With the line "Heavy Metal Thunder," this became the first popular song to use the phrase "Heavy Metal," which became a term for hard rock. William Burroughs is credited with coining the phrase, as he used it in his 1961 novel The Soft Machine, describing his character Uranian Willy as "the Heavy Metal Kid." Burroughs told The Paris Review: "I felt that heavy metal was sort of the ultimate expression of addiction, that there's something actually metallic in addiction, that the final stage reached is not so much vegetable as mineral."
This was used in the 1969 movie Easy Rider, a counterculture classic starring Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda as bikers who ride from Los Angeles to New Orleans. Another Steppenwolf song, "The Pusher," was also used in the film.
When the movie was in production, this was simply a placeholder, since Fonda wanted Crosby, Stills and Nash to do the soundtrack. It became clear that the song belonged in the movie, and it stayed. Partly because of it's use in Easy Rider, this has become the song most associated with motorcycles.
This was written by Mars Bonfire, which is the stage name of Dennis Edmonton. He wasn't a member of Steppenwolf, but his brother Jerry was the band's drummer. Bonfire wrote a few other songs for Steppenwolf as well, including "Ride With Me" and "Tenderness."
Explaining how he came up with the song, Bonfire said: "I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard one day and saw a poster in a window saying 'Born to Ride' with a picture of a motorcycle erupting out of the earth like a volcano with all this fire around it. Around this time I had just purchased my first car, a little secondhand Ford Falcon. So all this came together lyrically: the idea of the motorcycle coming out along with the freedom and joy I felt in having my first car and being able to drive myself around whenever I wanted. 'Born To Be Wild' didn't stand out initially. Even the publishers at Leeds Music didn't take it as the first or second song I gave them. They got it only because I signed as a staff writer. Luckily, it stood out for Steppenwolf. It's like a fluke rather than an achievement, though."
This was the second single from Steppenwolf's first album. The first single, "Sookie Sookie," was a flop.
Frontman John Kay (from Rolling Stone
magazine's "Top 500 Songs): "Every generation thinks they're born to be wild and they can identify with that song as their anthem."
In an interview for CHMR FM, John Kay told Terry Parsons that when Mars Bonfire first introduced him to the song, it was intended as a folk ballad about life on the open road. Once Steppenwolf began working with the song, the tempo was increased, and an iconic rock and roll song resulted.
Movies this has been used in include Coming Home, One Crazy Summer, Opportunity Knocks, Dr. Dolittle 2, and Speechless.
This wasn't released in the UK until 1969.
In 1994, Ozzy Osbourne did a duet of this with Miss Piggy. It was released on an album called Kermit Unpigged, with featured rock stars singing with Muppets.
This has been covered by U2, Blue Oyster Cult, MC Shan, and The Cult.
In 2004, Paris Hilton asked Steppenwolf to use this as part of her show, The Simple Life 2
. Steppenwolf adamantly denied.
Hinder recorded this in 2007 for TNT's coverage of NASCAR. It also appears on the re-release of Hinder's album Extreme Behavior.
This record was the regular finisher for rock group Slade in the 1970s and is one of the key tracks of their acclaimed Slade Alive
! album, it also features on their early album Beginnings
and the Slade Live at Reading