The American-Canadian rock band Steppenwolf is no one-hit-wonder, but they will be forever remembered for their iconic Rock ballad “Born to Be Wild.” Steppenwolf was the first artist to perform the song, although dozens did afterward. However, none that followed the spirit Steppenwolf brought into this song. In this article, we explore the success of the song that aided the success of the band for a long time, and the meaning behind the song.
“Born to Be Wild” was written by Mars Bonfire, a member of The Sparrows group, which was eventually renamed to be Steppenwolf. The song was originally written as a ballad, however, Steppenwolf sped up the rhythm and converted it into a rock anthem. Steppenwolf released “Born to Be Wild” as the third single from their 1968 self-titled debut studio album.
“Born to Be Wild” reached #2 on Billboard Hot 100 Chart, marking Steppnwolf’s most successful single ever. In Canada, the song peaked at #1, and #30 in the UK Singles Chart. In 2004, Rolling Stones magazine ranked the song at #130 on their ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time‘ list. In 2018, the song was inducted into the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.’
“Born to Be Wild” was used in the soundtrack of the 1969 movie ‘Easy Rider,’ which aided the song’s popularity and helped establish the song as a central soundtrack in the biker communities. Another popular Steppenwolf song “The Pusher” was also used in the same movie OST.
Later on, artists such as Hinder, Etta James, Ozzy Osbourne, Bruce Springsteen, Slayer, and more have covered this song.
Watch “Born to Be Wild” Music Video by Steppenwolf from ‘Easy Ride’ Movie
Buy ‘The Best of Steppenwolf’ Album on Apple Music & Amazon
Steppenwolf “Born to Be Wild” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review
Lead vocalist of Steppenwolf, John Kay, explained what this song meant to him; “Every generation thinks they’re born to be wild, and they can identify with that song as their anthem.”
The songwriter, Mars Bonfire, explained how he came up with the idea for “Born to Be Wild” what it meant to him;
“I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard one day and saw a poster in a window saying ‘Born to Ride’ with a picture of a motorcycle erupting out of the earth like a volcano with all this fire around it. Around this time I had just purchased my first car, a little secondhand Ford Falcon. So all this came together lyrically: the idea of the motorcycle coming out along with the freedom and joy I felt in having my first car and being able to drive myself around whenever I wanted. ‘Born To Be Wild’ didn’t stand out initially. Even the publishers at Leeds Music didn’t take it as the first or second song I gave them. They got it only because I signed as a staff writer. Luckily, it stood out for Steppenwolf. It’s like a fluke rather than an achievement, though.”
The term ‘born to be wild’ references to a human nature of being carefree and worry-free. The lyrics captures this essence and sprays it all over the listener.
The start of the song is dedicated to the bikers who would roam from town to town, seemingly not bound by anything or anyone they meet along the way. In the movei ‘Easy Rider,’ the plot of the story is of two bikers traveling through the American Southwest and South. The movie touches on topics of socio-cultural issues persistenet during the time and also the hippie culture.
The hippie culture truly practiced the art of being free from the material attachments.
In the hook of the song, the singers invite everyone to embrace love. This is also a main theme around the hippie culture. However, in contrast to this, Steppenwolf also sings;
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space
These lines helped “Born to Be Wild” to be labeled an anti-war song as well. The lyrics suggest emptying all the ammunition the nations hold to be fired into the empty space. There is no need to kill each other. We are all one, afterall.
In the second verse of the song, Steppenwolf digs further into the lifestyle they have adopted, specifically in the light of the bikers.
I like smoke and lightnin’
For bikers, smoke could mean the smoke from their motocycles when they accelerate them. In the context of the hippie culture, smoke could be a reference to marijuana, which was a very popular recreational drug among hippies. Lightning could be a reference to smoking or even making cocaine. In the movie ‘Easy Rider,’ the two bikers ride across states carrying proceeds from a cocaine deal. Some fans also argue that lightning could be a hint at the drug Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) which is known to give vivid and bizarre hullicinating effects.
The next line of the verse “heavy metal thunder” has made it into history books as the first time of the genre of heavy metal being referenced in a rock song. However, Steppenwolf was not likely talking about the genre of rock, but rather about the thunderous sound bikes such as Harley Davidson made.
These lyrics have captured the world from the 60’s to now.
Like a true nature’s child
We were born, born to be wild
It is disheartening to see how many human souls are irrecoverably stuck in the systematic imprisonment that is called society. We spent a good 40 years (often half of our lifespan) at a desk, being crushed by stressed and pressure so that we can feed ourselves next month. We make children, teach them, make them work, and make them have their own kids. And the cycle continues.
Humans were probably not engineered to be this way. We are at our best when we are with nature. But this may be due to the fact that humanity has not had enough time to evolve past the roots of our ancestors, who lived in harmony with nature. Maybe all the psychological issues, mental illnesses, depression, anxiety, stress, suicides, and the whole works are growing pains of transitioning our genetics from ‘born to be wild’ to ‘born to be working.’
Let us hear what you think about this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.