'Born to Run,' ranked: Your favorite tracks on Bruce Springsteen's masterpiece
Editor's note: Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" LP turns 45 on Aug. 25. This is the third in a series of posts about that classic album to mark the occasion.
OK, you people have thought a lot about “Born to Run.” We tallied more than 1,000 responses to our poll asking you to rate each track, despite the fact that we made it infinitely harder by only allowing you to rate one of the eight tracks a perfect “10.” Aside from one track that rated an average score of 5.8 out of 10 (you’ll see which one below), no other song from the album scored below 7.2, and three topped 9 out of 10. In other words, you liked it, you really liked it!
So without further ado, let’s count them down:
8) “Meeting Across the River” (average score out of 10: 5.8). The album’s quietest track was also the lowest ranking in our poll, probably because many consider it an appetizer to “Jungleland” rather than a standalone song in its own right.
7) “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” (average score out of 10: 7.2). Thought this one might score higher given its sentimental value among diehard fans -- and its shoutout to the Big Man, of course -- but it finished solidly in the middle of the pack, basically tied with the next two on the list.
6) “Night” (average score out of 10: 7.3). Just a tad ahead of “Tenth,” this one actually scored higher than I thought it might, although anyone who’s heard it done live knows what a punch it can pack.
5) “She’s The One” (average score out of 10: 7.9). Generally preferred to “Night” (if only by .6 of a point), Bruce’s Bo Diddley-style love song barely missed an 8 out of 10 score.
4) “Backstreets” (average score out of 10: 8.5). Not surprisingly, we take a big leap, from 7.9 to 8.5, for this classic track, inarguably one of the LP’s top 4 no matter how you count it.
3) “Born to Run” (average score out of 10: 9.05). It’s a stone-cold classic, of course, and no Bruce show would be complete without it. But if you’re concerned about its third-place finish, keep in mind it came this close to pulling out of here to win -- at least over “Jungleland,” which beat it by a mere .07 of a point. (!)
2) “Jungleland” (average score out of 10: 9.12). Like I said, the album’s epic closer eked out a second-place finish over the title track, and judging from the comments (see below), it was Clarence’s majestic sax solo that pushed it over the top.
1) “Thunder Road” (average score out of 10: 9.3). Was there ever any doubt? Beautifully written, perfectly executed, with maybe the best opening line ever and a gradual build that leads up to a cathartic (if ambiguous -- did she climb in or not?) climax … If you had to come up with a pick for Bruce Springsteen’s greatest song, it would be hard to argue against this one.
Listen to the tracks in that order below -- it’s like a whole different album! (Sort of.) And scroll down for comments about which tracks you rated highest, and why.
Like I said, you’ve thought a lot about “Born to Run” -- at least judging from the 34 pages (!) of comments you left about which tracks from the album you love most and why. Here’s just a sampling of what you had to say about each track. (And yes, the vast majority of you wanted to wax eloquently on “Thunder Road” and “Jungleland.”)
