Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run was the record that made him The Boss. Although it was his third album, Born To Run was the album that helped introduce his name to audiences all over the globe, all of whom who fell in love with the Jersey boy. However, despite its unavoidable greatness, Springsteen initially hated everything about the project and, for a period of time, didn’t even want the seminal album to be released.
Following the commercial failure of his previous two releases, Born To Run was seen as a make it or break it moment for Springsteen’s career. Thankfully, the record was a commercial success, but the story of Bruce Springsteen could have been dramatically different if this album failed to land. Columbia, who evidently realised he was a once in a generation talent, stuck by him when his first two albums haemorrhaged money. For Born To Run, they put all their chips on the table and gave Springsteen a wild budget for his last shot at making a commercially viable album and career.
If the response to the record was anything like his first two then Springsteen would have been dropped by Columbia and wouldn’t have grown into the stadium-filling behemoth he is today. He was all too aware that this was his last shot at mainstream success and he was in no rush to waste this final opportunity. Springsteen worked day and night in the studio for 14-months trying to get the album perfect but, in truth, all that did was make him grow to resent more intently what he viewed as being wrong with the record.
The title track was released six-months before the album as the label assumed that Springsteen surely couldn’t tinker with the record much more — they were wrong. However, the early release of the single helped garner hype around the upcoming record as ‘Born To Run’ became a mainstay on radio across America and helped build up some appetite for his third album or add some extra pressure, depending on your viewpoint.
When it was finally released, Springsteen knew that his life and career rested on the strength of the eight songs which, over the prior year and some months, he had poured every fibre of his being into. This sent him into a state of worry about the LP and he had seemingly convinced himself Born to Run was a piece of trash that nobody in their right mind would enjoy listening to.
“After it was finished? I hated it! I couldn’t stand to listen to it,” Springsteen would later admit. “I thought it was the worst piece of garbage I’d ever heard. I told Columbia I wouldn’t release it. I told ‘em I’d just go down to the Bottom Line gig and do all the new songs and make it a live album.”
He later expanded on this feeling to Rolling Stone in 2015, “I’ve always had a bit of an ambivalent attitude towards… what was I afraid of? Change, I don’t know [laughs]. Also, it was a moment when your music was the totality of your identity, and so you were so caught up and so invested in it.
“To accept that our fortunes were going to rest on whatever this was, for better or for worse. That was a big responsibility at the time, and we were putting everything we had on what we’d done. So it was just traumatic.”
Springsteen’s career truly hung in the balance and he felt as though he didn’t have anybody else to blame but himself if it didn’t become a success. Columbia even spent $250,000 on a marketing campaign for the record which rescued the album after it charted at 84 in the first week of sales. This campaign helped rocket the record into the top 10 the following week and it soon went gold and became a mainstay of Springsteen’s rich canon.
The anxiety that Springsteen felt around the release of the record, coupled with the relentless examination of every detail across a 14-month period led to him to grow to hate the record, an unusual position for any artist. It’s especially strange considering that Born To Run is the sound of Springsteen spreading his wings, the sound of him achieving his goals and, most importantly, the sound of him becoming The Boss.