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Born To Be Wild

by

Steppenwolf



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

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." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
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. (thanks, Brett - Edmonton, Canada)
In 2004, Paris Hilton asked Steppenwolf to use this as part of her show, The Simple Life 2. Steppenwolf adamantly denied. (thanks, Cody - new york city, NY)
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 EP. (thanks, Kim Wells - Aylesbury, United Kingdom)
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Comments (42):

In 2004, Paris Hilton asked Steppenwolf to use this as part of her show, The Simple Life 2. Steppenwolf adamantly denied. (Yet another reason, if another were needed, to like Steppenwolf!)
- Cyberpope, Richmond, Canada
On May 4th 1968, Steppenwolf performed "Born To Be Wild" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
One month later on July 7th, 1968 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #70; and on August 18th it peaked at #2 (for 3 weeks) and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100...
The band's next two releases after "Born To Be Wild" also made the Top 10; "Magic Carpet Ride" (#3, also in 1968) and "Rock Me" (#10 in 1969), between 1968 and 1974 they had thirteen records to make the Top 100...
The three weeks it was at #2; the #1 record for those three weeks was "People Got To Be Free" by the Rascals...
In 1969 Wilson Pickett covered the song; his version stayed on the Top 100 for 4 weeks, peaking at #64 (it peaked at #41 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart).
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
I'll need to get the sheet music to be sure but I think he is saying "yeah I got a go and make it happen" not Darlin. The people that think "I like smoke and lightning , or smoking lighting is about ''pot smoking'' is taking it out of context of the song. He is bring into the song all the elements of nature - wind, thunder, lightning and smoke everything but rain which wouldn't be to exciting. He is like a true ''NATURES'' child.
- Paul, Montgomery , AL
I've loved this Steppenwolf hit since its release in 1968 when I was drafted into the Army & sent to Fort Bragg, NC. Steppenwolf hit with a huge impact back in '68 & '69 and much was written about them back then. Then when "Magic Carpet Ride" topped the charts I knew I was a fan forever. Then their single "Rock Me" zoome into the Top Ten. Their albums were well-produced sonic nuggets to be played loud & louder!!! Now, in 2013 I keep up with Steppenwolf and John Kay on their Facebook site & website. Check both out for lots of history on the band, discography, & tours. Rock me....Steppenwolf.
- Raunchy, Tulsa, OK
I would love, love, LOVE to be able to see an early video of this song that I recall seeing but once, and have not been able to find again, despite numerous searches. What really caught my attention was the unique way the keyboardist, Goldy McJohn made his Hammond go one step beyond in obtaining the super-cool, classic organ sound on this song. To me, this sound, and the method of obtaining it, is nothing short of the pinnacle of psychedelia. You see, (and I'm assuming this was Goldy's invention or idea), in the video, it shows the organ's horn-shaped speaker placed directly behind a large, spinning wheel. Within gthe wheel was a cut-out in the shape of a drop of water, viewed sideways. Picture one half of the "ying-yang" being cut out of this wheel. During the organ solo, Goldy depressed his foot on a pedal that would vary the rotating speed of the wheel. Listen to the organ solo once more with this in mind, and you can just picture what I'm saying here. The resulting "pulsing" of the sound, which clearly varies in speed, was the result. To me, this ingenious, creative step helps to really MAKE the song fit right in with the times and helps this piece become truly deserving, in every sense of the word, a CLASSIC rock anthem.
- Paul, Croydon, PA
Saw an interview with John Kay during a visit to Daytona Bike Week. When asked about the tie in to motorcycles he said that's what it had become. He also said because he is legally blind he had never ridden a motorcycle and that they actually scared him.
- james, burlington, NJ
I had a friend who had 63 Ford Falcon, this was the used car that Mars had purchased. My friend had an article/interview laminated for display that he used when he would go to car shows that was specific about the song and the car. Said it was the first road vehicle for the band.
- james, burlington, NJ
Met a guy who claims to have written this song and sold it for $100 to buy groceries for his family. Not credited anywhere that i can find. Legend in his own mind? I have heard of this happening with other songs but it is usually the publishing rights given away for nothing but the original author is still credited, even though they get no money. Has anyone else heard this regarding this song? The songwriter has always been Mars to the best of my knowledge. Thanks.
- Wade, Leamington, ON
Does anyone remember that the 80's metal band RAVEN covered this with Udo Dirkschneider of ACCEPT on backround vocals?
- Jason, Denver, CO
Hinder's cover version of this song is used as NASCAR on NBC's theme song.
- Greg, Westfordshire, Ireland
There's a shockwave flash animation circulating that spoofs this song; it's about the aging baby boomer generation ironic change from this song's generation's supposed wildness to their now, "Bald, Tubby, Mild"
Regardless, "Born to be Wild" will always stand as THE original hard rock anthem! Nothing says hard rockin' and motorbikes like Steppenwolf right here!
