jimmy Iovine engineered the majority of the sessions.
A pre-release version of the song, with a slightly different mix, was given by Appel to disc jockey Ed Sciaky of WMMR in Philadelphia in early November 1974, and within a couple of weeks was given to other progressive rock radio outlets as well, including WNEW in New York, WMMS in Cleveland, WBCN in Boston, and WVBR in Ithaca, New York. It immediately became quite popular on these stations, and led to cuts from Springsteen's first two albums being frequently played as well as building anticipation for the album release.
Upon release in August 1975, the song and the album became unparalleled successes for Springsteen, springing him into stardom, and resulting in simultaneous cover stories in Time and Newsweek magazines.
Honors and accolades
In 2004, "Born to Run" was ranked #6 in WXPN's list of The 885 All-Time Greatest Songs.
In 1999, National Public Radio included the song in the "NPR 100", NPR's music editors' compilation of the one hundred most important American musical works of the 20th century.
On June 12, 1979, "Born to Run" was named New Jersey's "Unofficial Youth Rock Anthem" by the New Jersey State Assembly, something Springsteen always considered ironic because it was "about leaving Jersey."
"Born to Run" in its home state of New Jersey. Izod Center, May 21, 2009.
The song has been played at nearly every non-solo Springsteen concert since 1975 (although it was not included in the 2006 Sessions Band Tour). Most of the time the house lights are turned fully on and fans consistently sing along with Springsteen's signature wordless vocalizations throughout the song's performance.
The song has also been released in live versions on six albums or DVDs:
"Born to Run" was also performed as the second number of four during Springsteen and the E Street Band's halftime performance at Super Bowl XLIII.
"Born to Run" predates the music video era and no film or video clip was made of it at the time.
In 1987, a video was released to MTV and other channels, featuring a live performance of "Born to Run" from Springsteen and the E Street Band's 1984-1985 Born in the U.S.A. Tour, with the video interspersed with clips from other songs' performances from that tour as well. It closed with a "Thank you" graphic to Springsteen's fans.
At the end of The Office (UK TV series) episode "The Quiz," David Brent triumphantly air-guitars the song's famous opening in celebration of a supposed victory in a trivia quiz challenge.
The children's show, Sesame Street, featured a song about arithmetic called "Born to Add", sung by a Springsteen-like Muppet. Its background music, however, resembles Springsteen's "Jungleland", though featuring a "Born to Run"-ish saxophone solo played by a Muppet named Clarice, a reference to Clarence Clemons.
The British comedy program, Spitting Image, once featured a Bruce Springsteen puppet singing a parody entitled "Born To Teach Woodwork".
In The Simpsons episode, "Lisa's Rival", Lisa Simpson imagines herself in "the second best band in America" playing their "number two hit" called "Born to Runner-Up".
In the Japanese novel Battle Royale, the main character Shuya Nanahara is a Bruce Springsteen fanatic, despite the fictional Republic of East Asia's ban on rock music. The lyrics to "Born to Run" are quoted a few times in the book, as Shuya applies them to his own need to get out of Japan, down to singing them, replacing Wendy with his Noriko, in the very closing of the book. They also appear in the opening quotes of the book.
In John Niven's novel The second Coming, the main character (Jesus) performs Born to Run live during an American Idol-like casting show.
Music (also see "Covers" below)
The Hold Steady's song, "Charlemange in Sweatpants", references "Born to Run" with the line: "Tramps like us and we like tramps." They also reference "Born to Run" in the song, "Barfruit Blues", with the line: "Half the crowd's calling out for 'Born to Run', the other half's calling out for 'Born to Lose', baby, we were born to choose."
Titus Andronicus references "Born to Run" on their song "A More Perfect Union" with the line: "No, I never wanted to change the world, but I'm looking for a new New Jersey, Because tramps like us, baby, we were born to die".
The Lou Reed song "Street Hassle" includes a spoken section performed by Bruce Springsteen that ends with the line "Y'know tramps like us, we were born to pay."
The song "Difference" by rapper Childish Gambino has a line referencing "Born to Run" in which he raps: "Springsteen this city because this city we were born to run"
The song "Redemption" by Frank Turner references the lyrics of Born To Run in the first verse: "I was walking home to my house through the snow from the station/When Springsteen came clear in my headphones with a pertinent question/Oh, is love really real..."
Comedian Robert Wuhl discussed and performed parts of this song in his act inquiring as to whether a song with the phrases "suicide machine" and "we gotta get out (of New Jersey?) while we're young" was appropriate for New Jersey's state anthem.
In the 2010 series of The X Factor, contestant Storm Lee sang it on week two of the live shows which was Heroes night.
Big Daddy, a band that specializes in recording popular modern songs in 1950's-style arrangements, performed a drastically re-arranged cover of "Born to Run" on their 1991 album Cutting Their Own Groove.
Wolfsbane has a heavy metal cover of this song on their 1993 EP "Everything Else"
The Australian band, Something for Kate, frequently covers "Born to Run" at live performances.
A rare live recording of Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who, singing "Born to Run" at a live solo performance appears on his greatest-hits/rarities collection "Gold."
Light This City recorded their take on Born To Run during the recording of their final record, "Stormchaser," the track was featured on their Myspace for a time and can be found on YouTube as well
Scottish singer Amy Macdonald performed an acoustic version on recent tours.
Ohio based acoustic group Free Wild performed a cover version of this song in their 2011 and 2012 tours, often finishing the song with a Springsteen inspired version of the children's song Itsy Bitsy Spider.
Eric Church tagged "Born to Run" in the middle of his own hit song "Springsteen" during his 2012-13 tour.