Born To Run - History

Born To Run was many more things than just the making of a great rock and roll record. It was the time in which Bruce Springsteen came to terms with his employer (Columbia Records, now Sony) and his management (Mike Appel going out, Jon Landau coming in). His music, studio management, and band leader skills all continued to progress, but to get this record done, his troubled relationship with his record company needed to be healed.

In 1972, Bruce was signed to a contract with Columbia Records by Clive Davis and John Hammond, but both were gone within a year. The new management and Springsteen did not see eye to eye, and according to Bruce, "I think when The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle came out, it wasn’t particularly promoted, and I always remember going to radio stations where they didn’t know I had a second record out". He recounted an incident that occurred on June 22, 1974, at Fat City, Seaside Heights, NJ, "We played a club, Fat City on Long Island. The top echelon of the record company marched in to see an opening act they were thinking of signing, then marched out en masse just as we came on, adding insult to injury. Mike stood at the door, pen and pad in hand, writing down the names of the traitors as they left, for his hit list and future retribution." (note: Though Bruce has recounted this story as happening at Fat City or My Father's Place, we arrived at this date and place by eliminating other possibilities.) In his book, Born to Run, Bruce completed the story, "So the atmosphere was very, very combative. There had been great disagreement over The Wild and the Innocent, and I was asked to record the entire album over again with studio musicians. And I said I wouldn’t do it, and they basically said, “Well hey, look, it’s going to go in the trash can.” That’s the record business, you know."

Only a few loyal disc jockeys, usually at FM stations that allowed the deejays to pick a portion of their own music, bothered with Springsteen’s second album. In New York, WNEW virtually ignored it, at least at the onset, despite the fact that “New York City Serenade” was a natural for its hometown listeners. KILT in Houston, WBCN in Boston and, above all, Ed Sciaky at WMMR in Philadelphia, Cerph Caldwell at WHFS in Washington D.C., and, later, Kid Leo at WMMS in Cleveland did play Springsteen, partly because they liked the music, partly because the Springsteen cult was growing to substantial proportions—through live shows in those cities.

For Mike Appel, who had all of his savings tied up in Springsteen, the lack of airplay was infuriating. Appel began to badger Columbia for more support, something many a manager might do, but with Appel’s tendency for verbal abuse, the tactic proved self-destructive, and the company was unresponsive. Appel was not concerned with how he came off; his dedication to Springsteen, in whom he had both believed and invested, was complete. Appel is said to have sent letters containing torn-up $10 bills (according to another version, photocopied twenties) to stations that he considered the worst offenders, and implied programmers were taking payola. He also phoned and berated them. At Christmas, he sent bags of coal to everyone he felt was hurting Springsteen’s career. Appel denies that he sent the shredded or photocopied bills. But he admits the rest, contending that the coal was meant as a gag. The radio programmers went berserk, but what was worse, Appel’s audacity hurt Springsteen with the record company. Columbia, like any other label, cannot afford to offend radio stations; unintentional slights require immediate fence-mending. From the company’s point of view, there’s always another album to promote, which requires the programmer’s continuing cooperation. The coal outraged CBS executives. Appel had left a lot of programmer feathers to smooth—more, many executives felt, than either he or his act were worth. Word came down from near the top: The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle was a dead issue. What little promotion there was dried up. Rumors began to hit the street that CBS was even thinking of releasing Springsteen from his contract. Following the commercial failure of both Greetings and Wild, the disastrous 1973 tour openings for Chicago, and the departure of Clive Davis from CBS, Springsteen’s future at Columbia hung by a slender thread.

To try to keep Columbia’s interest from flagging and the faithful from forgetting, Appel had been sneaking bootleg tapes of unreleased songs to sympathetic deejays. The May 1973 demo of “The Fever”, unreleased and forgotten, filled the airwaves in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Houston, Austin, and Phoenix in the early months of 1974, thanks to Appel. The song became an underground hit throughout the seventies. Bruce, who never really liked it and gave it away to Southside Johnny in 1976, said he was forced to play it in many cities [during the Darkness tour] because, “people would jump onstage, grab me by the head and scream, ‘Bruce! Fever!’”

