Classic Rock Wiki

"Born to Run" is a song by American singer songwriter Bruce Springsteen, and the title song of his album Born to Run.[1] Upon its release, music critic Robert Christgau took note of its wall of sound influence and called it "the fulfillment of everything 'Be My Baby' was about and lots more."


  • 1 Songwriting
  • 2 Recording
  • 3 Honors and accolades
  • 4 Track listing
  • 5 Chart performance
  • 6 Personnel
  • 7 Live performance history
  • 8 Music videos
  • 9 Cultural references
    • 9.1 Television
    • 9.2 Literature
    • 9.3 Music (also see "Covers" below)
    • 9.4 On stage
    • 9.5 Games
    • 9.6 Radio
  • 10 Covers
    • 10.1 Live covers
  • 11 References
  • 12 External links


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. U.S. 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 Landauwas brought in as an additional producer. Future record executive Jimmy Iovine engineered the majority of the sessions.

A pre-release version of the song, with a slightly different mix, was given by Appel to disc jockey Ed Sciaky of WMMR in Philadelphia in early November 1974, and within a couple of weeks was given to otherprogressive rock radio outlets as well, including WNEW in New York, WMMS in Cleveland, WBCN in Boston, and WVBR in Ithaca, New York. It immediately became quite popular on these stations, and led to cuts from Springsteen's first two albums being frequently played as well as building anticipation for the album release.

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.

Honors and accolades[edit][]

  • In 2004, "Born to Run" was ranked #6 in WXPN's list of The 885 All-Time Greatest Songs.
  • Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time placed it at #21.
  • The song came in at #920 in Q's list of the "1001 Greatest Songs Ever" in 2003, in which they described the song as "best for working class heroes."
  • It is one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[3]
  • In 2001, the RIAA's Songs of the Century placed the song 135th (out of 365).
  • In 1999, National Public Radio included the song in the "NPR 100", NPR's music editors' compilation of the one hundred most important American musical works of the 20th century.[4]
  • On June 12, 1979, "Born to Run" was named New Jersey's "Unofficial Youth Rock Anthem" by the New Jersey State Assembly,[5] something Springsteen always considered ironic because it was "about leaving Jersey."

Track listing[edit][]

  1. "Born to Run" - 4:31
  2. "Meeting Across the River" - 3:18

The B-side was simply another cut from the album; Springsteen would not begin releasing unused tracks as B-sides until 1980.

Chart performance[edit][]

"Born to Run" was Springsteen's first worldwide single release, although it achieved little initial success outside of the United States.

Within the U.S. it received extensive airplay on progressive or album-oriented rock radio stations and the single was a top 40 hit, reaching number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.[6]


  • Bruce Springsteen – guitar, vocals
  • Garry Tallent – bass guitar
  • Ernest "Boom" Carter – drums
  • David Sancious – keyboards
  • Danny Federici – organ, glockenspiel
  • Clarence Clemons – saxophone

Live performance history[edit][]

House lights on for a typical performance of "Born to Run". Hartford Civic Center, October 2, 2007.

"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 1975 Born to Run Tour rendition on Hammersmith Odeon London '75, released in 2006;
  • A 1985 Born in the U.S.A. Tour runthrough on Live/1975-85, released in 1986;
  • A starkly different 1988 solo acoustic guitar performance from the Tunnel of Love Express on Chimes of Freedom, a 1988 EP;
  • A 2000 Reunion Tour version on Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live In New York City, released in 2001 (the song closes disc one but does not appear on the track listing of the album cover);
  • A 2002 Rising Tour take on the Live in Barcelona DVD, released in 2003.
  • A 2009 Working on a Dream Tour performance on the DVD London Calling: Live in Hyde Park which was release in 2010.

"Born to Run" was also performed as the second number of four during Springsteen and the E Street Band's halftime performance at Super Bowl XLIII.

Music videos[edit][]

"Born to Run" predates the music video era and no film or video clip was made of it at the time.

  • 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, with the video interspersed with clips from other songs' performances from that tour as well. It closed with a "Thank you" graphic to Springsteen's fans.
  • In 1988, director Meiert Avis shot a video of an acoustic version of the song during the Tunnel of Love Express tour.
  • Both videos are included in the compilations Video Anthology / 1978-88 and The Complete Video Anthology / 1978-2000.

