Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, released on Aug. 25, 1975, is dotted with career-making, warhorse tracks – not least of which is its anthemic title cut, a Top 25 hit.
Elsewhere, “Thunder Road,” another concert staple, opens Born to Run with a roaring sense of purpose. The semi-autobiographical “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” was, for some reason, never a pop hit but it nevertheless receives consistent airplay. Then there’s “Jungleland,” the album’s titanic closing cut and Clarence Clemon’s signature moment.
But what of the album’s lesser-heard songs, those tracks better known by completists than your average radio-dial twiddler? That’s where Mark Saleski, the resident expert on all things Springsteen at Something Else!, comes in. Here’s his anniversary look back at Born to Run tracks that are more off the beaten path …
“NIGHT”: I’ve heard people refer to “Night” as one of Born to Run‘s lesser songs, as well the album’s “mistake.”
It’s certainly a lesser song in terms of its relative lack of fame as compared to other iconic entries like Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, and the title track. Musically though, it’s a true E-Street powerhouse, with relentless drive and a somewhat unusual structure. It’s that lack of a traditional chorus, with the refrain ending with several variations leading up to “into the night,” that gives the song its own special forward momentum.
My favorite part of the song comes right after Bruce Springsteen sings the first two words of “Somewhere tonight you run sad and free” in the last verse. There’s a short break with a distorted guitar wailing away, amping up the energy that explodes into the song’s conclusion. Pretty amazing stuff for one of Born To Run‘s supposed lesser tracks.
“BACKSTREETS”: Ah, the masterful end of Born to Run‘s side one. To a lot of younger Bruce fans (you know, the ones who enjoy “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” guilt-free) the idea of “side one” and “side two” doesn’t mean a whole lot. To those of us who grew up with vinyl — and I might just be talking about people who still care about albums — the split nature of the medium made the artist think about sequencing in a whole different way.
Modern recordings don’t have this built-in break, so it’s not necessary to worry about how to end side one. Was the old way “better”? I don’t know. It sure was different. The combination of parts one and two, plus the inherent length limitation (less than an hour) forced the artist not only to consider the running order but also to be concise.
In that respect, I do think that vinyl was better. With most albums playing shy of the 45 minute mark, there wasn’t a lot of room for filler. Many of my favorite classic rock albums — including Steely Dan’s Aja, the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls, and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here — are tight, focused collections of songs. Tough to pull off that trick when your album can run to 70 minutes.
So, Bruce Springsteen chose to close out the first half of Born to Run with the sprawling epic letter to Terry, one of loss and regret. The music slowly rises to its climax, first on that iconic piano riff, and then on the wall of sound.
When I saw Bruce and the band launch into this one in Boston, on a rare night when “Jungleland” also made an appearance, I had that kind of near out-of-body experience that a co-worker used to refer to as “forgetting who he was.” It’s an odd thing, because you’re both “gone” and also instantly remembering every time you’ve ever heard the song.
It was a fitting and powerful end to side one, and perfectly sets the stage for what side two would bring.
“SHE’S THE ONE”: For some reason, this tune has launched many over-the-top moments for me at E Street shows. There’s just something about the energy profile early in the song that creates the perfect channel leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s ecstatic scream and gear-shift into the Bo Diddley beat-laden second half.
Of course, there’s one more surprise to follow and that is Clarence Clemons’ calland& response sax solo. It’s really a simple rock and roll song that gets the maximum amount of juice out of a handful of unpretentious elements.
When me and Stepson#1 attended the Hartford show early in the Magic tour, I was able to detect the exact moment when John was knocked back by that energy. It was during the brutal three-pack of “Reason To Believe” into “Night,” and then “She’s The One.”
The segue from “Night” into the keyboard ostinato of “She’s the One” momentarily dialed back the energy as the crowd readied themselves. Sure enough, Bruce lets out that scream and the room went over the top. I could hear John let out a giggle right then, with me satisfied that he now finally understood what I’d been talking about all of these years.
“MEETING ACROSS THE RIVER”: Bruce Springsteen’s ode to film noir, “Meeting Across The River” is perfectly sequenced as the energy momentarily shifts down from “She’s the One” and heads toward the album’s close.
But while the music dials back with the lonely and desolate trumpet (Randy Brecker) and piano introduction, the psychic energy holds steady. The characters here might be wrapped in crime story cliché but the sense of desperation and foreboding fit in with many of Born to Run‘s themes.
Some people have argued that “Meeting Across the River” is one of the album’s lesser tracks and should have been left out. It’s hard for me to turn back time and remove a song from a collection. I just can’t imagine it.
Maybe that’s because I like the song? Probably. In any event, this one takes the danger and anguish felt by a lot of Bruce’s cast and distills it down into three minutes (or so) of shimmering shadows.
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