Thunder Road (song)
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Thunder Road Song

"Thunder Road"
Song by Bruce Springsteen
from the album Born to Run
ReleasedAugust 25, 1975 (1975-08-25)
RecordedJuly 16, 1975 (completed)
StudioThe Record Plant, New York City
Bruce Springsteen
Born to Run track listing
Music video
"Thunder Road" on YouTube

"Thunder Road" is a song written and performed by Bruce Springsteen, and is 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.[1][2]Rolling Stone magazine placed it as No. 86 on its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."[2]


Started out as a 1972 song called "Angelina", then after further development, Springsteen did a solo recording in October 1974 at 914 Sound Studios, Blauvelt, New York, of "Chrissie's Song", including the line, "leave what you've lost, leave what's grown cold, Thunder Road". Sometime between November 1974 and January 1975, Springsteen took "Chrissie's Song" and lyrics from another composition, "Walking in the Street", and combined them into a song he now called "Wings for Wheels", which he recorded in February. He took the line, "they case the promised land" and verse, "Oh baby I can't lay the stars at your feet, but I think we could take it all, just you and me, Oh come on and see there's a lot of room, For you baby in this front seat" from "Walking in the Street". On February 5, 1975 at the Main Point, Bryn Mawr, Pensylvania, with the featured girl now called "Angelina", Philadelphia Disk Jockey Ed Sciaky introduced the radio broadcast that included "Born to Run", "She's the One", "Jungleland", and "Wings for Wheels". A memorable moment, not preserved for album No. 3, was Suki Lahav's violin behind Bruce: "Now the season's over and I feel it getting cold, Well, I wish I could take you to some sandy beach, where we'd never grow old, ah, but baby, you know that's just jive, tonight's bustin' open and I'm alive, Oh, do what you can do to make me feel like a man". But "Wings" had a horrible jazzy ending, and sometime after March 9, 1975 (the last time "Wings" appeared on a set list), Bruce took the music (the main coda) he had written for "Walking In the Street", and patched it on to the end of "Wings for Wheels"; now his new lyric "this is a town for losers, I'm pulling out of here to win" was followed by the new instrumental outro, or the "instrumental coda", or "Walking in the Street". "The night's bustin' open, these two lanes will take us anywhere", and a poster for a 1958 Robert Mitchum film in a movie Theater lobby. They provided the final ingredients for his new song, "Thunder Road". The exact story behind moving "Walking in the Street" to "Wings for Wheels" is not known, but magic suddenly came to "Thunder Road". According to the 2005 documentary, Wings for Wheels the Making of Born to Run, Landau says he helped restructure some songs. Springsteen claims to have lost the completed tape of "Walking in the Street", recorded May 28, 1975, which is also why it could not go on "Tracks".

"There were two outtakes from Born to Run: 'Linda Let Me Be the One' is one track, and there was another one called 'Walking in the Street' which I would have liked to have put on, but I couldn't find the master. We searched and searched. It might have been simply recorded over, because in those days, if something wasn't going to make it, you're going to need that tape so you recorded something else over the top." - B. Springsteen, MOJO Magazine interview 1999.

April 13, 1975 was the day Jon Landau officially joined the third album's production team. Louis Lahav, chief engineer, and his wife Suki, the violin player, quit and returned to their native Israel at the end of February (this is often misreported as months later, which is incorrect, and the story that she and Bruce were in love, and that the Lahavs left to save their marriage, has nothing to do with "Thunder Road"). Jimmy Iovine reported to work at the Record Plant on April 18, after Landau was instructed to find better accommodations.

During Springsteen's writing of the lyrics to "Thunder Road", instead of "skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets", he had written, "skeletons found by exhumed shallow graves". Max Weinberg convinced Springsteen to move away from the darker lyrics and stay consistent with the blue collar spirit of the album.

Lyrics and music

The lyric to "Thunder Road" describes a young woman named Mary, her boyfriend, and their "one last chance to make it real."

Musically, the song opens with a quiet piano (Roy Bittan) and harmonica (Springsteen) 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, where it is recited three times in one line, and twice more in another, and is not used again. Finally, after the closing line there is a tenor saxophone and Fender Rhodes duet played by Clarence Clemons and Bittan respectively 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" (1960), was a huge influence on Springsteen.[3] On an early album sequence list that dates to 1974, there is a song called, "Orbison - Born to Be Alone".


