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Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen

Album: Born To RunReleased: 1975
  • This was the first track on Born To Run, a crucial album for Springsteen. His first two albums sold poorly, and he was in danger of losing his record deal if he did not produce a hit. With songs like this one about escaping to the open road, he connected with an audience that proved extremely loyal.

    He considered this song the "invitation" to the album, with the opening notes being the welcome. "Something is opening up," Springsteen said during his 2005 Storytellers appearance. "What I hoped it would be was the sense of a larger life, greater experience, sense of fun, the sense that your personal exploration and possibilities were all lying somewhere inside of you."
  • Springsteen took the title from a 1958 Robert Mitchum movie. He did not see the film, but got the idea from a poster for it in a theater lobby.
  • The vocal sound was inspired by Roy Orbison. Springsteen pays homage to him with the line: "The radio plays Roy Orbison singing for the lonely," a reference to Orbison's 1960 hit, "Only The Lonely."
  • The name of the girl mentioned at the beginning was changed several times. It had been Angelina and Chrissie before Springsteen settled on "Mary's dress waves."
  • The original title was "Wings For Wheels." It began as an outtake called "Glory Road."
  • Cars were very important growing up in New Jersey and show up in many of Springsteen songs. Bruce's first car was a '57 Chevy with orange flames painted on the hood.
  • This is a concert favorite that Springsteen has performed at many of his shows over the years.
  • At one point, Born To Run was going to be a concept album spanning the course of a day, with an acoustic version of this starting the album and the full band version closing it.
  • Springsteen's friend and future manager, Jon Landau, convinced him to record this at The Record Plant in New York instead of the low-budget studio he was using. Springsteen's current manager, Mike Appel, resented Landau's influence and would file a lawsuit that kept Springsteen from recording for 3 years.
  • Since the band didn't know the song very well, Springsteen used a version with just him at the piano to open a series of shows at The Bottom Line in New York City in 1975. Sponsored by a New York radio station, the disc jockey, Dave Herman, apologized on the air for not playing enough Springsteen the morning after the first show.
  • On November 3, 1980, Springsteen kicked off his tour to support the album in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For the encore, Bob Seger, who is to Michigan what Springsteen is to New Jersey, joined him onstage to perform this.
  • Has been performed live many different ways: with the full band, solo with guitar, solo with piano, slowed down, etc. The version on Live 1975-1985 features Springsteen singing over Roy Bittan's piano.
  • Bruce taped a performance of this that was played at the funeral of James Berger, a worker in the World Trade Center who helped people get out before he was killed when it collapsed. He was a big Springsteen fan and this was his favorite song. Bruce dedicated it to his sons.
  • This was also the first track on Springsteen's live album Hammersmith Odeon London 1975, which was recorded on November 18, 1975 during Springsteen's first concert in Europe. It was released on DVD in 2005, and on CD the following year. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
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Comments: 59