Cultural references[edit][]


  • 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.
  • The children's show, Sesame Street, featured a song about arithmetic called "Born to Add", sung by a Springsteen-like Muppet. Its background music, however, resembles Springsteen's "Jungleland", though featuring a "Born to Run"-ish saxophone solo played by a Muppet named Clarice, a reference to Clarence Clemons.
  • The British comedy program, Spitting Image, once featured a Bruce Springsteen puppet singing a parody entitled "Born To Teach Woodwork".
  • In The Simpsons episode, "Lisa's Rival", Lisa Simpson imagines herself in "the second best band in America" playing their "number two hit" called "Born to Runner-Up".
  • In an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel Robinson chides Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot for teaching Gypsy some racy lyrics from "Born to Run" ("Just wrap your legs 'round these velvet rims / and strap your hands across my engines").
  • In The Sopranos episode "Long Term Parking", Christopher Moltisanti shows up late for a meeting with Tony Soprano and Silvio Dante. Chris' explanation is a quote from the "Born to Run" lyrics: "the highway was jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive." Tony smirks at the excuse. Silvio is played by E Street bandmate Steven Van Zandt.
  • In the Jeremy Clarkson's Motorworld episode on Detroit, Jeremy Clarkson uses the line "broken hero on a last chance powerdrive" when driving a Dodge Viper.
  • A Season 1 episode of the TV show, Lost, is named after the song.
  • A Season 2 episode of the TV show, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, is named after the song.
  • Jimmy Fallon opened the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards with a cover of the song, featuring Tina Fey, Jon Hamm, Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, Amber Riley, Cory Monteith, Chris Colfer, Kate Gosselin, Nina Dobrev,Joel McHale, Jorge Garcia, Randy Jackson and Tim Gunn.
  • Futurama episode 31st Century Fox used a quote from this song in a traffic warning sign above the Jersey Turnpike: "Highway jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power dive"
  • The Sing Off season three, the male contestants of the top ten groups performed 'Born to run' in episode eleven.


  • The popular 2009 book about running Born to Run by Christopher McDougall was named after the song, and the lyrics are also quoted at the start of one chapter.
  • In the Japanese novel Battle Royale, the main character Shuya Nanahara is a Bruce Springsteen fanatic, despite the fictional Republic of East Asia's ban on rock music. The lyrics to "Born to Run" are quoted a few times in the book, as Shuya applies them to his own need to get out of Japan, down to singing them, replacing Wendy with his Noriko, in the very closing of the book. They also appear in the opening quotes of the book.
  • In one strip of Zits, Jeremy Duncan's father, Walt, sings the song while washing his car, wearing flip-flops and boxer shorts.
  • In John Niven's novel The second Coming, the main character (Jesus) performs Born to Run live during an American Idol-like casting show.[7]

Music (also see "Covers" below)[edit][]

  • The Hold Steady's song, "Charlemange in Sweatpants", references "Born to Run" with the line: "Tramps like us and we like tramps." They also reference "Born to Run" in the song, "Barfruit Blues", with the line: "Half the crowd's calling out for 'Born to Run', the other half's calling out for 'Born to Lose', baby, we were born to choose."
  • Titus Andronicus references "Born to Run" on their song "A More Perfect Union" with the line: "No, I never wanted to change the world, but I'm looking for a new New Jersey, Because tramps like us, baby, we were born to die".
  • The Lou Reed song "Street Hassle" includes a spoken section performed by Bruce Springsteen that ends with the line "Y'know tramps like us, we were born to pay."
  • The song "Difference" by rapper Childish Gambino has a line referencing "Born to Run" in which he raps: "Springsteen this city because this city we were born to run"
  • The song "Redemption" by Frank Turner references the lyrics of Born To Run in the first verse: "I was walking home to my house through the snow from the station/When Springsteen came clear in my headphones with a pertinent question/Oh, is love really real..."

On stage[edit][]

  • Comedian Robert Wuhl discussed and performed parts of this song in his act inquiring as to whether a song with the phrases "suicide machine" and "we gotta get out (of New Jersey?) while we're young" was appropriate for New Jersey's state anthem.
  • In the 2010 series of The X Factor, contestant Storm Lee sang it on week two of the live shows which was Heroes night.


  • The song was available as downloadable content for the video game Guitar Hero World Tour on January 27, 2009, along with "My Lucky Day", as part of the Bruce Springsteen Pack.


WNCX Radio station in Cleveland, Ohio plays this song every Friday at 5 p.m.


  • Frankie Goes To Hollywood covered this song in their debut album Welcome to the Pleasuredome in 1984.
  • Big Daddy, a band that specializes in recording popular modern songs in 1950's-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"
  • Suzi Quatro covered this song in 1995.

Live covers[edit][]

  • Melissa Etheridge sang "Born to Run" at the September 11 benefit, The Concert for New York City, and again at the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors, where she performed the song for Springsteen himself, one of the Center's honorees for that year.
  • British band, McFly, performed the song for BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge on December 10, 2007.
  • 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.