Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bruce Springsteen "Born To Run" Song Analysis

Reader Carlos X asked for a song analysis of Bruce Springsteen's breakout hit "Born To Run," the title song from his third album of the same name. Born To Run was released in 1975 and so many of its songs have been classic rock radio staples ever since. This was the first album to feature pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg, who would become the backbone of the E Street Band, but interestingly enough, they didn't play on the song. Previous E Streeters David Sancious and Ernest "Boom" Carter played piano and drums respectively. As with all song analysis, we'll check out the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Born To Run" is one of the most unusual song forms that you'll ever see from a top 40 hit as it fits none of the traditional formulas. The song looks something like this:

Intro, Verse, B section, Intro, Verse, B section, Intro, Solo, Bridge 1, Bridge 2, Verse, B Section, Intro, Intro

There really isn't a chorus; the hook "Born To Run" pops up at the end of the B sections. What's more, there are two parts to the bridge, and its really long.

Yet another thing different and interesting is the length of the sections. The B sections are 14 bars long, while the solo is 12. The first bridge is 14 bars, while the second is 17. Not that it matters, it's so interesting that you want to keep listening.

The Arrangement
Reportedly Bruce was going for a Phil Spector-like "Wall of Sound" and that's exactly what he got. The arrangement is very thick with a lot going on, but like most great songs, can be broken down into 5 or fewer elements. Let's take a look.

  * The Foundation: Bass and drums

  * The Pad: Sometimes it's the organ, sometimes it's the sax (like in the intro and B sections), sometimes its a guitar playing footballs.

  * The Rhythm: A strummed guitar low in the mix and the organ playing 8th notes on the intros and B sections.

  * The Lead: Bruce's vocals, the sax solo, the tremolo guitar doubled with a glock on the intros

  * The Fills: There are no fills, but lots of counter-lines played by the glock, piano and guitar

A couple of things to listen for; Bruce is very good about adding and subtracting instruments during the song to keep the interest high. Notice the entrance of the organ in the second half of the 2nd verse, the wah guitar and sax in the second half of the first bridge section, and the strings and horns on the end of the 2nd bridge and last verse (admittedly, they're mixed down pretty low).

Another small yet interesting twist is the way the line played by the glock and piano is turned backwards at the end of the song as the hook is restated before the outro.

The Sound
In 1975 it was the beginning of 24 track tape era, and you can bet that all those tracks were filled up. It sounds like a few instruments were bounced together and lost some definition as a result. The snare drum is pretty distinct but the rest of the drums, including the kick drum, are not, but that was about par for the day. The bass if very up front, also the norm for the time.

Bruce's voice has a long reverb that sounds like it was delayed by a 71/2 ips tape delay. In other words, it's really long (usually around 120ms or so), but interestingly, you hear it only on the right side of the stereo field. The other thing that only appears on the right side is the glock.

The Production
Aside from the great arrangement, the thing that marks this song is the energy. You can feel it reach out and touch you right from the very first drum roll. It's intense, and that intensity never lets up, only getting bigger and bigger as the song rolls on. To me, that's what makes the song the hit that it is.



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8 comments:

jaylen watkins said...

Very informative, Thanks for this.
Sample Analysis

Anonymous said...

Thanks bobby.

Re: "guitar playing footballs"
What are guitar footballs?

Bob
Vancouver

Bobby Owsinski said...

Footballs is studio slang for whole notes, or long sustaining notes or chords.

MacKenzie said...

I am really enjoying his new album. We Take Care of Our Own is such a good song! If you haven't heard it, you should definitely check it out. http://www.vevo.com/watch/bruce-springsteen/we-take-care-of-our-own/USSM21200055

Paul H said...

Hi Bobby

I think 'Born to run' was similar to 'Baker street' in as far as both songs had what could be considered an instrumental Chorus. The section you describe as the Intro, serves all the purposes of a chorus, including where one expects to hear a chorus except it has no vocal. Thanks for your analysis' and blog, they are very informative.

Cheers

Paul H

Calogero said...

Technically interesting! Thanks a lot!

darron said...

Omg!
youve made it so complicated!
the chorus is the riff!
this song is exactly the same formula as ALL hit songs!
chorus verse chorus verse chorus bridge verse chorus!!!
c'mon

Anonymous said...

The music is great, but what makes up at least half of this song are the LYRICS. Springsteen's lyrics are identifiable to the general working population and he fills this song in particular with such visualization.
"Highways jammed with broken heros on a last chance power tribe, etc etc "

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