"Thunder Road. Every song is brilliant, but TR will always be my favorite … pretty obvious why.” — Mary, Carmel NY
“Thunder Road, because it's a song that promises anything is possible … and it manages to do so without a formal chorus. A bold move for a song that opened the make-or-break album for a 26-year-old kid about to lose his record deal.” — Tommy, Decatur GA
"Although BTR is my favourite ever song, I prefer it live. Thunder Road is the best song on the album as it is a perfect song and story. The wordplay is fantastic and you care about the characters. The music builds up perfectly throughout the song to a fantastic climax.” — Kenny, Kintore in Scotland
“Thunder Road because it’s one of his very best songs of all time and it’s the song of my childhood. My dad has it playing at our house constantly.” — Christie, Bowling Green, OH
“Thunder Road. It’s just two real people dealing with the aches and urges that life gives. Lyrical greatness backed by just solid music. Album, Bruce on piano, Bruce and Patti together... so many variations but everyone feels real, powerful and just approachable all at the same time.” — Bret, The Colony, TX
“Thunder Road. I hear new things in the song as the years pass. It took music to another level for me. Never thought music could be that deep and meaningful. Ripped a hole in the universe creating a window to endless possibilities. Best last line to any song ever.” — Tony, Rockaway Beach, NY
"Thunder Road may very well be one of the best rock songs of all time! From Bruce’s romantic lyrical imagery to that masterful crescendo of music at the end, this song perfectly captures and introduces the world and its main characters in Bruce’s story. From the screen door closing to heading out on the open road, Bruce is honest in his introducing a world that is dark but also magical and full of possibilities. It’s very true that most of us fans — especially me — know the many feelings he invokes in this song and the music, from Clarence’s soulful sax to Roy’s piercing piano. The song is love, heartbreak, yearning, magic, nostalgia, hope, fear and excitement all rolled into one!” — Matt, Dagsboro, Delaware
"Thunder Road cos if feels like my story.” — Lori, Waterbury CT
“Thunder Road - It’s the beginning of the beginning. All the wonders of life are out there. You can stay in your little cage afraid to take risks or you can bust out of town on your great adventure. Start your journey, write your own book of life. You’re filled with questions, fears, hopes and dreams. You have nothing but you want it all. I‘m stuck here in this jail, a town full of losers but I’m pulling out of here to win. No one knows what’s going to happen, but I want to know what it feels like to love, is it real? I want to know what it’s like to live, I want to experience it all, the good and the bad. In an explosion of courage, we’re going to take our chances and not settle on the life we were born destined to live.” — Anonymous
“Thunder Road - Because girls and women also want to have agency, be appreciated and escape their lives when they are young.” — Patricia, Ontario, Canada
“Thunder Road because I can hear Roy Orbison singing for the lonely.” — Ben, Wyckoff NJ
“Thunder Road - it’s an invitation to life.” — Ryan, Rochester, NY
"Thunder Road, it’s the lyrics. Bruce paints the scene, you can see it and feel it, after all these years it’s more powerful today than it was then. Mary’s dress in the wind as she dances across the porch! Roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair!” — Bill, Omaha NE
“Thunder Road because the incredible lyrics hit you from the beginning. Screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves. As you listen to the song it forms a picture in your mind like a movie. Bruce’s best songs do this for me and this is his best.” — Anonymous
“Thunder Road begins this classic album with a lyrical and musical opening line which would rival most great novels. We meet Mary and wonder throughout if she did get into the car. With Jungleland, we know for sure she did. Wounded, not even dead... but ready to continue on.” — Larry, Phoenix AZ
“Thunder Road! From when I first heard it at 8 or 9 years old I couldn't get enough of it. The imagery, internal emotional challenges and opportunities for something better hidden in this gem are unbelievably amazing, though early in life I probably didn't understand all of them. It's just another one of Bruce's songs that are still relevant as we all get older. It's so good that I have a line tattooed on my arm and hope some day to get my "Brutoo" signed by the man himself. The rest of the songs are all tied for 9.5 out of 10. 😃” — Tracey R., Savannah GA