Here's some real obscure trivia for ya:
"Thunder Road" was not the first song to mention the name Orbison...
On July 13, 1961, Freddy Cannon performed "Transistor Sister" on the Dick Clark ABC-TV network weekday-afternoon program 'American Bandstand'...
Eighteen days later on July 31st the song entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #95; five weeks later it would peak at #35 {for 1 week} and it spent 8 weeks on the Top 100...
And the song's second verse contains the lyrics; 'And it's Fats and Connie and Orbison, she's my transistor sister, playing her radio'.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
So, as I was saying before I prematurely popped. In Born To Run it's Wendy. And then in Thunder Road it's all of us. He lifts us all up and takes us with him. "I wanna guard your dreams and visions." Great stuff.Fifi - Venice Florida
WENDY is an important character in Peter Pan, a story about the boy who wanted to stay young, and, if I dare say, also a sly metaphor for keeping within us the creativity of youth. "C'mon Wendy"..Fifi - Venice Florida
Just a little correction; 'The River' tour actually kicked off on October 3th, 1980* at the Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan...
Bruce's eleventh song in his set was "Thunder Road"; after he performed the "Detroit Medley", he called Bob Seger onstage, and together they did an encore performance of "Thunder Road"...
* Per: http://www.greasylake.org/setlists_show_record.php?id=3&concert_id=686&ID=686&s_concert_date=1980-10-03&s_tour=The+River+Tour&concert_date=1980-10-03&venue=Crisler+Arena&city=Ann+Arbor
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
This has been my favourite song since I was seven!! My God, it never gets old. I can play this song on the piano, and I used to sing it to my girlfriend.John - Barrow-in-furness, United Kingdom
Thunder Road is an absolutely glorious track and one of my top three Springsteen songs ever (the other two, naturally, also coming from Born To Run.) In contrast to the tragic undertones of most of the other songs off this album, it's just a happy, upbeat song about running away and being in love. I can't imagine how anyone could listen to this song and not want it to be about them. The narrator and Mary are just driving off in total romantic bliss, and it's a universal desire to have something like that. Beyond the mood it sets, it's also a fantastic opening to what is almost undeniably Bruce's greatest work - that opening harmonica tune is instantly recognizable, and the lyrics about wanting to run away with Mary before it's too late take on a double meaning as being about Bruce's desire to make it big, which is what the entire goal of this album was. It's really just a fantastic, flawless piece of art and I get chills every time the line "There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away" hits.Russ - Arlington Heights, Il
I thought they were talking about the song "Thunder Road" by Robert Mitchum. I think that song is superior in many ways. "Now let me tell the story, I can tell it all, about the mountain boy that ran illegal alcohol, the dad he made the whiskey, Son, he drove the load, and when the engine roared they called the highway Thunder Road" chorus ... " And there was Thunder, Thunder, over Thunder Road. Thunder was his engine, and white lightnin' was his load. And there was moonshine, moonshine, to quench the devil's thirst. The law they said they'd get him but the devil got him first."Johnny - Spring Lake, Mi
Beautiful.Cole - Charleston, Sc
My wife worked with Steve's mom. She gave me a cassette back around 79 or 1980. On the tape before Bruce goes into Thunder Road, he tells a story about how it is based on a crossroad they passed while out west on tour. They passed an Indian trading post and he said "look at all the land we took from them" and went on to write Thunder Road.Rj - Middletown, Nj
This is the best rock song bar none! From the greatest artist of all-time, Bruce SpringsteenJim - Long Beach, Ca
In the intro to this song (bootleg Passaic 1978 f.e.), he tells the story about a house in the desert with a picture of Geronimo outside. It had a big white sign, that said "this is the land of peace, love, justice and no mercy". It pointed down this little road that said Thunder Road.

Does this house exist?
Guy - Harelbeke, Belgium
Stu from Philly you are not far off. Roy Bittin, Bruce's E Street Band piano player plays piano on "Bat Out Of Hell". Also, Mighty Max Weinberg, the drummer of the E Street Band, plays the drums. Greatest song of all time, on the Greatest album of all time, by the Greatest rocker of all time, period! There's nothing better! Except no substitute!Matt - Ft. Lauderdale, Fl
Bruce actually wrote a song called The Promise that is a sequel to this song.Marty - Milwaukee, Wi
I am an interpreter for the deaf, so it is my job to try to faithfully interpret the message that is being conveyed, which leads to a lot of research when you interpret song lyrics. Most songs, of course, mean different things to different people but I try to be as objective and true to the writer as possible. Thanks for all of the postings, and may I never have to interpret "A Whiter Shade of Pale."April - Huntington, Wv
This song is about Route 9 in New Jersey, alot of his song areJim - Pennsauken, Nj
I'm Italian, I play this song on my guitar and my Irish friend Fergal loves it. He always asks me to play it again. As a rule, I can't play the guitar very well, so.... maybe it's the song!!! I close my eyes and sing it, just dreaming of Mary, not a beauty, but able to leave everything to go away with me! Oh oh come take my hand.. And the song is so sincere: "I just can't face myself alone again". Last thing: note the connection with "Fast car" by Tracy Chapman, beautiful too. Although Chapman's is a song about social integration, about poor people finding their place in society, so the real meaning is opposite.Alberto - Roma, Italy
Love this song, especially the Live 1975-1985 CD version. My wife also thinks it's a great song but always sighs a little when she hears Bruce state 'You ain't a beauty but, hey, you're alright'Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Bill from Maple Shade NJ - aren't those lyrics "there's a dark cloud..." from the song The Promised Land? Fairly certain they're not in both, and i know they're in The Promised Land. either way, both great songs. Bruce is the best!! I recorded a version of I'm On Fire for my wife, she loves it.

This song's piano in the verses sounds like it got copied by Jim Steinman a couple years later. Listen to this, then go listen to "Bat Out of Hell" once the intro is over. same chords, same key i THINK... again, both great songs, and i really don't mind.

