American singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen has created a catalog of hits throughout his career. But things were not so great for a while for Springsteen who was struggling to find commercial success. “Born to Run” was his final swing of desperation, and it not only saved his career but also got Springsteen inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In this article, we dig into this classic hit and unravel the stories behind it.
“Born to Run” was released as the lead single from Bruce Springsteen’s third studio album of the same name on August 25, 1975. The song was Springsteen’s first worldwide single release, however, had little traction around the world. In the US, the song was well-received and reached #23 on the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart, his first top 40 hit in the US.
“Born to Run” was ranked #21 on the Rolling Stone list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,’ among four other hits by Springsteen. The song is also included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
How “Born to Run” Came to be
By 1975, Bruce Springsteen had released two studio albums, ‘Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.’ and ‘The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle,’ both in 1973. However, none of the albums did well commercially. By 1975, Springsteen was about to be dropped by his record label. It was do-or-die time. The song took Springsteen six months to write. He recalled in an interview;
“One day I was playing my guitar on the edge of the bed, working on some song ideas, and the words ‘born to run’ came to me. At first, I thought it was the name of a movie or something I’d seen on a car spinning around the circuit. I liked the phrase because it suggested a cinematic drama that I thought would work with the music that I’d been hearing in my head.”
When asked about the inspiration behind the song, Bruce Springsteen revealed;
Hey, look, don’t confuse the artist with the art. These songs meant one thing to me when I wrote them; they mean something different to me now. And they’re going to mean something different to everyone. People should just enjoy them for what they are.”
Watch “Born to Run” Video by Bruce Springsteen
Buy ‘Born to Run’ Album on Apple Music and Amazon
“Born to Run” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review
The song is a confession of love to a girl named Wendy by Bruce Springsteen. Oftentimes, Bruce is said to have used the names of women he has come across in his life in his songs.
According to Bruce Springsteen, “I was writing about a guy and a girl that wanted to run and keep on running, never come back. That was a nice, romantic idea, but I realized after I put all those people in all those cars, I was going to have to figure out someplace for them to go, and I realized in the end that individual freedom, when it’s not connected to some sort of community, can be pretty meaningless. This is a song about two people trying to find their way home. It’s kept me good company on my search, and I hope it keeps you good company on yours.”
In the context of Bruce’s life at the time of writing, this song also represents Bruce’s urge to take off his music career and his urge to escape from Freehold, New Jersey.
The song starts off with a narration of Springteen’s grind to make it out. He tells how he sweated it out during the day. During the nighttime, he rides around his car glaring at the mansions of his dreams.
‘Suicide machines’ was a popular reference used for fast cars, drugs, sex, and money–all the vehicles that promoted an early death.
‘Highway 9’ is a reference to a highway code or road that likely ran through New Jersey.
Bruce Springsteen paints a picture of worn-out and overworked youth of Freehold, NJ, looking for a way out of the town in search of big dreams.
Oh, baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
Bruce Springsteen dreams to get out of this town while he is young. A few more years in this town, he believes that he will be stuck here forever along with his dreams.
Wendy let me in, I wanna be your friend
A girl by the name of Wendy is the side-kick heroine of the story to Bruce Springsteen. Lyrics that follow are of sexual nature thinly veiled with car references.
Watch Bruce Springsteen Perform “Born to Run” Live in 2009
But one thing Springsteen is certain of is the fact that only together they can break free from this small town. Fortunately, both of them share similar dreams. Springsteen assures her that he will help achieve hers as well.
Bruce Springsteen is well aware that he is making a risky move, trying his chances in a big city. He calls it ‘walking the wire,’ rightly so. But he is a little scared of the unknown ahead with Wendy by his side.
Springsteen sings about life in New Jersey back in 1974 for all of us. He recalls the amusement parks that were their only source of entertainment. He recalls the beaches and how people relaxed on them. Springsteen professes his love for Wendy and lets her know that whichever way their life turns out, he wants to die with her by his side.
Springsteen also tells us that the streets of New Jersey were filled with broken heroes. Maybe these were the people who were trying to ride out of the town and never did make it. They perished on the roads trying. Doubt settles in for Springsteen. Can he ever make it out?
Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness
I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul
Even if he fails to make it out of this small town, he would be happy with his girl by his side. They will be sad that they had to sacrifice their dreams. But they have the next best thing, love, at least.
“Born to Run” had a universal appeal among like-minded teens who were struggling to get out of their situations. Everybody wants to ‘move’ as opposed to staying stagnant and rotting in one place. Bruce encouraged all of us to ‘run.’
Let us know what you think about this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.