“Thunder Road captures and gives feeling to the desire we all have sometimes to see if we can make life happen better elsewhere. It seldom works that way in the end, but the mind still needs to take the journey at times.” — Lisa, Iowa City, Iowa
“Thunder Road … Can't explain why … Just hits me so deep inside.” — Donna, Cockeysville MD
“I have loved Thunder Road since the first time I heard it. The song brought back memories of my youth and I want it played at my funeral.” — Bob Henderson, NV
“Thunder Road. It encompasses everything Bruce is about in one song. It has sadness, romance, despair, honesty, faith, love and most of all hope.” — Eric, NY
“Thunder Road is my favorite song by anybody ever.” — Kevin, Sycamore IL
“Thunder Road, it‘s just the perfect song that I never get tired of. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have a chorus. And the ending with Big Man‘s Sax is just the perfect ending. By the way: Backstreets is a very close second.” — Luís, Barcelona, Catalonia
"Thunder Road. It is my journey. My Mary climbed in years ago and we are about to retire now.” — Phil, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out -- nothing starts a party like that piano riff, and (in my humble opinion) you can’t beat it live. The love for ESB and especially CC is palpable.” — Erin, Orlando FL
“It has to be either Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out or Meeting Across The River. The first one because it's such a classic and emotional song. The second one because...all that harmony. Such a gem.” — Tom, Zagreb-Croatia
"It's hard to pick one so I'll say Night. It's a great song with a great tempo and those classic Bruce lyrics. It's a song on BTR that always gets overlooked.” — Chris, Philadelphia PA
“Backstreets. A slow-burning crescendo of layered sound and emotion, featuring some of the themes of broken dreams, regret, and redemption that anticipated Darkness. So many evocative one-liners, and so open to interpretation as a song between friends, lovers, or both.” — Pete, Los Angeles CA
"Backstreets - just because it contains the line ‘I hated him and I hated you when you went away …’" — Chris, New Zealand
“Backstreets has the most emotional resonance for me. (But I think that Thunder Road may be the best song he’s ever written.)” — Anonymous
"Backstreets. It's the ‘Idiot Wind’ of the album.” — Anonymous
“Backstreets - Few songs have ever expressed more passion. There's just an additional edge of angst and anger, hurt and hope, that sets up how he'll be writing with far more depth on the album to come. It's made obviously more brilliant in the live performances of '78. The way Bruce writes about love here is how he'll write about life going forward.” — Scott, Canada
"Backstreets - all of life’s ups downs and betrayals in 6 minutes. Perfect.” — Steven, Greater Manchester, UK
"Backstreets. It takes me back to when I had my first job in high school working as a busboy. I remember the bartender and a waitress singing this song word for word at the top of their lungs and I loved it then and love it now.” — Chris, Bayside NY
“Backstreets: Spine-tingling, cinematic, operatic grandeur, boiling passion. It’s about anyone who lost a friend, anyone struggling with the responsibilities of adulthood; it’s about me.” — Anonymous
“Born to Run”
“BTR. Because my name is Wendy. And well, ya know.” — Wendy
“Born to Run: It's not only the defining Bruce song, it's also a song that embodies the entire spirit of rock 'n' roll.” — Matt, Elkville IL
“Born to Run - this song is my anthem. It gives me strength when I need it, hope when I think all is lost, and brings me joy belting it out on a beautiful day driving the Jersey Turnpike.” — Pam, Wilmington DE
“Born to Run. It's the first Springsteen song I ever heard, and I remember exactly where I was when I first heard it. In the car, driving home from college on the Palisades Pkwy in Jersey. Instead of heading home, drove straight to Sam Goody and bought all 3 albums.” — Anonymous
"Born to Run. It makes me feel alive and free like it has done for years. It gives me hope that there are more happy memories to be had while we go through this lockdown that I never could have imagined.” — John, Melbourne, Victoria Australia
"Born to Run - Vivid smothered strangled angst, leads toward a depressive surrender, then bursts wide open, and kicks that door open, with an inspirational ending. The eternal message from Bruce: There is always hope, it's your choice.” — Kevin, Louth, Ireland