Bruce Fan For Life!
Stu - Philly, Pa
I finally saw Bruce play "Thunder Road" live a couple of days ago. It was the third time I've seen him live, and I've been dying to see him perform it, as it's my absolute favorite song by him. When he picked up the harmonica and played the opening notes, I actually cried a little bit. It was so wonderful to finally hear it live! What an incredible song.Kim - Wappingers Falls, Ny
My favorite Springteen music is from his double album "The River"Gail - Tucson, Az
Anyone who appreciates Thunder Road should read the essay on it in "Songbook" by Nick Hornby (called "31 Songs" in the UK), his very personal treatise on how pop music (unlike any other musical form) has the ability to change your life...as this song has done for many posting here. Mr. Hornby's British take on this great tune prompted me to listen to it about 20 times in a row, and I still hear something just as amazing as when I heard it in 1975.

His best observation is that only Bruce Springsteen can get away with using the word "redemption" in a song about redemption.
(Most people here will probably connect with the entire book.)
Greg - Pittsburgh, Pa
Bruce talked about how his writing style at this time, was based around a theatrical, epic style. How he builds the intro ( harmonica and piano ) and introduces the characters, and then tells the story. Freakin masterpiece of music.John - Columbus, Oh
Bruce played this song for Tim Russert at Tim's recent funeral.Tina - Norcross, Ga
Brian, Bruce Springsteen named the song after a
Robert Mitchum movie of the same name.
Bruce - Johnstown, Pa
There are moments in our poor lives in which we just can't avoid walkin' along a "thunder road", see what I mean to say? Well, Bruce tells everything on such song...I enjoy listening to "Thunder Road" with my eyes closed and thinking about all the good things I have experienced as a child...Just don't know why. Sure, to me, this is the greatest song ever written by Bruce.

Alexandre Albertoni, Bairro da Aparecida, City of "Santos", Brazil. June 3, 2008.
Alexandre - Santos, Brazil
Lyrics are out of this world...most Jersey people understand what he is saying...however I don't think Bruce is trying to write a cryptic message, but simply to trust him.Doug - Holland, Oh
The song foreshadows a James Dean death in line after line: "Make crosses from your lovers"..."come take my hand/We're riding out tonight to case the promised land"...."Lying out there like a killer in the sun/
Hey I know it's late we can make it if we run"..."take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat"..."Climb in back/Heaven's waiting on down the tracks"
... Mary accepts this guy's ride, and their bid for freedom ends in death. Bummer.
Mike - Washington, Dc
Just my all time favorite bruce tune, that's all. I have really been enjoying reading all of the comments about what this song means to everyone and all of us, as different as we are, are all struck in the same way. I, too, have closed my eyes in darkened concert halls to more fully absorb this experience. It stays with you when its real, you know? Anyway, the thing I wanted to say about this song is that from the first time I heard it, I could see it. It plays like a movie to me. A windy day by the shore. A reticent, pretty girl standing on the porch of her wood framed home and of course...the dress waving. And, yes,her actractive and persuasive what, boyfriend? class mate? Fellow Townie? (there is a reference to her graduation gown lying in rags at her feet, was that from the night before? And the ever present car. "The door is open, but the rde, she ain't free...."Wendy - Fort Pierce, Fl
Take a listen to this sometime and *just* listen to Roy Bittan on the piano. He's fantastic, he brings so much to the song. I've tried to figure out how to play the piano part but the best I can manage is a pale imitation. I'd LOVE to get my hands on a transcription of it. I'd rank this song as among Bruce's 4 best ever (along with Jungleland, Rosalita, and Kitty's Back (particularly the amazing live version)). The arrangement is just brilliant, the way it picks you up and carries you away, starting gentle with just the piano and vocal, and layering in the band in a way you don't even notice until somehow you're in the middle of this full-out driving song.Rich - Bellevue, Wa
My 2nd favorite song of all time (behind my #1 American Pie). First song I learned all the words to. Bummed when I saw Bruce at Shea Stadium and he did not play it. (acually concert was not that great or up to Bruce standards and of course had to get all his political views/rantings). But I do remember first time I saw him........No Nukes concert way back when. Was so GREAT!Jesse - East Setauket, Ny, Ny
This is a masterpiece,invoking John Steinbeck's haunting prose about the realities of life and how we need to live in the moment. I picked up a bootleg, "Born in the Studio", a long time ago, and when I heard the acoustic version of this I became bewitched. This song in this context is such a protest, that I implore you all to get a copy of it. It takes on a completely different meaning than the album version. I wish that he would release this version because it needs to be heard. I really wish that Bruce would go back to his roots and quit this hard rocking mentality as if he's trying to reclaim his youth. A throwback album will sell-hell we're not that old, and we have all the money to spend!Congo - Nyc, Ny
In 2004 or 05 in Boston Bruce played Thunderroad live on the Lenny Zakim - Bunker Hill bridge to open it. The bridge is one peice of the massive highway project known as the "Big Dig". He did an acoustic version which was awesome. He was in town performing a show at the time.Ticketred - Walpole, Ma
The first time I heard Brucey was in 1975, The Born to Run album. And Thunder Road is my favorite Brucey song. I LOVE him. I know almost all his songs by heart, but I've had 32 years to listen and to memorize them.I've seen him in concert 12 times, and can't wait to see him again.-Shelley, Bondurant, IowaShelley - Bondurant, Ia
Original lyrics to chorus:

"This 4-4 tune is gonna overheat, make up your mind girl I gotta get er back out on the street, I know your lonely like me, so baby don't try to fake it.

I'm no prince and I can't lay the stars at your feet, but I got this old car and she's pretty tough to beat, there's plenty of room in my front seat, baby if you wanna take it."

This song, like others of Springsteen's in the mid 70's, is about breaking away and finding something better. Its about Freehold, but its also about a mindset. He wants something better and is offering to share his quest to the young heroine on the porch. Bruce is offering Mary (or Angelina or Chrissy) an opportunity to get out of the town of losers if she will take a chance. Where he will go is unknown and it may be a rough ride (hence, Thunder Road).

Fast forward two years to the song Badlands which picks up the story line, "there's a dark cloud rising on the desert floor, I packed my bags and I'm headin' straight into the storm, gonna be a twister that blows everything down, that ain't got the strength to stand its own ground"

Born to Run and Darkness - Two great albums about trying to get ahead or die trying. Over the past 25 years the words have stayed the same but the meaning continually evolves.
Bill - Maple Shade, Nj
I owned the Born to Run album in high school. It is good working class rock. but I was not a big fan of Thunder Road until I saw a concert video in 1983 of The Boss performing this song at an anti-nuclear protest. And it became my favorite Bruce Springsteen tune!Tony - Toledo, Oh
It was also song in early versions as "Chrissy's dress waves" Original was titled Wings for Wheels. Same tune,different lyrics. Example 1st verse after you ain't a beauty,but hey your allright...."this 4-4-2 is gonna overheat,make up your mind baby gotta get her back out on the street,I know your lonely like me but baby you don't have to fake it.Jack - Great Meadows, Nj
I suspect that both the person singing the song and the girl in the song are supposed to be in unhappy marriages and what the guy is proposing is that they both leave their spouses and just run away. The song opens with an image of the girl trapped on her back porch. Then there are the mysterious lines "The doors open but the ride ain't free" and "But tonight we'll be free all the promises will be broken."Marty - Chicago, Il
best rock song ever will be played at my funeral along with the theme tune to the muppet showJohn - Edinburgh, Scotland
Hands down the best lyrics ever written. Period.Blake - Manchester, Tn
This song is classic.....people who even dont like springsteen can't deny how good this song is.

My brother always says how he hates springsteen bla bla bla....well he has the words to this memorized and sings along when it somes on.....

Bruce Springsteen is amazing.
Anthony - New York, Ny
My favorite song from Springsteen, probably my favorite song of all. "Show a little faith" has gotten me a few rough days. The new album, Magic, sounds a lot like early Springsteen, particularly Darkness on the Edge of Town.Chip - Louisville, Ky
Bruce is the best lyricist ever aside from Bob Dylan. And this song proves it.Tim - Philadelphia, Pa
Amen, one of the best rock songs ever written, this is pure poetry. I went to see Bruce from Mexico to New York, spent my life`s savings to feel the magic. When he sang Thunder road, it was like a religious experience: some were raising their hands with their eyes closed, some were crying, some were holding the complete stranger sitting next to him. I saw it. Thunder road means the same thing to all of us: freedom, growing up, leaving the past life behind.. and falling in love.Alexander - Aguascalientes, Mexico
This is a great song about "running away and not looking back" burce is a great story teller...and is a great american rock star...well...at least he was...his new stuff is s**tJeff - Sothington, Ct
The Storytellers version was amazing. You can see still the passion he plays in his songs even though he's probably it played a billion timesTy - Indianapolis, In
I think that everything has already been said about this song in previous comments. I think that to appreciate the Boss and his music you have to get into his world first, to identify with his spirit (I suppose that's why most of my friends don't like him, although many songs are striking and easy listening). And this song is perfect as a "Springsteen fan test", because I think it's very representative of all this (as well as Born to run, I couldn't tell what's my favourite between the two). Great arrangement, I love the piano intro and the final riff, it's an energy explosion. My ideal love story would be very similar to the one described in the song. ;-)Alberto - Carpi, Italy
During the VH1 Storytellers special, Springsteen said "Probably the hokiest line I ever wrote" about the line "Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk".Don - Dearborn Heights, Mi
Thunder Road. This was released when I was 14. I felt it was written just for me.

