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Written at 7½ West End Court in Long Branch, New Jersey in early 1974, the song was Bruce Springsteen's final attempt to become successful. The prior year, Springsteen had released two albums to critical acclaim but with little commercial movement.
Written in the first person, the song is a love letter to a girl named Wendy, for whom the hot rod-riding protagonist seems to possess the passion to love, just not the patience. However, Springsteen has noted that it has a much simpler core: getting out of Freehold. Route 9 is mentioned from the lyric "sprung from cages out on Highway 9".
In his 1996 book Songs, Springsteen relates that while the beginning of the song was written on guitar around the opening riff, the song's writing was finished on piano, the instrument that most of the Born to Run album was composed on. The song was recorded in the key of E major.
In the period prior to the release of Born to Run Springsteen was becoming well-known (especially in his native northeast) for his epic live shows. "Born to Run" joined his concert repertoire well before the release of the album, being performed in concert by May 1974, if not earlier.
The first recording of the song was made by Allan Clarke of the British group The Hollies, although its release was delayed, only appearing after Springsteen's own now-famous version.
In recording the song Springsteen first earned his noted reputation for perfectionism, laying down as many as eleven guitar tracks to get the sound just right. The recording process and alternate ideas for the song's arrangement are described in the Wings For Wheels documentary DVD included in the 2005 reissue Born to Run 30th Anniversary Edition package.
The track was recorded at 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, New York amidst touring breaks during 1974, with final recording done on August 6, well in advance of the rest of the album, and featured Ernest "Boom" Carter on the drums and David Sancious on keyboards; they would be replaced by Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan for the rest of the album and in the ongoing E Street Band (which was still uncredited on Springsteen's records at the time). The song was also recorded with only Springsteen and Mike Appel as producers; it would be later in the following year, when work on the album bogged down, that Jon Landau was brought in as an additional producer. Future record executive Jimmy Iovine engineered the majority of the sessions.
Upon release in August 1975, the song and the album became unparalleled successes for Springsteen, springing him into stardom, and resulting in simultaneous cover stories in Time and Newsweek magazines.
No music video was made for the original release of "Born to Run."
In 1987, a video was released to MTV and other channels, featuring a live performance of "Born to Run" from Springsteen and the E Street Band's 1984-1985 Born in the U.S.A. Tour, interspersed with clips of other songs' performances from the same tour. It closed with a "Thank you" message to Springsteen's fans.
"Born to Run" in its home state of New Jersey. Izod Center, May 21, 2009.
The song has been played at nearly every non-solo Springsteen concert since 1975 (although it was not included in the 2006 Sessions Band Tour). Most of the time the house lights are turned fully on and fans consistently sing along with Springsteen's signature wordless vocalizations throughout the song's performance.
The song has also been released in live versions on six albums or DVDs:
A Finnish rock singer Pate Mustajärvi covered this song with Finnish lyrics in 1986. The song title is "Synnyimme lähtemään".
Big Daddy, a band that specializes in recording popular modern songs in 1950s-style arrangements, performed a drastically re-arranged cover of "Born to Run" on their 1991 album Cutting Their Own Groove.
Wolfsbane has a heavy metal cover of this song on their 1993 EP "Everything Else"
The Australian band, Something for Kate, frequently covers "Born to Run" at live performances.
A rare live recording of Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who, singing "Born to Run" at a live solo performance appears on his greatest-hits/rarities collection "Gold".
Light This City recorded their take on Born To Run during the recording of their final record, "Stormchaser", the track was featured on their Myspace for a time and can be found on YouTube as well.
Scottish singer Amy Macdonald performed an acoustic version on recent tours.
Ohio based acoustic group Free Wild performed a cover version of this song in their 2011 and 2012 tours, often finishing the song with a Springsteen inspired version of the children's song "Itsy Bitsy Spider".
Eric Church tagged "Born to Run" in the middle of his own hit song "Springsteen" during his 2012-13 tour.
At the end of The Office (UK TV series) episode "The Quiz", David Brent triumphantly air-guitars the song's famous opening in celebration of a supposed victory in a trivia quiz challenge. He further references it by saying "Born to Run, the Slough branch".
The children's show Sesame Street featured a song about arithmetic called "Born to Add", sung by a Muppet modeled on Springsteen, but the musical number heavily borrows from Jungleland.
The Summer Set make mention to the song in their January 21, 2016 release of "Figure Me Out."
The Futurama Episode 31st Century Fox makes a reference to the song. As the Planet Express crew heads to New Jersey, a highway sign reads "Highway jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive".
In The Sopranos season 5 episode 12 Long Term Parking, Tony asks Christopher why he's late for a meeting. Moltisanti answers "highway was jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power-drive."
The song is used in Lilyhammer, when Roy is seen using a mobility scooter as he is no longer able to walk unaided