The Born To Run album sessions can be traced as far back as January 8, 1974 at 914 Sound Studios, Blauvelt, New York, with the first rehearsals of Born To Run and Jungleland, and concluded on July 20, 1975 at the Record Plant, though final mixing continued after the band went on tour. Wings For Wheels, the official documentary film on the making of the album, fails to delve into depth about the sessions. It took Springsteen six months to perfect the song “Born to Run” in the studio. One of Springsteen’s inspirations for the production of “Born to Run” was Phil Spector, whose Wall of Sound recording style was behind countless hits of the 60s. He made numerous alterations that didn’t all stick, including a backing chorus and various string arrangements. The first documented live performance of “Born to Run” took place at Harvard Square Theater on May 9, 1974. In April, Springsteen played Charley's Bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts and met influential critic and Rolling Stone reviews editor, Jon Landau. Landau was in the audience on May 9, and his review of that show featured this iconic line: "I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." Landau’s Real Paper review, appearing at exactly the right moment, transformed the manner in which Springsteen was perceived at the record label. In receiving the most enthusiastic accolades imaginable from perhaps the most influential rock critic alive, Springsteen was no longer under pressure merely to make a profit; now he had to be a prophet.

Strapped for cash, Springsteen was still doggedly trucking between club, bar and festival gigs to pay the bills. The band continued to play two hour shows in clubs where onlookers were mesmerized by Springsteen's intense energy and agility. At the end of every show, his slight frame is sweat-soaked from performing his rock and roll revue. His agency, Williams Morris, foolishly booked him to play the Schaffer Music Festival in Central Park, opening for a mismatched Anne Murray on August 3, 1974. Reportedly, Appel told Murray’s managers that Murray would be better off opening, but her managers refused. After Springsteen delivered a crazed performance, complete with encore, Murray was all but booed or "Broooced" off-stage.

The “Born to Run” single was finally finished on August 6, 1974, but after Mike Appel convinced Irwin Segelstein, president of the domestic division of CBS Records, to take another listen to it, and another look at Bruce, he still refused Mike's request to release it. At nearly four-and-a-half minutes long, “Born to Run” was substantially shorter than “Rosalita” but still too long for AM radio, where the Top 40 hierarchy was shaped by the short-and-sweet format that held listeners’ attentions and allowed for more ads in between. Attempts to trim the record’s length proved futile. The record’s mix was so complicated that editing it proved all but impossible. one aide reportedly dubbed it “Born to Crawl.” CBS would not release a single, no matter how good, unless there was an album ready to launch right behind it. Already viewing the recording sessions as a money pit, Columbia cut off funding. Springsteen and the E Street Band headed back on the road.

Springsteen's perfectionism and frustration with the antiquated studio stymie any progress towards making a new record. Impatient with the gruelling sessions, Sancious leaves the band in August for a solo deal and takes Carter with him, leaving the band without keyboards and drums. Refusing to use session musicians, Springsteen and Appel placed a classified ad in The Village Voice for replacements: “Drummer (No Jr. Ginger Bakers) Piano (Classical to Jerry Lee Lewis) Trumpet (Jazz, R&B & Latin) Violin. All must sing.” According to Springsteen’s and Gary Tallent’s recollections, the band auditioned 60 musicians, playing a half hour with each one. Among the group of applicants were drummer Max Weinberg and pianist Roy Bittan. Weinberg’s experience ranged from rock bands to the Broadway pit, and Bittan had played with the Pittsburgh Symphony. Engineer Louis Lahav's wife Suki, who could play violin and sing, began performing with the band on "New York City Serenade", "Jungleland" and "I Want You".

Tracks being worked on by October 1974 were "Jungleland", "A Love So Fine", "Chrissie's Song", and new compositions "She's the One", "Backstreets", "Walking In the Street", "Night", "A Night Like This" and "Lonely Night On the Beach".

