Listening to this song is like reading a novel. You have early Springsteen’s themes…cars, roads, and a plan to flee. This song is from the now classic 1975 Born to Run album.
After the album was released Bruce’s popularity jumped immensely when Bruce was on the cover of Newsweek and Time in the same week.
This was the first track on Born To Run, a crucial album for Springsteen. His first two albums sold poorly, and he was in danger of losing his record deal if he did not produce a hit. With songs like this one about escaping to the open road, he connected with an audience that proved extremely loyal.
He considered this song the “invitation” to the album, with the opening notes being the welcome. “Something is opening up,” Springsteen said during his 2005 Storytellers appearance. “What I hoped it would be was the sense of a larger life, greater experience, sense of fun, the sense that your personal exploration and possibilities were all lying somewhere inside of you.”
Springsteen took the title from a 1958 Robert Mitchum movie. He did not see the film, but got the idea from a poster for it in a theater lobby.
The vocal sound was inspired by Roy Orbison. Springsteen pays homage to him with the line: “The radio plays Roy Orbison singing for the lonely,” a reference to Orbison’s 1960 hit, “Only The Lonely.”
The name of the girl mentioned at the beginning was changed several times. It had been Angelina and Chrissie before Springsteen settled on “Mary’s dress waves.”
The original title was “Wings For Wheels.” It began as an outtake called “Glory Road.”
Cars were very important growing up in New Jersey and show up in many of Springsteen songs. Bruce’s first car was a ’57 Chevy with orange flames painted on the hood.
This is a concert favorite that Springsteen has performed at many of his shows over the years.
At one point, Born To Run was going to be a concept album spanning the course of a day, with an acoustic version of this starting the album and the full band version closing it.
Springsteen’s friend and future manager, Jon Landau, convinced him to record this at The Record Plant in New York instead of the low-budget studio he was using. Springsteen’s current manager, Mike Appel, resented Landau’s influence and would file a lawsuit that kept Springsteen from recording for 3 years.
Since the band didn’t know the song very well, Springsteen used a version with just him at the piano to open a series of shows at The Bottom Line in New York City in 1975. Sponsored by a New York radio station, the disc jockey, Dave Herman, apologized on the air for not playing enough Springsteen the morning after the first show.
On November 3, 1980, Springsteen kicked off his tour to support the album in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For the encore, Bob Seger, who is to Michigan what Springsteen is to New Jersey, joined him onstage to perform this.
Has been performed live many different ways: with the full band, solo with guitar, solo with piano, slowed down, etc. The version on Live 1975-1985 features Springsteen singing over Roy Bittan’s piano.
Bruce taped a performance of this that was played at the funeral of James Berger, a worker in the World Trade Center who helped people get out before he was killed when it collapsed. He was a big Springsteen fan and this was his favorite song. Bruce dedicated it to his sons.
This was also the first track on Springsteen’s live album Hammersmith Odeon London 1975, which was recorded on November 18, 1975 during Springsteen’s first concert in Europe. It was released on DVD in 2005, and on CD the following year
The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey, that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside, darling, you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re alright
Oh, and that’s alright with me
You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a savior to rise from these streets
Well now, I ain’t no hero, that’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey, what else can we do now?
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well, the night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting on down the tracks
Oh oh, come take my hand
We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh oh oh oh, Thunder Road
Oh, Thunder Road, oh, Thunder Road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey, I know it’s late, we can make it if we run
Oh oh oh oh, Thunder Road
Sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road
Well, I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely for words that I ain’t spoken
But tonight we’ll be free, all the promises’ll be broken
There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines rolling on
But when you get to the porch, they’re gone on the wind
So Mary, climb in
It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win