The Album Collection #20: 1975, Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

by Charlie_East_West on November 11, 2013

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Recently we published our list of the All That’s Left top 20 albums in response to the NME top 500 album list and my esteemed colleague Captain George East has since written about his favourite album of all time, and the overall winner of our greatest album – The Clash, London Calling. I think this is the greatest rock album ever produced by a British band. It is difficult to think of many albums that are better than this one. However, my own greatest album of all time is Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run.

I have come to the conclusion that in my lifetime I do not think that any album will be able to top this opus in my overall album ranking. It is an album that I have played consistently over the past 25 years. I have repeatedly banged on about what a magnificent beast this album is. If I was placed in some sort of post apocalyptic torture chamber and I was given the ultimatum that I could only listen to one album from here to eternity – I would choose Born to Run and the torturers would not be able to break me.

In the May 22, 1974 issue of Boston’s The Real Paper music critic Jon Landau wrote, after seeing a performance at the Harvard Square Theater, “I saw rock and roll’s future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.” Landau subsequently became Springsteen’s manager and producer, helping to finish Born to Run in 1975.

It is almost unfathomable to think that Born to Run is now 38 years old. Bruce Springsteen released Born to Run after the critical acclaim but without the commercial appeal of Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. Whilst both these albums are magnificent in their own right, they were largely narrow in their locational lyrical reference points of characters and storybooks of New Jersey and New York. For Born to Run, Springsteen decided to throw the kitchen sink at obtaining a wider audience. It became a labour of love. It almost broke Springsteen in terms of his obsessive perfectionism. The album took more than 14 months to record, with six months alone spent on the title song, Born to Run. During this time, Springsteen battled with frustration and obsession over the album, saying he heard “sounds in his head” that he could not explain his ultimate vision to the others in the studio. He wanted to create Phil Spector-esque walls of sound across the whole album. The whole thing became a torturous recording process.

In terms of the original LP’s sequencing, Springsteen eventually adopted a four corners approach, as the songs beginning each side (Thunder Road, Born to Run) were an uplifting call to arms towards escape, while the songs ending each side (Backstreets, Jungleland) were epics of loss, the disenfranchised and ultimately, defeat.

But in the end Springsteen was not defeated by this album. He went for broke and emerged victorious. The critics absolutely loved it. Time and Newsweek magazines put Springsteen on their front covers and the album went on to sell millions of copies. The album is still consistently placed in the upper echelons of most all time album ranking lists.

Everything about this album is perfect. Every song works, the sequencing of tracks is spot on. The arrangements highlight the fantastic musicianship from the E Street Band. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of broken dreams and the hunt for redemption within America in the mid 1970’s (an image that is still relevant today), and the album cover is one of the most iconic album covers of all time.

The colossal wall of sound production could have led to an overblown and bloated disaster, and yet, it became a masterpiece. Clarence Clemons’ triumphant saxophone wailing, Roy Bittan’s piano riffs, the overall Telecaster guitar sound, chiming glockenspiels, Max Weinberg’s drumming, Springsteen’s vocals practically howling at the moon and with poetic street tale lyrics that Lou Reed would have been proud of. Mix all of this together and somehow, incredibly and heroically, Springsteen hit the jackpot.

From the brilliant album opener, Thunder Road, right through to the epic 10 minute closer of Jungleland (featuring Clarence Clemons producing the best saxophone solo in rock history), the album takes the listener on a trip right through the highway of blue collar Americana through a windscreen lens.

This widescreen cinematic album has now ended up as a calling card for so many piss-poor imitations over the last 30 years. Yet, no artist has come close to successfully replicating Springsteen’s formula. He completely owns this pattern of music – and anyone who tries to imitate this sound are left with accusations of being derivative or simply not being in the same league as The Boss (Parquet Courts, The Killers, The Gaslight Anthem and Razorlight please take note).

In my humble opinion, Born To Run is the best album of all time. It contains within its eight tracks three of the best rock songs ever written (Thunder Road, Born to Run and Jungleland) and the five other songs that are also right up in the pantheon. In fact, the song Born to Run is so good – I could probably write a 1000 word thesis on that song alone.

Born to Run became the album that forever cemented Springsteen’s place in rock and roll history. After being almost dropped by his record label due to the less than favorable sales of his two previous LPs, Springsteen was ready to call it quits if Born To Run didn’t succeed. Well, the record didn’t just succeed – it went down as one of the most important records ever released, and Springsteen took a giant leap towards becoming America’s favourite son.

This is the best album released by arguably one of the best musicians of all time. Born To Run is Springsteen’s magnum opus, the album that helped launch him like a rocket out of the shadow of Bob Dylan and into the mainstream spotlight as The Boss. The release of Born To Run came at a critical time in music – when there was no US rock cultural icon for both working-class parents and their teenage kids to turn to. Springsteen became a man who women wanted to be with and men wanted to be. He hit upon the holy grail of music – critical adoration and mainstream appeal.

It is bloody hard for me to put into words what this record means to me personally. Without it, my musical sources of inspiration would be very different and my life without be so much poorer.

There are only five albums that I can possibly give 10 out of 10 – Which means perfection. Born to Run is one of them. It is top of the list. It probably deserves 11 out of 10, because nothing can sound as perfect as this. Nothing. Ever.

Legend has it that by the end of the grueling recording sessions Springsteen was still not satisfied with the album and upon his first hearing of the finished album, he went outside and threw the record into the alley. He was probably looking for a 12 out of 10 score.

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