Band On The ‘Run’
When Bruce Springsteenís ìBorn To Runî album was released on Aug. 25, 1975 ó 35 years ago this week ó critics couldnít have been more effusive in their praise. Newsweek said the album recalled ìthe glory days of Mick Jagger, The Beatles and Elvis Presley.î The LA Times called Springsteen ìthe purest glimpse of the passion and power of rock íní roll in nearly a decade.î
The songs ìThunder Road,î ìJunglelandî and ìTenth Avenue Freeze-Outî became staples of both rock radio and Springsteen concerts. The title track became The Bossí first top-40 hit and its chorus, ìTramps like us, baby we were born to run,î turned into one of the most recognizable in pop history.
But one major music-industry figure seemed almost disgusted by the record. One month after its release, he told an interviewer, ìI couldnít stand to listen to it. I thought it was the worst piece of garbage Iíd ever heard.î
That harsh critic was Bruce Springsteen.
The Bossís third album is now widely regarded as one of rockís greatest albums, the one that made him an icon. But if ìBorn To Runî was a work of passion, it was also a work of madness, as its creation nearly drove Springsteen off the deep end, making that time ìthe most horrible periodî of his life.
Springsteenís first two albums had received rave reviews, but sold poorly. As such, Columbia Records was considering dropping him.
ìHe knew it was his last shot,î says Richard Neer, a longtime deejay for WNEW-FM who was a major early supporter and friend. ìHe knew that if he didnít come up with a record that sold, he was gonna lose his deal, and maybe not get another one anywhere else.î
As Springsteen began hearing songs for the album in his head, he hoped to create a lush, Phil Spector-style production. Unfortunately, he had no idea how to get this sound onto vinyl.
The first song he recorded, ìBorn To Run,î took him and his band an astonishing six months to complete, during which time he rewrote, retooled, overdubbed and tried virtually every conceivable arrangement, including doo-wop, heavenly vocal choirs and drag-racing noises. He openly sought to create the greatest rock íní roll record of all time.
ìThere are outtakes of other versions of ëBorn To Runí that are hysterical to listen to,î says Louis Masur, author of the new book, ìRunaway Dream: ëBorn To Runí and Bruce Springsteenís American Vision.î ìThere are versions with strings, sound effects, double-echoed voices, all this crap. Itís crazy, because it makes you appreciate that these things are created, not just born.î
This same spirit of never-ending revision applied to the songís lyrics, which Springsteen rewrote so many times that his notebook for the song filled 50 pages.
ìI worked very, very long on the lyrics to ëBorn To Run,í because I was very aware that I was messing with classic rock íní roll images that easily turned into clichÈs,î Springsteen says in the documentary ìWings for Wheels: The Making of Born To Run.î ìI worked really hard getting the soul of the song . . . and kept stripping away clichÈs until it started to feel emotionally real.î
Sometime after the songís completion, Springsteen, who had been co-producing the album with his manager, Mike Appel, had a new, increasingly frequent visitor to the studio. Jon Landau was a journalist for Rolling Stone who, in a Boston publication called the Real Paper, had famously proclaimed, ìI saw rock íní rollís future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.î
After Landau solved a vexing problem by suggesting that Springsteen move the sax solo in ìThunder Roadî from the middle of the song to the end, he was brought on as a co-producer, becoming a perfect foil for Springsteenís meandering creative impulses.
ìWhere there were roadblocks in Bruceís head, Jon may have plowed through those,î Appel tells The Post. ìHe broke up a lot of creative logjams.î
(Eventually, Landau would displace Appel as Springsteenís manager.)
With Landau onboard, the rest of the album moved faster, but was still mired in Springsteenís obsessive quest for perfection. He could spend days adjusting the sound of his guitar. On ìJungleland,î Clarence Clemonsí saxophone solo was composed by Springsteen, literally note by note, in a marathon 16-hour session.
Clemons, who called it ìthe most intricate collaborationî in his almost four decades with The Boss, later recalled: ìI went to the bathroom a few times, but I donít think we stopped to eat.î
Personally, Springsteen was cracking up. Staying at a Holiday Inn on Manhattanís West Side with a girlfriend, she would ask every day if the record was finished, and he would suppress tears ó or, occasionally, shed them ó in saying that it wasnít.
Finally forced to conclude the sessions thanks to a scheduled tour, Springsteen was singing ìSheís the Oneî in one studio, putting finishing touches on ìJunglelandî in another and rehearsing for the tour in a third on the day of the first show. Clemons was still playing the ìJunglelandî solo as the band packed up the car to leave.
They hit the road as engineers stayed behind to mix and master the album. But when Springsteen received the test pressings, he not only rejected them, he threw them into a swimming pool. He was so unhappy that he considered scrapping the album entirely and starting over.
Cooler heads prevailed. Upon its release with only minor changes, ìBorn To Runî was hailed as a classic by critics and fans alike.
ìThat album captured his energy,î Neer says. ìBruce is one of the most energetic performers onstage, and thatís what came off, finally, on that record.î
Springsteen was eventually able to enjoy his remarkable achievement, coming to appreciate ìBorn To Runî both on its own merits and for what it meant as a reflection of a very important and meaningful time in his life.
ìWhen I hear the record, I hear my friends, my hopes and dreams, and what I thought my life was gonna be,î Springsteen says. ìItís a lovely thing to have as part of my life.î
Band On The ‘Run’