According to Appel, "How was I ever going to move this monstrous record label, whose support was still solidly behind acts like Chicago, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, and now even Aerosmith, but certainly not Bruce Springsteen." It was at this point that he resorted to his old scheme of leaking tapes. Appel made forty cassette copies of the Born To Run recording, now two generations down from the normal broadcast quality, but it didn’t seem to matter. This amazing song, which ultimately showcases approximately a dozen guitar tracks, a massive sax solo, glockenspiel, a fancy string arrangement, and numerous keyboard tracks, along with the requisite bass guitar and drums, created a considerable commotion wherever it was heard. Over the next month, Appel and Springsteen distributed copies of the song to Scott Muni in New York and Maxanne Sartori in Boston. Most also got a home pressing of ‘Jungleland’ or ‘A Love So Fine’. They got a copy to Kid Leo, and by Thanksgiving the song was the most played record on the radio in Cleveland, Leo playing it every Friday at five fifty-five P.M. on WMMS-FM in Cleveland to “officially launch the weekend.” “Born to Run” went to number one in Cleveland immediately, based solely on airplay. Then, on November 3, when Bruce was appearing on his new friend Ed Sciaky’s show on WMMR in Philadelphia with Tallent, Weinberg, and Bittan, Bruce gave him a copy of the tape, which was played live in the studio. After the first of the year, they sent out another twenty copies of the recording, all to FM DJs in major markets. All across America, rock-buying consumers were frustrated that they couldn’t purchase the record, and rival radio stations in all those markets were wondering why CBS wouldn’t give them copies, too. From the record company’s point of view, what Appel had done was totally insane. Springsteen’s record might be attracting interest on all those stations, but the only ones who were making money off it were the people who owned the stations, not CBS and not Springsteen or Appel. When Bruce attended a Billy Joel concert at Rutgers in mid-December, Joel dedicated his current no. 34 single, “The Entertainer,” to his less successful labelmate, making some of the song’s lines even more resonant.

By the time Bruce and his band played a benefit for the Main Point in early February 1975, many of those in the audience had the still unreleased “Born to Run” committed to memory. That was mostly thanks to Sciaky, who introduced the show, and on whose station, WMMR, the concert was broadcast later that night. At this point, the band’s shows lasted two and a half hours, but they weren’t self-indulgent. This new incarnation of the band was ready to turn on a dime. At the Main Point, the band did much the same stage show that it had been doing for the last month or two, particularly numbers like “Incident on 57th Street,” “Jungleland,” and Bob Dylan’s “I Want You”, all of which allowed Springsteen to notably interact with Suki Lahav onstage.

Appel: "Now people were coming into the stores, in Cleveland, Dallas, Boston, all over, looking for the new Springsteen album, which didn’t exist. In effect, I’d bootlegged Bruce’s music to get it to his audience! And CBS was anything but pleased. In fact, things might have gotten very difficult if not for an incredible stroke of luck."

The stroke of luck was an article J.Garrett Andrews had written on May 1, 1974 for The Brown Daily Herald, the school newspaper of Brown University, Rhode Island. In his interview of Springsteen, he asked "When you were signed, Clive Davis was still at Columbia. Have things gone downhill since he left?" Bruce: “Oh yeah, big difference. Clive and I got along, he came down, he still came down after he got ousted to see how we were doing. He was interested. Now I'm a pain in the ass to them is all and, you know, they want to make somebody else famous, I don't know who the hell it is, this month or next month, somebody.”

Little did anybody know that Irwin Segelstein’s son was a Senior at Brown and happened to read that interview in the Brown University college paper. It became embarrassing, because all his college friends were devoted Springsteen fans. Per Mike Appel, “When he heard that his own father had been standing in the way of his idol, he called him and must have read his father the riot act, because next thing I know, Irwin gets me on the phone and starts giving me the third degree about “some interview Bruce did at Brown University.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. I tried to make light of it, and Irwin wound up by inviting me to have lunch with him. Good idea, I told him, because Bruce was scheduled to do an interview with Rolling Stone, and that was when he was really going to do a number on CBS. “Don’t, don’t, I don’t want to hear that kind of talk,” Irwin shouted back to me. “Let’s just meet for lunch and bring Bruce with you.”