Now I'm 44, and every word in this is just as relevent!
Julia - Allentown, Pa
Is there a better song than Thunder Road?
I never get tired of hearing it. I get goose bumps every time I listen to this.
Does the instrumental of this song remind anyone of Layla by Derek and the Dominoes? The very first time I heard this, I thought he ripped off Layla because of the way both songs end with a repetitive instrumental at the end.
Regardless, this is still an incredible song.
Steve - Markham, Canada
Bruce is from Asbury Park i thought???

-Tim...Phila PA
Tim - Phila, Ri
I agree: the best song ever. Bar none. I wasn't a big fan of Springsteen's until I bought the Greatest Hits album andfirst heard it. It was there in the parking lot of Border's Books in Springfield PA. I was stunned. It hit my so like a song never had. Its was so ...urgent and filled with futile battling and Shakespearian leanings like, "you ain't a beauty but hey you're alright. I forget the actual name of the poem but I remember Shakespeare went on about his love's commanolities and ended by basically saying that it was these commonalities that made him love her. It's a song about escape and redemption, it's the most cinemtic of his songs to me- it's like a movie in my head, not just a song (..they haunt this dusty beach road and these skeleton frames of these burned out Chevrolets.) I went to 5 of the 6 shows in Philly when he reunited with the E Street Band and it was Thunder Road that led me there and to some of the best nights of my life. One night when he played Thunder Road the guy next to me said, "best song ever," and I agreed, and he went on to say, "I spent over $900 tonight to be here to hear him sing it."Matt - Pittsburgh, Pa
Thunder Road is the best rock song ever written.Emilio - Sydney, Belgium
Great song. Your all correct with comments. This is a love of life song, & yes sex naturally follows from true love. This guys been good, he's been patient with that existence and now he's outta there. But he can't leave without giving the love of his life one last opportunity to be rescued and join him.Jay - Ny, Ny
well this is my favorite song by ol' bruce he's pretty good but he's not my fav american rockerCharlie - Thomaston, Ct
I don´t think this is a song about sex. When the narrator comes to visit Mary and take her in his car, it´s not (just) for having sex, it´s a proposal for going out of there. "The ride it ain´t free" means that if she goes with him, she must leave all her current life. He wants to get out of that place because "this is a town full of losers and I´m pulling out of here to win"Carlos - Albacete, Spain
This song is a Carpe Diem . It means Sieze The Day. The movie Dead Poet's socity gave the term a nice "embrace the moment" notion. In reality Carpe Diems where poems written to try to talk beautiful young women out of their virginity.
"If you're ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door's open but the ride it ain't free" Get the point?
A very good example of a Carpe Diem is "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell. He was a Puritian, and he lived 400 years ago, he lays out a very good arguement for having sex while they are young, and still alive. Well, a much better arguement than "I wanna get freaky with you." I have left the poem link below. Read it, you will get the idea what Bruce was up to with this song. The only real difference between this poem and Bruce's song is that he doesn't mention having sex, but it's implied.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_His_Coy_Mistress

Steve
Mauiphotographer@adelphia.net
Steve - Chino Hills, Ca
Thunder road originally had a latin feel like Rosalita to it.Dan - Washington, Dc
I'm from Bruce's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey and was wondering if the song was based on an actual road or just an idea of freedom and wildness.Brian - Freehold, Nj
The name of the girl in Thunder Raod changed from the demo to the final recorded version. In the demo 'Gracie's dress waves' became 'Mary's dress waves' in the final version (God I miss Napster)Boysy - Sydney, Australia
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