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Thunder Road (song): Wikis


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"Thunder Road"
Song by Bruce Springsteen

from the album Born to Run

Released August 25, 1975
Recorded 1975 at 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, New York[1]
Genre Rock
Length 4:49
Label Columbia Records/Sony
Producer Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau
Born to Run track listing
"Thunder Road"
"Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out"

"Thunder Road" is a song written and performed by Bruce Springsteen, and the opening track on his 1975 breakthrough album Born to Run. It is ranked as one of Springsteen's greatest songs, and often appears on lists of the top rock songs of all time.[2][3] Rolling Stone magazine placed it as #86 on its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."[3]



The song underwent considerable evolution as it was written, with an early version titled "Wings For Wheels" first performed at The Main Point in Bryn Mawr on February 5th 1975. That phrase would eventually be used in the final version of the lyrics. The original version also mentions a girl named "Angelina," or "Christina," (in various versions) rather than the studio homage to "Mary". Among other changes, including an entirely different lyrics for some verses, the song concludes with "This is a town full of losers, and baby I was born to win" instead the Thunder Road ending, "It's a town full of losers and we're pulling out of here to win".

Lyrics and music

The lyrics to "Thunder Road" describe a young woman named Mary, her boyfriend, their hopeless lives and their "one last chance to make it real." Thematically, it reads as a nostalgic companion piece to "Born to Run".

Musically, the song opens with a quiet piano and harmonica introduction, meant, as Springsteen said years later in the Wings For Wheels documentary, as a welcoming to both the track and the album, a signifier that something was about to happen. Eschewing a traditional verse-and-chorus structure, the song's arrangement gradually ramps up in instrumentation, tempo and intensity. The title phrase is not used until the middle section of the song, and then is not used again. Finally, after the closing line there is a saxophone-and-piano duet in the instrumental coda.

In this song, Springsteen mentions Roy Orbison "singing for the lonely" on the radio. Orbison, one of whose best-known songs is "Only the Lonely," was a huge influence on Springsteen.

The song's title comes from the Robert Mitchum film Thunder Road. Springsteen declared that he was somehow inspired from the movie even if, as he says, "I never saw the movie, I only saw the poster in the lobby of the theater."[4]


In 2004, it was ranked #1 on the list of the "885 All-Time Greatest Songs" compiled by WXPN (the University of Pennsylvania's public radio station).[2] Rolling Stone magazine placed it as #86 on its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."[3] The song came in at #226 in Q magazine's list of the "1001 Greatest Songs Ever" in 2003, in which they described the song as "best for pleading on the porch." Julia Roberts, when asked which song lyric described her most accurately, chose "Thunder Road"'s "You ain't a beauty, but hey, you're alright." The song is featured in the book 31 Songs by British author Nick Hornby. "Thunder Road" has also been ranked as the 166th best song of all time, as well as the #3 song of 1975, in an aggregation of critics' lists at[5]

Live performance history

"Thunder Road" is one of Springsteen's most performed songs and an audience favorite. During the 1974 to 1977 Born to Run tours, "Thunder Road" was always played by Springsteen with nothing but a piano accompaniment, an example of which is found on Hammersmith Odeon London '75. Not until later in the tour did "Thunder Road" make full-band appearances. In the 1978 tour "Thunder Road" usually opened with Springsteen telling a story as to why he wrote the song, and it might segue out of some other more dirge-like song such as "Racing in the Street".

In concert in the 1980s, the song was often played to close out the first set; the coda was stretched out to showcase E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, then Clemons and Springsteen would charge at each other from opposite ends of the stage, with Springsteen sliding into Clemons in an embrace.

The early 1990s "Other Band" Tour devised it on acoustic guitar and a haunting organ in the background; this arrangement is documented on the 1993 concert video and album In Concert/MTV Plugged.

The song then disappeared from Springsteen concerts until emerging again in 1999 in the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Reunion Tour, where "Thunder Road" was played as celebratory from start to finish, at a significantly slower tempo than the more upbeat studio version, with Springsteen pointing to people he knew or to attractive females in the front rows during the extended outro. An example of such a performance can be found in the 2001 release Live in New York City. Although played fairly regularly on the The Rising Tour as on Live in Barcelona, the song then rarely appeared on the Devils & Dust Tour, this time on piano. The song was not performed during the Sessions Band Tour; it reappeared on 2007-2008 Magic Tour and continued to be played regularly on the 2009 Working on a Dream Tour.

On June 14, 2008, on stage at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Springsteen dedicated a performance of the song to political broadcast analyst Tim Russert, a longtime Springsteen fan who had suddenly died the previous day. On June 18, 2008, Springsteen performed the song, with acoustic guitar, for the Russert memorial event in Washington via satellite/tape.

In music and popular culture

"Thunder Road" is a classic rock staple, and has been covered by artists such as Melissa Etheridge, Cowboy Junkies, Badly Drawn Boy, brazilian singer Renato Russo, Frank Turner, Mary Lou Lord[6] and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy with Tortoise[7]. Adam Duritz of Counting Crows often sings large portions of the lyrics to "Thunder Road" in the middle of their song "Rain King."

In the novel High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, the protagonist Rob Fleming ranks "Thunder Road" as one of his five best side one tracks.


Sometime after the release of Born to Run, Springsteen wrote a follow-up to "Thunder Road" called "The Promise", which explicitly mentions the first song by name but reveals a far more pessimistic outlook on the narrator's life and future.[8] Although early studio recordings were never released, "The Promise" gained considerable legend for its 1978 Tour performances; it finally materialized in a re-recorded version on 1999's 18 Tracks. The Promise can also been seen and heard on disc two the DVD release of Live In New York City.


External links

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