So Irwin, Bruce, and Appel had lunch at Mercurio’s, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan. Per Bruce, Segelstein said, “Gee, let’s bury the hatchet.” That was a turning point, the moment CBS began to change its attitude toward Springsteen. They agreed that day to finance the rest of the album at The Record Plant, no hassles, whatever it takes to get the next record out. Three years into his contract, CBS finally figured out who Springsteen’s target audience was not people his own age, but college students up to a decade younger, whose bookings had been keeping him so busy on weekends for the last year. CBS rekindled some of its pro-Springsteen fire. The tag-line was Landau’s blurb, "I SAW ROCK AND ROLL FUTURE", in a bold, block-capital ad in Rolling Stone magazine.

Springsteen and Landau had become friends after the Harvard Theater show, and after dealing with some health problems, Landau moved to New York. He and Bruce reaquainted, and they would chat about record production and music history, when Bruce would stop by his apartment after recording sessions. In March 1975, over Appel’s vociferous objection, Bruce invited his friend, who had produced undistinguished albums for the MC5 and Livingston Taylor, to join the production team, and the now ex-critic managed to wring some progress from the proceedings. Perhaps most important, he convinced Springsteen to move from Blauvelt to the more expensive Record Plant in Times Square, where at least the pedal on the piano would not be audible in the sound mix. "When I visited 914 studio, they were working the same songs over and over and Bruce said, What do you think, Landau recalled. "I said You're a big-league artist and you should be in a big-league studio. Next thing, we were in the Record Plant. One of my production ideas was that the sound would be tighter if we cut the record initially as a trio-bass, drums, and piano. Landau promptly hired engineer Jimmy Iovine (veteran of Lennon’s Spector-produced Rock ’n’ Roll ). Another was that, as from April 13, 1975, he officially took a cut of the action, 2 per cent of Born To Run's retail sales. Landau’s share came half from CBS and half from Appel. In their new studio on April 18, with Landau as a producer, Springsteen and the E Street Band could focus on the album without distraction. Working extensively with Roy Bittan on piano for "Thunder Road," and Clarence "Big Man" Clemons on saxophone for "Jungleland," Springsteen annotated exactly what he envisioned, note-for-note, to his fellow musicians. For the sax solo on "Jungleland," Springsteen spent 16 hours working with Clemons, recording eight or nine tracks before cutting and re-cutting the sound. He was at the Record Plant from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day.

"Thunder Road" just got it's name in March, when Bruce decided to dismantle most of "Walking In the Street", a song the band had worked on the previous fall. "Wings For Wheels", which had great verses, needed a great ending, and after two months of frustration, Bruce took the main coda of "Walking In the Street", and made it the instrumental outro of "Thunder Road". Three days each were spent on Thunder Road and Jungleland during April, recording base tracks, vocals, instruments, leaving mixing, dubbing of vocals for July, near the end of the sessions. After "Jungleland" was done on April 25, takes were cut for Backstreets. Sessions resumed on May 4 with "She's the One" and "Lonely Night In the Park". It was obvious there were lyric problems with "Backstreets" and "She's the One"; both had great build-ups to the bridge, where neither had any lyrics. The rest of May was spent working on finishing the prior mentioned, along with "Night", "Linda Let Me Be the One" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out". Two days were spent on "Backstreets", which was now finished except for a missing bridge. On the final day, May 28, the only song worked on was a new composition, "The Heist", later changed to "Meeting Across the River".

