What better way to return to writing is to head back to Bruce Springsteen’s landmark album from 1975, “Born to Run.” It wasn’t the first album for this legendary New Jersey rocker, but his third; and, it was the first to propel him to stardom. Having lived in Eastern Kentucky since 1973 where album radio was scarce in the mid-70s, I hadn’t heard of Springsteen until I walked through my college’s library and saw his face on both the covers of Time and Newseek. Who was this guy with the chimera of a guitar that sported a Fender Telecaster body and an Esquire neck?
During that same fall, Springsteen had his first Top 40 hit with the title cut, “Born to Run,” which peaked at #23. A second single, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” fared worse at #83. In 1974, music maven Jon Landau wrote in The Real Paper, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Springsteen and Columbia Records both took note.
Landau was brought in as one the producers of the “Born to Run” LP and Columbia engaged in a massive quarter of a million dollar publicity campaign for the album. With inflation, that campaign would cost about $2 million in current dollars. Not a small investment for an artist that, up to this point, had minimal success. Was it worth it? Over the years, “Born to Run” has sold over six million copies worldwide, with two million in sales in the US alone.
While this album was wildly popular, it was not certified gold or platinum until the 21st century. It earned the gold record certification in April 2001 by the Recording Industry Association of America for 500,000 copies sold. Three months later, the RIAA certified it platinum for a million copies sold. By 2004, it achieved double platinum status for two million sold copies – showing that even nearly 30 years after its release, it was still viable in the minds (and ears) of the American public.
Bruce Springsteen holds a special place in my heart, as because of him I received my only hate letter in my 20 year career as a broadcaster. In November 1981, I had done a wildly exaggerated impersonation of Springsteen on the air, and a lady, originally from Philadelphia, saw the need to write a six-page, single spaced, typewritten letter telling me how much she loathed me because I had insulted “The Boss.”
She went on to say that, had I lived in Philadelphia, people would have been camped out on the doorstep of the station waiting for me to end my shift that night to teach me a lesson that only those who lived in and near New Jersey could. I still have the letter, as it was a first. In addition, her Herculean effort was worth saving. Good thing I used a different name on the air at the time.
For my return to “Grooves,” I didn’t pick “Born to Run” or “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” but rather an album cut that is my favorite song on the LP. This nearly 10 minute song closed out the album and starts out uncharacteristic of a typical Sprinsgsteen song – but if you wait, it is Springsteen through and through.
The song commences with Roy Bittan on piano and Suki Lahav on violin before this song about love, gang warfare, and bloodshed commences into a full rocker. It also features one of the best sax solos by Springsteen’s longtime partner in musical crime, the late Clarence Clemmons. The relationship between these two is cemented in the minds of Springsteen fans everywhere due to the iconic album cover of “Born to Run.” The lead guitar on “Jungleland” is played by Springsteen – this was before the addition of Little Steven and Nils Lofgren who augmented these duties later.
The piano, violin, sax, and Springsteen’s overly processed cries of anguish at the song’s conclusion all contributed to this musical epic. The addition of a string arrangement shows a softer side to a harsh story merges with the rock guitar, drums, bass, and organ that accentuates the violence that occurs in “Jungleland’s” story. The production on “Jungleland” is legendary – the changing dynamics are essential to match the emotions in the lyrical content. It doesn’t get much better than this.