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BORN IN TIME: A 30TH ANNIVERSARY LOOK AT BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN'S BORN TO RUNby Adam D. Miller
In May 1974, music journalist Jon Landau wrote a compelling piece entitled “Growing Young With Rock ‘n’ Roll” for The Real Paper, a Massachusetts-based alternative weekly. In it, he described the struggles he experienced keeping his interest in music exciting. Landau wrote, “Today I listen to music with a certain measure of detachment. I'm a professional and I make my living commenting on it. There are months when I hate it, going through the routine just as a shoe salesman goes through his.” But for Landau, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Later in the piece, he describes Bruce Springsteen, a still relatively unknown performer from New Jersey that managed to make Landau excited about music once again. “But tonight there is someone I can write of the way I used to write, without reservations of any kind. Last Thursday, at the Harvard Square theatre, I saw my rock 'n' roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll 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.”
A year later, Jon Landau was Bruce Springsteen’s manager. In the years since, their partnership has come to be the epitome of the ideal artist-manager relationship, and it is doubtful that Springsteen would be the superstar he has become, with sold out shows across North America and Europe and best-selling albums, if it weren’t for Landau.
Back in 1975, Springsteen desperately needed someone like Landau, a well-respected journalist, to help him find a larger audience. Decades before selling out stadiums and arenas, Springsteen played to minimal audiences in small American clubs, despite the soon-to-be-realized quality of his first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent, and The E-Street Shuffle.
Landau’s “rock and roll future” quote seemed to be exactly what Springsteen and Columbia’s publicity department needed to make him a star. Springsteen told Newsweek in October 1975, “At the time, Landau's quote helped reaffirm a belief in myself. The band and I were making $50 a week. It helped me go on. I realized I was gettin' through to somebody." 3
Whether or not Born To Run owes a lot to Landau’s more loyal management is up to debate. But fact is that Springsteen was now with someone who truly cared about his success. He had recently gotten himself out of a contract with Mike Appell, whose interest in Springsteen seemed to have little to do with his music and more with his own profits. Born To Run became the one that truly broke Springsteen into stardom. And it was lucky for Springsteen that it happened when it did, because Columbia Records was quickly losing faith in him.
Columbia’s John Hammond had taken a chance on the young Bruce Springsteen in the same way that he had taken a chance on a young Bob Dylan in the early 1960s. But after two commercial flops, record executives were undoubtedly getting nervous that the artist they had put themselves behind was going to fail them. Born To Run proved to be a make-it-or-break-it affair and Springsteen shocked everyone with an album that proved to be one of 1975’s biggest hits.
Born To Run was Springsteen’s third album for Columbia, and the first record that people really paid attention to. And even after the release of great and successful albums like Darkness On The Edge Of Town, The River, Nebraska, and Born In The U.S.A., Born To Run remains Springsteen’s most popular.
The performances on Born To Run are stellar, with Springsteen delivering dynamic vocal lines and provocative lyrics. The largely piano-driven album owes a lot to the fantastic E-Street Band, which had recently added two new members. Pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg had played their first performances with Springsteen in September 1974, replacing David Sancious and Vini Lopez, respectively. Although Sancious and Lopez were talented musicians, Bittan and Weinberg proved to be better suited to Springsteen’s music, and along with Clarence Clemons on saxophone, Danny Frederici on organ, and Garry Tallent on bass, Bittan and Weinberg helped create the sound that Springsteen is most well known for.
Born To Run was released on August 25, 1975. It only included eight songs, but at least half of them (even thirty years later) are viewed as some of Springsteen’s best, even now capturing enthusiastic responses when performed before audiences. Due to the higher budget and altered band lineup, Born To Run proved to be a much different affair than Springsteen’s two previous records. The album was slickly recorded at New York’s The Record Plant with session musicians that included Michael and Randy Brecker, as well as string arrangements. But it is the involvement of Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg that make the album a true success.
Max Weinberg’s mighty drumming was mostly showcased in Springsteen’s live act at the time, but is pivotal on "She's The One," which employs a complex "Bo Diddley" beat. Ernest "Boom Boom" Carter provides the drums on the album's pivotal title track. "Born To Run" kicks off with a fast-paced series of drum shots before breaking into a Phil Spector-like "wall of sound." A pure rock 'n' roll anthem, "Born To Run" has become a crowd favorite ever since the album’s release, and whenever Springsteen performs it, the audience can be seen pumping their fists into the air.
Roy Bittan lends his tender and sophisticated piano to a lion’s share of the album’s tracks. “Thunder Road,” “Backstreets,” “Meeting Across The River,” and “Jungleland” would have not been the same if had not been for the involvement of the incredibly talented Roy Bittan.
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