I was 13 years old when Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album was released, on Aug. 25, 1975. I had not heard any Bruce Springsteen songs previously. I was living in Bergen County, and was totally unaware of the Asbury Park music scene – and, really, most of what was going on in rock ‘n’ roll, beyond songs that made the Top 40 and the works of a few artists I was starting to get interested in, such as Bob Dylan, The Who and (okay, I’m not particularly proud of this one, but I’ve got to be honest) Grand Funk Railroad.
But anyway, I heard the Born to Run title track for the first time that year, probably sometime in the fall, on WNEW-FM, and it was pretty startling. I remember in particular being fascinated by that crazy chord that accompanied the “Whoa” in the first verse. I had never heard anything like that in a rock song before. Where did that come from?
A few years earlier, I had started buying singles. But now I had graduated to albums: I would buy LPs by artists with established track records or, very occasionally, an artist I was unfamiliar with beyond one really great single. I was willing to take a chance on Born to Run the album based on “Born to Run” the single, and it was soon in regular rotation in my bedroom, alongside stuff like Bob Dylan & the Band’s The Basement Tapes, The Who’s Quadrophenia, the “Jesus Christ Superstar” movie soundtrack, Elton John’s Honky Château and The Beatles’ red and blue double-album anthologies.
I think most Springsteen experts would agree that “Born to Run” is the most pivotal song in Springsteen’s career, and set the stage for everything that came later. It wasn’t his biggest hit, but it was his first hit, peaking at No. 23 on Billboard magazine’s singles chart. And it remains his most-played song in concert: According to the BruceBase web site, it has been played 1,382 times. The only other songs over 1,000 are “Badlands” (1,118), “Thunder Road” (1,089) and “The Promised Land” (1,070).
“Born to Run” is so powerful that some believe it should be the state’s official anthem (New Jersey doesn’t have one), which would be weird, only because the song’s subject matter is so dark. It’s really about feeling trapped, and wanting to break free. Still, in 1979, it was named New Jersey’s unofficial Youth Rock Anthem by the state assembly. Which is weird enough.
Below is a video made when a live version of the song, recorded at Giants Stadium in 1985, was released on Springsteen’s Live/1975-85 boxed set.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday last year. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we are marking the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, for almost a year — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. We started in September 2014, and will keep going until late in the summer.
If you would like to suggest any songs to be included, please let me know in the comments section underneath the video. And if you want to see the entire list, either alphabetically or in the order the songs were selected, click here.
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Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $20, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.