On July 2, 1975, it finally came time to sequence the record. Mike Appel says "I fought like heck, but two of the songs that they wanted to be in there, "Lonely Night In The Park" and “Linda Let Me Be The One", I thought that neither was up to his standards, and I fought against them." But the sequence they arrived at included both songs; the one song cut was the title track. The album would have run as follows:

Side One: Thunder Road - Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out - Lonely Night In The Park - Jungleland - Night
Side Two: Linda Let Me Be The One - Meeting Across The River - She’s The One - Backstreets

Never happy with how it had come out, Springsteen was seriously planning to leave off "Born To Run". Sometime during that weekend, Appel received a call from Jimmy Iovine, who told him "Mike, this is a disaster. Bruce is drifting into darkness. No one can talk to him, and he won’t answer me when I try." The following Monday, when Appel entered his office, Springsteen was waiting for him. Getting him to restore "Born To Run", retain "Meeting Across The River" and drop the two lesser songs would become Appel’s last major contribution.

"Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" was completed on July 13, 1975 at the Record Plant, but not without difficulty. The Brecker Brothers, top New York session horn players, had been hired to play, but the charts Springsteen and Roy Bittan had prepared were not producing the sound needed. Landau and Bruce told Steve Van Zandt to take charge and instruct the horn players. Miami Steve "sang each horn player his part, with the lines, the timing and the inflection all perfect. The sessionmen obediently played their parts, and the horns were recorded. When they’d finished, Springsteen turned to Mike Appel, “It’s time to put the boy on the payroll, he’s the new guitar player.” Randy Brecker, one of The Brecker Brothers, later told Christopher Sandford, “We were the New York pros, and then this wild-looking gypsy guy tears up the charts and sings the lick. From then on, things took off." Steve officially joined the E Street Band a week later on July 20, the opening night of the Born To Run tour.

Now the label and the mass market were behind Springsteen. All he had to do was finish the album. This year at least, the band had been good about not canceling live dates because of studio commitments, but no matter what CBS thought, Bruce continued to record, mix, and refine his tracks, even if it meant twice postponing scheduled performance in Geneva, New York. Even the songs that had been around for close to a year proved, to his ears, elusive in the studio until almost the last possible moment. On 19 July, Bruce laid down vocals on “She’s the One,” as a satisfactory mix of the epic “Jungleland” was finally produced in another room at the Record Plant. Then at three o’clock on Saturday afternoon, a little more than a day before Sunday night booking at the Palace in Providence that they simply couldn’t reschedule, the band finally began to rehearse for its upcoming tour. The musicians hadn’t played live in close to three months, and repeatedly laying down overdubs is not a good way to keep in the habit of listening and reacting to your fellow musicians. They practiced straight through for nineteen hours until ten in the morning on Sunday, until Bruce was satisfied. Then they left for the gig, at the Palace Theatre in Providence.

In the second week of August, Springsteen and his band played a five-night stand, two shows a night, at the Bottom Line in Manhattan. The band was now back up to seven members, with Steve Van Zandt having been added in the spring as an additional guitarist, vocalist, and all-around musical guru. At the early show on the second night, Springsteen told a long, exaggerated version of the story of the night he met Clemons, as an introduction to very slow version of “The E Street Shuffle” rather than the show-opening “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”

The preorders on Born to Run were double the 350,000 units that the label had been expecting, more than twice as many for this third album as the company had sold to date of the first two albums combined. The moment the singer had been dreading for two years had finally arrived: he had to start playing bigger halls, often to three thousand people a night.

On August 25, 1975, the album was released.

A gig at the Roxy in Los Angeles in October was attended by Hollywood royalty: Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, Wolfman Jack, and Neil Diamond, as well as fellow Monmouth County transplant Jack Nicholson. Within two weeks of its release, Born to Run entered the Billboard album chart and almost immediately went to no. 1 in some markets. With it's operatic scope, boundless imagination, and timeless collection of songs ("Thunder Road, "Backstreets, "Jungleland), Born to Run is hailed as an instant masterpiece, and sales go through the roof in each city the E Street Band plays. All of this enthusiasm crested in what was then and may still be an unprecedented media event. In late October, Springsteen imultaneously appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek.

To date, Born to Run has sold over nine million units worldwide.

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