Bruce Springsteen, at age 67, is a rock and roll institution — one of the most successful, beloved, and acclaimed rock musicians ever to step on a stage. But in 1975, despite some good reviews from critics and a devoted but small cult following for his live performances, Springsteen was just another struggling young musician spending endless nights on the road, desperate to make it in the notoriously ruthless music industry — and realizing that he was down to his last chance.
With 10 years of grinding out music in bars and small clubs, and two relatively obscure albums already on his resume, Springsteen knew that his third album absolutely had to be not only a hit, but in his own words, “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll record ever made.”
Whether he succeeded in creating the “greatest rock ‘n’ roll record” is arguable. But what is certain is that his 14 months of grueling recording sessions with his E Street Band and producer Jon Landau resulted in an immortal classic, an album that Rolling Stone magazine ranked as the 18th greatest album ever recorded.
After anemic sales of just over 25,000 each for his first two albums, Born To Run — released to United States record stores on August 25, 1975 — captivated rock music fans and critics immediately, eventually selling upwards of 6 million copies and peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Magazine album charts.
It took him 10 long years, but Bruce Springsteen was now an overnight sensation. Despite numerous ups and downs in his career, he remains one of the most iconic and popular stars in rock even today, exactly 42 years after American rock and roll fans first heard Born To Run.
Fact Of The Day: 25 August 1975 – American icon Bruce Springsteen released his massive selling commercial 3rd studio album, ‘Born To Run’. pic.twitter.com/5QdO9yqcW3
— CRAVE Guitars (@CRAVE_Guitars) August 25, 2017
Here are five facts even devoted Springsteen fans may not have known about their hero’s timeless masterpiece, Born To Run.
When Springsteen First Heard The Album, He Hated It
According to a history of the classic album by Charles Moss, Springsteen was in a hotel room in tiny Kutztown, Pennsylvania, when he first heard the completed version of what would become his landmark work — and he was disgusted. In fact, he was so disappointed and upset with the end result of his 14-month recording project that he hurled the tape of Born To Run into the hotel pool.
How could one of rock’s true geniuses be so wrong about his own work of genius? According to Springsteen’s official biographer, Peter Ames Carlin, simple exhaustion probably had a lot to do with it — along with the primitive portable audio equipment of that era.
“The portable hi-fi Bruce had with him was mostly plastic, not the stuff of faithful sonic reproduction,” the biographer said. “So what Bruce heard sounded like, how do you say, s***. And given exhaustion and stress, he went a wee bit bonkers.”
The Hollies’ Allan Clarke Recorded ‘Born To Run’ First
Springsteen’s version of the album’s title track took him six months to record and perfect, but while his skeptical record company, Columbia Records, waited for the single to be finished, a rough, early mix of the song circulated among radio stations and throughout the music business — reaching Allan Clarke, who was the lead singer of the highly successful “British Invasion” group The Hollies.
Clarke recorded his version of “Born to Run” before Springsteen had even finished his own, instant-classic version.
“I was just knocked out with the sound and the energy of ‘Born To Run.’ It made me just want to do that track, I just wanted to sing it,” Clarke said in an 2010 interview. “So I went in the studio and I recorded it. I was very, very pleased with the outcome. I took it to (record company) EMI who said ‘Hey great. Good job.’ They then sat on it. It was ready to be released as a single but they went on strike.”
Listen to Clarke’s little-heard, pre-Springsteen version of “Born To Run” in the video below.
‘Born To Run’ Was Not Springsteen’s First Choice For An Album Title
Springsteen finally decided that the title of his magnum opus single, “Born To Run,” would also serve as the title of what he hoped would be his breakout album after considering and rejecting a reported nine other possible titles for the LP.
One of the rejected titles, War and Roses, was the title of a song that failed to make the final cut of the 40-minute album’s brief listing of just eight tracks. The phrase later became the title of a well-known bootleg release of numerous studio outtakes from the Born To Run sessions.
Another scrapped title, The Hungry and the Hunted, was taken from the lyrics of “Jungleland,” the dramatic, final song on the album’s side two (in the pre-CD era, of course, vinyl albums were divided into two sides).
Among the other titles Springsteen considered, but passed over, before settling on Born To Run included American Summer, Sometimes At Night, Jungleland, From the Churches to the Jails, and Between Flesh and Fantasy.
More Than 600 Photos Were Taken During the ‘Born To Run’ Album Cover Shoot
Photographer Eric Meola spent two hours with Springsteen and E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons and snapped about 600 photographs to get the memorable image of Springsteen leaning on Clemons’ back for the Born To Run album cover (seen above on this page). Many of the unused photos can be seen in a blog posting by Meola himself, by clicking on this link.
Though the album is credited to Springsteen as a solo artist, he insisted that Clemons — the only African-American member of the E Street Band — be part of the photo shoot, and appear on the cover.
“That was enormously significant, I think, as a message to send to our fans, the sense that it was a record about friendship,” Springsteen later said.
Meola wrote on his blog that though he did not believe Springsteen was deliberately trying to make a statement about race relations, the Born To Run cover “became that.”
“Bruce chose not only the one remaining band member he most identified with, but the one who happened to be black. In an album of saxophone solos, from ‘Thunder Road’ to ‘Jungleland,’ it seems an obvious choice. And, a brilliant one which came to symbolize far more than any of us could have envisioned,” the photographer said.
Springsteen Regretted The Publicity Campaign That Made Him A Star
While Born To Run was immediately recognized as one of rock’s greatest albums, the success of the record — and the success of the artist who created it — was no accident. In 1975, Columbia Records poured $250,000, which would be more than $1.1 million in 2017, into an all-out promotional blitz to hype Springsteen as “the future of rock and roll,” a phrase taken from a review of a Springsteen live show in 1974, written by critic Jon Landau (who the following year became Springsteen’s producer on Born To Run, and shortly thereafter his manager and lifelong friend).
The campaign even landed Springsteen, on October 27, 1975, the cover stories of both Time and Newsweek magazines on the same day — a rare honor almost never given to entertainment figures.
But even though the massive publicity campaign was crucial to launching Springsteen into the rock stratosphere and creating a career that has continued at the highest levels until today, with no signs of slowing, the musician himself found it embarrassing, calling his branding as rock and roll’s future “a very big mistake and I’d like to strangle the guy who thought that up if I ever get a hold of him.”
[Featured Image by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images]