As Bruce Springsteen’s seminal album Born to Run turns 45 we thought there was no better time to take a closer look at his smash hit record and rank the songs in order of greatness.
The album represents a climactic moment for Springsteen as he finally achieved the superstar status he so badly craved. The Boss only really took his title after the album sold thousands and thousands of copies across the globe. An album propped up by legend-making hits is a critical moment in Springsteen’s impressive career.
Springsteen’s third studio album saw the singer make a giant leap for the top of the pile and went on to sell six million copies. Though he kept his lyrics deliberately squared at the working man’s everyday struggle, he also began to add the air of optimism to his sound and an album full of radio-ready rock songs meant the singer was looking toward American mythology for his greatest inspiration.
The album effectively launched Springsteen into superstar status and looking back at the eight songs that did it, it is difficult to think of eight more powerfully constructed pieces of Americana.
Ranking Bruce Springsteen’s album Born to Run:
8. ‘She’s The One’
One of the songs written by Springsteen before the Born to Run sessions, the track was nearly left off the record entirely. It’s a pounding rock ‘n’ roll anthem full to the brim with Americana tropes and pop music fodder.
The pursuit of a beautiful yet cold-hearted woman who treats the protagonist badly, lying to him at every turn. The relationship is remembered in a flashback and, alongside other songs on the album, hints at a simpler by-gone time. The simplicity of the song can make it a real earworm but this rock ‘n’ roll 101 stuff.
The third track from the album’s run list has become a stage favourite of the E Street Band as the electrified song has all the feeling of a first-date. While many would have made the first-date a simple boy meets girl affair, Springsteen has to take things back to the oily-rag basics of blue-collar classics.
So, while the song does deal with our protagonist’s search for love it also sees him sneaking off to go drag racing in the night. It means the only freedom our man ever feels is while he’s on the highway. It’s a simple premise expertly constructed over three minutes of radio-savvy joy.
Roy Bittan’s instrumental piano at the beginning of this song may well feel at home on the opening credits of a sit-com but that doesn’t make it feel any less comforting yet subtly heartbreaking. The song has had numerous interpretations over the years, none of which take away from Springsteen’s vocal and the undeniable toe-tapping groove.
In his recent autobiography Born to Run, Springsteen said the song concerned a broke friendship but many others have aligned the “Terry” mentioned in the song as part of a homosexual relationship, while during the live performances of the song Terry is repeatedly referred to as “she” and “little girl”. Whichever pigeonhole you find for this one you won’t be disappointed.
There’s more than a touch of Bob Dylan to the song but what stands out most is Springsteen’s impassioned vocal that begs to be joined in with like a friendly drunk at your local.
5. ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’
When you’re looking to be the biggest band on the planet, it’s always advisable to tell the world a little bit about yourself—just ask David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust. On ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band do exactly that, with a track about their formation.
The track is imbued with all the jumping rhythm the group would take into all their live performances and while the meaning of the song’s title remains a mystery—”I still have no idea what it means,” said Springsteen, “But it’s important,”— there’s no question on the song’s ability to turn a party into a slip ‘n’ slide dance contest.
4. ‘Meeting Across The River’
The B-side to ‘Born To Run’ is a smoky and sultry musical journey through the narrative of Springsteen. It could easily be placed within a musical and not look out of shape. The understated tune provides the perfect bridge between ‘She’s The One’ and ‘Jungleland’ within the album but on its own the song becomes even more enchanting.
Springsteen is sympathetic for the low-level criminal whom the story centres around, as he tried to get across the river to meet his contact for one final big job. “I’m gonna go out walking,” sings the whisky-soaked voice of Bruce, as he expertly plays the line between soul and show.
3. ‘Born To Run’
The seminal single release for Bruce Springsteen and arguably the song that launched his career. The Boss’ first worldwide single release released extensive airplay across American radio stations. And the song, like so many other great pieces of art, arose from a dream.
Springsteen allegedly woke up while on tour in 1973 with the title ‘Born to Run’ and jotted it down, allowing the formation of the song to begin. The track is written as a love letter to Wendy for whom our hot-rod riding protagonist has passion but not patience for.
The purist inside us could easily become offended by the song’s inclusion so high up on our list. ‘Born to Run’, if it were released today, would be widely lambasted as incredibly cheesy if not a complete pastiche. But yet, there’s something incredibly intoxicating about Springsteen’s commitment to the song and the Americana that surrounds it.
Put it this way, if this song comes on while you’re driving down the motorway, there’s not a chance in hell you aren’t turning up the volume and belting out your best impression of Bruce.
The nine-minute epic ‘Jungleland’ closes out the album. As the twisting and turning highway through America nears its destination, Springsteen is at his peak. Besides the leading man, the late, great Clarence Clemons delivers one of his iconic saxophone solos for the ages.
Like any good show, the closing number needs to be epic and Springsteen and the band certainly do that with ‘Jungleland’. The song’s lyrics mirror the entire album as the move from hopeful to despairing as the track progresses, telling the story of “the Rat”.
The song uses vivid imagery of the city and imagined gang life to provide authentic street poetry that few can match. It’s easily one of Springsteen’s finest tracks and marks him out as a bonafide storyteller for the ages.
1. ‘Thunder Road’
One of Bruce Springsteen’s most popular songs has had many transformations over the years. From ‘Angelina’ to ‘Chrissie’s Song’ and on to ‘Thunder Road’, the song is a composite of Springsteen’s view of the American culture.
Standing as the opening track of the album is always a tough thing to do and it seems as though Springsteen had recorded the song with this in mind. Seeing Born to Run as a series of vignettes of Americana, ‘Thunder Road’ acted as the “invitation” to the entire record.
Opening with Bittan’s piano and Springsteen on harmonica is a gentle reminder of the soul within the songs. And the message is as old as time as Mary and her boyfriend try to give it “one last chance to make it real”. Springsteen works as the perfect narrator, full of charm and heartbreak, hell-bent on love.
It may well be the first song on the album but it’s about all you need to hear of the record to know what it’s all about—mythology, love, loss and living for the American Dream. It is the distillation of everything that made Bruce Springsteen a star.