In 2004, it was ranked No. 1 on the list of the "885 All-Time Greatest Songs" compiled by WXPN (the University of Pennsylvania's public radio station).[1]Rolling Stone magazine placed it as No. 86 on its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."[2] The song came in at No. 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 95th best song of all time, as well as the No. 3 song of 1975, in an aggregation of critics' lists at[4]

Live performance history

During the 1974 to 1977 Born to Run tours, "Thunder Road" was always played by Springsteen accompanied only by Roy Bittan's piano and Danny Federici's glockenspiel, 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 an 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 it 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 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 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 a Russert memorial event in Washington DC via satellite/tape.

On November 7, 2016, Springsteen performed the song at a Hillary Clinton presidential election rally in Philadelphia.



"Thunder Road" is a classic rock staple and has been covered by artists such as Eric Church, Melissa Etheridge, Cowboy Junkies, Badly Drawn Boy, Brazilian singer Renato Russo, Frank Turner, Tori Amos, Brian Vander Ark (Live at Eddie's Attic), Kevin Rowland, Nate Ruess during his Grand Romantic world tour, Matt Nathanson, Mary Lou Lord and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy with Tortoise. (Tortoise's version is interpreted in minor key.) 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 film Explorers, the main characters' space vessel is named "Thunder Road" after the song.

In 2008, years before ideas for his film Cemetery Junction were put down in writing, Stephen Merchant also mentioned his ambitions for the song on his self-titled BBC Radio Show: "The more you listen to it the more you realize just how extraordinar(il)y it is put together, and how it builds, and how it's just so cinematic. And that final line when he declares 'It's a town full of losers and we're pulling out of here to win', oh, goodness me! I've always wanted to make a movie of that song (...) I don't mean literally, I just mean a film that can invoke the spirit of that song." Later, in an interview with BBC Radio 2's Danny Wallace on January 9, 2010, Merchant stated the script for Cemetery Junction was loosely based upon the lyrics of "Thunder Road".[5] This sentiment was repeated by co-writer/co-director Ricky Gervais on April 12, 2010 when he appeared on The Graham Norton Show.

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

In 2011 a limited, signed, letterpressed, handbound chapbook with the lyrics of "Thunder Road" along with Nick Hornby's essay on the song was released. (26 copies were signed by both, Bruce Springsteen and Nick Hornby, 200 copies were signed by Hornby only.)[6]

In the Sonny with a Chance Christmas special, the sketch titled "The Real Princesses of New Jersey" mentions "Thunder Road" when Sterling Knight's character yells "I'm listening to 'Thunder Road!' You come over here!".

A FoxTrot strip has the song playing on Peter's stereo, with a loud blast of "OH, THUNDER ROAD" sending Peter flying into his bedroom wall when Jason takes off the mute button (FoxTrot has repeatedly paid homage to Springsteen and his work, among other rock singers).

The band Phish played it in concert for the first time in their career on June 19, 2011, as a tribute to then recently departed Clarence Clemons.[7]

During one of the opening scenes of the movie Just Friends, Ryan Reynolds' character, Chris Brander, paraphrases the last stanza of the song as he flees a party on his bicycle.

Bob Dylan seems to reference this song in the Traveling Wilburys song "Tweeter and the Monkey Man". The song is full of real or apparent references to Springsteen.

In 2016 actor, writer and director Jim Cummings released a comedy/drama film called Thunder Road, which includes an extensive scene depicting Cummings dressed as a policeman at his mother's funeral singing along to "Thunder Road", playing on his daughter's pink boombox. It won the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.[8]


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.[9] Unreleased for years, "The Promise" gained considerable legend for its 1978 Tour performances; it finally materialized in a re-recorded version on 1999's 18 Tracks, before appearing on its namesake album The Promise, released in 2010. "The Promise" can also be seen and heard on disc two of the DVD release of Live in New York City.[original research?]


  1. ^ a b "885 All Time Greatest Songs". Retrieved 2006.
  2. ^ a b c "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2006.
  3. ^ Springsteen, Bruce. South By Southwest Keynote Address. Austin, TX. March 15. 2012. [1]
  4. ^ "Acclaimed Music Top 3000 songs". May 27, 2009.
  5. ^ "BBC Radio 2 - Dermot O'Leary: 09/01/10". BBC. January 9, 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  6. ^ Street, Exile on Pain (May 31, 2011). "The book I just published for Bruce Springsteen and Nick Hornby".
  7. ^ Setlists
  8. ^ Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  9. ^ "The Promise". Archived from the original on June 30, 2009. Retrieved 2009.

External links

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