After the greater but still insufficient level of sales of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, Bruce Springsteen‘s star in the rock firmament seemed to lose intensity. The young rocker from New Jersey, then only twenty-four years old, had two albums behind him which, although convincing the music critics, had disappointed in sales. Meanwhile, Springsteen had lost some of his strong support within CBS: it was hard to find anyone who still firmly believed in him. But Bruce did not lose heart and invested all of himself in two aspects: writing music and playing live. Born To Run was born amidst those difficulties and unchanged hopes. Springsteen wrote music incessantly and, no longer having any certainty of being able to record his third album, he began to play new songs in live performances. Some of the songs on what would become the legendary Born To Run album, including Born To Run itself and Thunder Road (then called Wings For Wheels) were first played live than recorded in the studio.
THE NEW E STREET BAND IS BORN
Luckily there was no shortage of live dates throughout the United States of America and what Bruce had not yet managed to achieve in the studio he was slowly and laboriously achieving with his concerts, which picked increasingly higher approvals. The audience and music operators were both enthusiastic about what Springsteen and his band presented on the American stages. In the meantime – it was the spring of 1974 – the recordings of Born To Run began. Vini Lopez no longer arrived in the recording studio, fired for his uncontrollable character, even more than for his eclectic but “disorderly” musical style. Lopez was replaced by Ernst “Boom” Carter, a jazz drummer and David Sancious‘ friend. In that summer, however, Carter and Sancious themselves left for other paths, leaving as their musical legacy only their participation in the recording of the title track, which was no longer re-recorded and appeared on the album in that version.
MAX & ROY
The late summer of 1974 was an essential time in Bruce Springsteen‘s discography. Through an advertisement in a music magazine, the band’s new drummer and pianist were selected: Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan. A more robust and tidier drum style and a more rock and less jazz imprint in the piano parts profoundly changed the E Street Sound. The recordings of the new album resumed more streamlined, between one concert and another. Meanwhile, an old friend of Bruce‘s, Steve Van Zandt, also approached the band. Springsteen would have liked to involve him in the project but, given the limited finances available, he only managed to get him credited for the arrangements of the horn section in Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and for the backing vocals in Thunder Road. Van Zandt will then join the now consolidated E Street Band on a permanent basis with the start of the Born To Run promotion tour.
THE FUTURE OF ROCK & ROLL
Another epochal moment came on May 9, 1974, when Springsteen held a concert in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Music journalist Jon Landau attended that concert. The following May 22, Landau published an article in the music magazine The Real Paper that would become legendary: “Growing young with rock’n’roll“. It contained a sentence that sounded like a proclamation: “Last Thursday I saw the past of rock’n’roll flash before my eyes. And I saw something else too: I saw the future of rock’n’roll and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Those words had two great consequences. The first: Springsteen felt all the responsibility to keep the promise that Landau had somehow expressed for him, generating strong expectations in the world of rock. The second: Landau himself joined Springsteen‘s management. It was a fundamental turning point: Landau helped Springsteen dry out the band’s sounds and create a more robust one. With Born To Run the unmistakable E Street Sound was born. To understand Landau‘s impact on Springsteen‘s music it is enough to listen to the difference between the original Wings For Wheels and the definitive Thunder Road.
CREATING A MASTERPIECE TAKES GREAT EFFORT
Born To Run wasn’t released until August 1975, after a year and a half in the making. Those recordings exhausted everyone, from musicians to technicians, from managers to Springsteen himself, who was a victim of his perfectionism. If people and CBS expected a breakthrough album, Springsteen aspired to much more: he was looking for the masterpiece. Upon its release Born To Run revealed all its beauty. Thunder Road, the opening track, ended with an emblematic verse: “I’m pulling out of here to win”. He wasn’t just the boy who left his homeland to seek his fortune, he was a musician who bet everything he had to rightfully enter the history of rock. In Born To Run Springsteen aspired to walk into the sun, but before then he knew he had to keep running. If it is true that these two milestones sent escape messages to two girls, it is clear that Springsteen was above all proclaiming his personal ambitions, his goal to go really far.
To Born to Run and Thunder Road (the second was re-covered by the production of the Springsteen-Landau duo and the essential contribution of Roy Bittan) was added Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, a celebration of Springsteen‘s artistic encounter with the saxophonist Clarence “Big Man” Clemons. Backstreets is one of the masterpieces on the album with wonderful lyrics about betrayed friendship. She’s The One, a powerful Bo Diddley-style rock song, will remain one of the most sensual lyrics in Springsteen‘s entire discography. The album also included Night, a hymn on the liberating strength of night time, Meeting Across The River, a wonderful suburban jewel with jazz sounds, and Jungleland, an absolute musical and lyrical masterpiece, which tells the story of the life, love and defeats of young kids from the slums between New Jersey and the Big Apple.
THE ROLE OF BORN TO RUN IN ROCK HISTORY
Born To Run is not only a turning point album in Bruce Springsteen‘s career, but also a turning point in the history of rock music. In 1975 rock was dying. The significant revolutionary load that rock had brought in the 1960s had been lost in the wind. Many of the great rockstars of the previous decade had faded. Someone had fallen victim to the same transgressive trait that rock brought with it and was lost between drugs, alcohol and an identity/inspiration crisis. Others had embraced that bourgeois life that rock itself and the antagonistic culture of ’68 had opposed. At that moment a young boy from New Jersey countryside arrived and shouted that we needed to get a car and leave: to win or, at least, to try. He did not make ideological proclamations, he did not contemplate transgressions and self-harm. The only transgression he believed in was rock’n’roll. Rock was the engine, the pivot around which the new search for a dream revolved. It is not hyperbole to argue that it is also thanks to this album that rock resurrected and arrived alive and well straight in the new millennium.
ONE OF THE GREATEST ALBUMS EVER
The great success of Born To Run allowed Springsteen, among other things, to obtain the first gig for a concert in Europe, which took place at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on 18 November 1975. The live event was filmed and recorded, but released on CD and DVD only in 2006. Born To Run was critically acclaimed as one of the best rock albums ever. In 2003, when the famous Rolling Stone magazine asked critics from around the world to vote for the best rock albums in history, the album ranked 18th out of 500. In another ranking from the same magazine the song Born To Run placed 21st among the most beautiful songs ever. Thunder Road and Jungleland, and now also Atlantic City also entered that ranking.
Read Also: The E Street Shuffle, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Next Review: 23 October 2023 – Thunder Road
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