- Cyberpope, Richmond, Canada
Mars Bonfire wrote this evergreen after passing by a shop with a poster with some bikers. The poster read "Born to ride".
The original version with Sparrow is a hippie-like ballad, but top producer the late Gabriel Mekler gave it that special kick which turned it into the greates biker song of all time". It should be rated in the top 10 on Rolling Stone Magazines list.
- Lars, Copenhagen, Denmark
Way cool song. Fantastic voice, brilliant riff, soaring tune. If I could ride a bike this is what I'd want pounding my eardrums -- long straight road, blue sky, babe on the pillion, blond hair in the slipstream. Yeah!
- Guy, Wellington, New Zealand
BTBW was also Slade's encore song in the early '70s.
- Lester, New York City, NY
All I have to say is:
"Head out on the highway...
lookin' for adventure
and whatever comes our way..."
- Nancy, SIllysneakers, MN
you should have let paris i used to baby sit her things change
- jp, camarillo, CA
"Born to be Wild" is number 4 in the list called "Sounds at the Speed of Music: 50 Rock Anthems at 100 kph"
- Street Strategist, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
i like this song why did they put these lines in it shoot all of your guns off at once and explode into space
- michelle, minesota, MN
I know that is will be hard to believe, but in an interview with John Kay when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was producing the rock documentary called "Heart of Gold" (yes, the Neil Young song title), John said that the song had originally been written to be sung as a ballad but after having tried to sing it that way, Steppenwolf decided that it did not work as aballad and that it had to have a harder edge and so, they made it into an early heavy metal cut (even before the Heavy Metal genre existed as it eventually was born out of this song's lyrics, as explained elsewhere on this page).
- George, Ottawa, Canada
To correct misinformation already put forth, John did not form Sparrow. The band already existed fronted by Jack London and knwon as Jack London and the Sparrows. After John joined they became Sparrow then after Mars left they became Steppenwolf. John Kay now tours with a band called John Kay and Steppenwolf, with none of the original members.
- Warrinder, A Town, Canada
This song will be remembered for a long time.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
Also used in the late 70s movie "Modern Problems".....it is heard as the gay motorcycle gang (Road Reamers)rides to the aid of Mull's character.
- Hugh, Kansas City, MO
BOC would bring a harley on stage when they covered this tune(usually an encore).
- rob, vancouver, Canada
I had heard that this song was written to celebrate the writer getting his first car. Did anyone ever hear this story?
- John, St. James, LI, NY
I love my instrumental ringtone of "B-T-W" on my cell!! Sounds much better than an annoying ring sound & I have alot of rings!!! I never tire of the song!!!
- KIM, Orlando, FL
You can find the cults version of this in the 100 Worst Guitar riffs list....Pfff pathetic
- Andy, Hamilton, Canada
The Cult make a good cover of this classic in their album "Electric".
- Oskar, Bilbao, Spain
AC/DC covered it, too. And by the way, Belarus
- Greg, Erie, PA
A classic, and it's great. However, the bass can clearly be hitting a wrong note at 2:22. He does not move to the prechorus with the band and instead stays on the main riff. Interesting.
- Dave, Latham , NY
This is #129 on Rolling Stone's list of greatest songs.
- Ross, Independence, MO
The writer of "Born to be Wild", Mars Bonfire, is a fanatic outdoorsman and has climbed hundreds of peaks in Southern California mountain ranges.
- Agustin, South Pasadena, CA
Actually, in a recent interview done in Canada, John Kay said that he was born in East Prussia, now called Belaruse (sp?) and he immigrated to East Germany shortly after with his mother. From there they escaped to West Germany then on to Oshawa, Ontario. John formed the band 'The Sparrow' in that city. Band member Dennis Edmonton (Mars Bonfire) wrote the song 'Born To Be Wild'.
- G.W., Stratford, Canada
Incidentally, John Kay is still touring with Steppenwolf. They were giving a free Concert on Fremont Street, and we were lucky to hear "Born to be Wild" and "Snowblind Friend." Both were excellent; they've lost none of their power. I have no idea how many of the original members are still with the band.
- Pat, Las Vegas, NV
Very good song by a fantastic band! They have also written magic carpter ride and monster,america
John kay the lead singer was born in germany and raised in canada. His voice is incredible.
- Omar, London, England
Thank you to Melanie, who obviously has a very good taste in movies:)
- Shoni, Saginaw, MI
this song is just classic
- Shana, Pembroke, Canada
was featured in The Never Ending Story
- Jacquie, Somewhere, Canada
This song has always been regarded as a rock classic in the UK since it was first released over here in 1969. Surprisingly, it failed to chart either in 1969 or on re-releases in 1979 and 1988. It didn't become a hit in the UK until 1998, when it reachged No.30. The song was also a UK hit for The Cult in 1987.
- Dave, Cardiff, Wales
its been in lots of movies including armed and dangerous a 1985 movie starring john candy and eugene levy
- jason, wylie, TX
This song was also in the movie of the same name
- Josh, Santa Barbara, CA
It's been in EVERYTHING, love.
- Brett, Edmonton, Canada
this song was also on the movie "wild america" with devon sawa and jonathan taylor thomas
- melanie, gatineau, Canada
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