“The song Born to Run, along with the album itself, was the soundtrack of my childhood growing up in New Jersey in the ’90s and when I listen to it I feel like I’m a kid, running around barefoot in the grass and riding in the car to the shore.” — Emily, Fairfax VA
"Born to Run because no matter where I am, even driving in a car, the fist pump has to happen. Also I can always picture being at a concert with all the fists pumping in the air.” — Tracy, Pennsylvania
“Born To Run - the song to be played as the curtains close on my coffin!” — John, Surrey, UK
“She’s The One”
“She's The One. It's just one of those songs that picks me up every time I hear it. You can feel the energy and it never gets old. Honestly, I changed my answer to this question a dozen times before picking this song. Every song on this album could be my favorite.” — Stan, Palmyra NJ
“She's the One: 1) Structure follows the instinct of the song rather than vice-versa (no return verse after the bridge. 2) Fantastic arrangement feels like Bruce is immersed at the end in the starfield of the beat. 3) One of the greatest lyrics ever written about men & women.” — Bill, Rochester NY
“She’s The One - The drumming and the drive of this tune are amazing.” — Don, Emerson, New Jersey
“She’s the one. No matter where you sleep or run, you still love the girl.” — Cindy, Cleveland OH
“She’s the One - It’s a song that I’d want a man to sing about me … It’s sexy.” — Sally (a Jersey girl currently living in San Diego, CA)
“Meeting Across The River”
“Meeting Across The River. It is so haunting, you can feel the desperation in the lead character, And that muted horn? Just beautiful.“ — Mark, Castleford, England, UK
“Meeting… - a perfectly formed song, such economy and precision of writing, populates the lyrics with characters you know what they are like, what their backstories could be. Almost makes half of Scorsese's movies redundant in 3 cinematic mins.” — Anyonymous
“Meeting Across the River. This song is hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking. I can visualize these characters so clearly.” — Lisa, Alexandria, VA
"Jungleland: because it’s universal: it seemed to be about my life when I listened to it aged 18 looking out at the lights on high rise flats of a council estate in Glasgow.” — Lorna, Glasgow, Scotland
“Jungleland - Great story song and fantastic music intro, plus the line: “in the quick of the knife, you reach for a moment and try to make an honest stand, wind up wounded but not even dead.” — Scott, Louisville, KY
“Jungleland honestly wears its stamp of greatness from Springsteen’s wounded, searching cry to end the song. To that point, it’s evocative, provocative, visionary, sad and yearning, never more powerful than during the Big Man’s 2-minute, 22-second solo. Beautiful bravado.” — Anonymous
"Jungleland - If an alien landed on earth and asked what music is and how does it impact your emotions, it’s the song I’d play. It’s rock, it’s opera, it’s a love story, it’s a drama, it’s hope, and a promise of better things, before reality hits.” — Jon, Arlington VA
"Jungleland - It is the most beautifully written song sung over an equally beautiful, melodic, symphony of sound.” — Mitch, St. Paul, MN
"Jungleland is my favorite. The song plays like a movie in 9:38. I get such a visual in my mind when I hear this song. One of the greatest songs ever written, in my opinion.” — Kara, St. Louis, MO
“Jungleland - Some of the best imagery in a song ever, like 'Barefoot girls sitting on the hood of a dodge drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain.' Bruce makes the story come alive … plus the most amazing sax solo ever.” — Lisa, Canton MA
"Jungleland, a meticulous epic with an intimate intro by Suki Lahav and the greatest recorded sax solo by Clarence Clemons. The song continues to build through its near 10 minute run time creating a very specific landscape. No other ending track could do justice to ‘Born to Run.’” — Jay, Wenonah NJ
“This is a tough one but I'll go with Jungleland. Love the poetic perspective on a rough neighbourhood, mixed with a sense of hope, anguish and helplessness as the melody waxes and wanes. If anything, the heart-wrenching sax solo alone is enough to top the album.” — Andy, Singapore
“Jungleland, it has everything, literally.” — Mark, the Netherlands
“Jungleland is my favorite track on BTR, and one of my top 5 Bruce tracks of all time. I think I love it so much because it’s musically and poetically beautiful, and it reminds me of one of my favorite novels — The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers.” — Liz, Amherst MA
“Jungleland. Why? Clarence.” — Donald, Westerose, AB
"My favorite song on BTR is Jungleland. Why? The Big Man’s solo. Enough said.” — Michele, NJ