Writer(s): Bruce Springsteen (see lyrics here)
Released: August 26, 1975 (album cut from Born to Run)
First Charted: --
Peak: 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): --
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 5.2 video, -- streaming
About the Song:
It was never released as a single, but “Thunder Road,” the opening cut on Bruce Springsteen’s third album, Born to Run, has become one of his most loved songs. In 2004, WXPN, the University of Pennyslvania’s public radio station, ranked it #1 on their list of all-time greatest songs. WK
The song started out in 1972 as “Angelina” and re-emerged in October 1974 later as “Chrissie’s Song.” Over the next three months, Springsteen combined that and lyrics from “Walking in the Street” to create a new song. WK The song was tentatively titled “Wings for Wheels” before being “rightly renamed after a New Jersey drag strip,” TC inspired by a poster of the 1958 Robert Mitchum film of the same name, although Springsteen didn’t see the movie. SF
In his autobiography, Springsteen said he envisioned the Born to Run album as a collection of vignettes following its character throughout the day. As the opener, “Thunder Road” was “an epic like he used to do, but it’s stripped back, less jazzy and more forceful.” TC It opens the album with a harmonica that suggested the beginning of the new day and invited listeners to the album. WK Vocally, Springsteen was inspired by Roy Orbison, who he references in the line “the radio plays Roy Orbison singing for the lonely.” SF Keyboardist Roy Bittan said Bruce “wanted a record where the singing sounded like Roy Orbison and the music sounded like Phil Spector.” TC The lyrics discuss Mary and her boyfriend and their “one last chance to make it real,” WK “two people acknowledging their imperfections, abandoning romance and also looking back to the ‘50s.” TC
Springsteen wrote “The Promise” as a sequel to “Thunder Road.” It was performed during his 1978 tour, but didn’t see release until 1999 when a re-recorded version appeard on 18 Tracks and then again in 2010 on the album The Promsie, which was a collection of unreleased material from the Darkness on the Edge of Town era (1977-78).
In 1995, Melissa Etheridge brought Bruce Springsteen out as a surprise guest for her Unplugged special after telling the audience a story about how much he inspired her. She has cited her performance with Springsteen as the highlight of her career. RS They had to start the performance a second time because she was so nervous she flubbed the words on the first run-through. RS It was taped February 2, 1995, and aired on MTV on March 21, 1995.
First posted 1/26/2020; last updated 2/19/2023.