Bruce Springsteen’s 40 greatest songs

An all-star cast pick The Boss' best moments…

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1 Born To Run
Single and 1975 album title track

CHRIS ROBERTS: Few intros send as exhilarating a rush of blood to the head and loins as “Born To Run”, a fantastic pop record as well as a defining Springsteen record. The Victoria Falls of yearning, it’s many things to many people, most of which involve a surging in the chest as if something momentous and life-changing’s about to occur. “I wanna know if love is wild/I wanna know if love is real.” Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t. The greatest records in history (of which this is one) never serve as anything more than catalysts: they won’t do the job or take the leap for you – you still have to do that yourself. But this is mighty fiery petrol. Like “Thunder Road”, the preposterously romantic (a high compliment) lyrics are all about movement, momentum, about getting from Nowheresville (a state of mind) to Somewhere Else (a fantasy). Hungry hints of Bruce’s all-American influences Kerouac (On The Road) and Whitman (“Song Of The Open Road”) hover on the horizon. “Born To Run” prompts people to act on their impractical desires – leave town, drive all night, hit the city, ask “Wendy” out, lean forward to kiss “Wendy” once she’s out with you. It’s about youth. It suggests you must pursue your dreams, which, in truth, is possibly the most invidious and suspect of pop culture’s panaceas. If you pursue your dreams and don’t find them, where does that leave you? It leaves you as a character from The River or Tunnel Of Love, a character too tired and bruised to even dream. The criminal alternative, however, is never to feel what this record feels – never to feel young, gifted, good-looking and over-confident. To be running from, not running to “that place where we really wanna go” – heaven, paradise, wherever.
SEAN ROWLEY: My only real mate as a 13-year-old was a Capital Radio DJ by the name of Roger Scott. I listened religiously to his drivetime show. I’m not sure if he was the first to play Bruce, but he sure loved him, and he was responsible for dragging him into the mainstream. I’d just gotten in from school when Roger told me that the next record he was going to play would change my life. It was “Born To Run”. It thundered out of the radio and filled the whole of my bedroom, the walls shook as the sax took its lead, by the end I was lying on the floor breathless. The only other time I had felt anywhere near this good was my first wank. At the end Roger lifted the needle off the record and clunked it back into the groove (a radio no-no). And just let the whole record run again. Suddenly all the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place. It was a fuck-you to all those prats at school whose idea of a good time was to sit in the sixth-form common room listening to Pink Floyd. John Lennon once said there are only five records; this was all those five in one. It took me out of my Home Counties suburb to a hot summer’s night in a land of dreams, and made me want to one day love a girl like he loved Wendy. In later years, Roger would interview Bruce on his visits to the UK, and always got first play on new tracks. It wasn’t unusual for him to feature more than one Springsteen track per show. A weird twist in the tale is that Roger nearly lost his job when the Independent Broadcasting Authority thought he was on payola, because he featured so much Bruce in his shows.
TIM DeLAUGHTER: “Born To Run” is the song that defines The Boss. It’s uplifting, hard-driving and extremely addictive. It’s also the rock anthem to end all rock anthems.
JOHN CONVERTINO: “Born To Run” was the first Springsteen song I ever heard. It’s not an easy song to learn, but I spent hours dissecting the drum part and teaching myself how to play it. A lot of people think it’s one of his most crass songs, but I still totally love it.
BRETT SPARKS: This sounded so good coming out of those Jensen Coaxial speakers in my ’72 Camaro when I was in high school in Odessa, Texas. My first girlfriend gave me this because she hated the way the guy sang. I had not yet listened closely to Dylan or Reed or Hank, and this was the first popular music I’d heard that rang so true and honest. And I loved cars and this was just the ticket. I thought it was punk rock. It sounded ragged, tough and uncompromising. A far cry from Van Halen.
RENNIE SPARKS: In New York, where I was growing up, this song was inescapable. Every idiot with a beer gut who could lift a lighter in his hands was singing this anthem. It put me off Bruce for years, as well as beer.
NICK JOHNSTONE: This song is up there with The Wizard Of Oz. There’s the same desperate dreaming, the same hopelessly hopeful fantasy, the same backyard poetry, the same belief in something better waiting on the other side of the rainbow. Hearing “Born To Run”, like watching The Wizard Of Oz, you want to run and run and run and never come back.
CHUCK MEAD: It’s fucking “Born To Run”!
TOM McRAE: Without question the most romantic song ever written, and it’s not even a ballad. When he shouts “1,2,3,4” before the last verse, I defy anyone not to punch the air in celebration. And who would have thought the name “Wendy” could ever sound good in a rock song?
DAN BERN: Try as I might, I can’t not include it. The anthem of all anthems.
SHANNON MARY McARDLE: I’m sure this is on everyone’s list and really needs no explanation. So uplifting and perfect.
NICK STEWART: The late, great Roger Scott on Capital Radio played this on his afternoon show one cold November day in 1975, and one of the most thrilling rock anthems of all time burst into the room like a tornado. An unforgettable experience.
DANIEL DAVIDSON: I’ve listened to “Born To Run” dozens of times over the last few years and it never fails to cheer me up. It’s just a brilliantly written song that’s been constructed and recorded flawlessly. The lyrics are really inspiring for a youngster like myself, and the chorus is a real sing-along one.
JOHN BRAMWELL: The thing that distinguishes Springsteen from other American singer-songwriters is the cinematic quality that shines through most of his songs. Every time I hear “Born To Run”, it instantly reminds me of American Graffiti because the characters in both the film and the song are restless 17-year-olds that spend their time daydreaming and hot-rodding cars. They’re also characters that start off with a romantic ideal of themselves, and “Born To Run” expresses that.
TOM BRIDGEWATER: I spent five years locked up in an English public school. “Born To Run” gave us all hope. Wendy was out there, out there somewhere, ready to “strap your hands across my engines”. Hmmmmm…
STEVE WYNN: The most overwhelming, dizzying, impossibly ornate arrangement and production this side of Phil Spector. It took me years before I realised that the droning baritone sax at the bottom of the mix wasn’t actually a guitar and was, in fact, the glue to the entire song.
LYNDON MORGANS: It would be perverse not to mention this one. A rock’n’roll sacred text. Lyrics as great as these, and he half-buries them in this avalanche of magnificent noise! If they were mine, I’d intone them over just a one-string banjo, Will Oldham-style, making sure you didn’t miss a syllable of my genius. And yet the most thrilling bit of all is when the whole juggernaut of a din judders to a halt and he screams the four-count back in. Sublime.
HOLLY JOHNSON: It was suggested to Frankie Goes To Hollywood that we cover “Born To Run” on Welcome To The Pleasuredome, so we had a go. And it was fabulous! It turned out so much better than anyone could’ve imagined, because, in theory, FGTH doing “Born To Run” might seem like a bit of a Technicolor nightmare. Yet it’s the most fabulous version I’ve ever heard, and, I’m afraid to say, pisses all over Bruce’s in more ways than one. Was it an ‘ironic’ version? Well, I did attempt to put some camp inflections into it, but it was hard to get them across in that song. I always felt there was an overt macho posturing associated with Springsteen. So very overt that it was almost as if he was masking an inner femininity. As soon as he comes to England he goes to an East End gym with, you know, “ordinary people”, and works out, machismo attached. He even wears that uniform of jeans and working man’s shirt. But I think he’s a really good songwriter! When we did “Born To Run” on Saturday Night Live, on our first ever American TV appearance, I waved a long white silk scarf around – I was trying to put across that we weren’t trying to desecrate or smash the graven images particularly. It was just a great song. And we did it justice.

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