As the members of Fleetwood Mac will tell you, behind every great album there’s usually a great back story, but Born To Run appears to have been the exception. From the beginning, its creation lacked a certain essential melodrama. Bruce Springsteen, then two records into a promising career as the early ’70s’ latest New Dylan, decided he needed to make a blockbuster album in order to stay relevant. And so he made one.
Born To Run was erected with a minimum of misery. The recording sessions were lengthy and grueling, but no one died, battled drug addiction, got divorced or even seems to have fought bitterly during its making. Nor was it misunderstood in its time, another crucial component of rock ‘n’ roll mythmaking: A miraculous combination of Dylanesque poetry and pulpy, B-movie imagery that drew heavily upon classic rock and ’60s pop (as Springsteen notes here, the Ronettes and the Beach Boys in particular), Born To Run was a critical and commercial hit upon arrival in August 1975, despite, or maybe because of, the sheer outsize strangeness of it, and it’s been well-loved ever since.
Lacking a compelling story arc, this superlative 30th anniversary commemorative box set is content to nibble at the margins. A making-of documentary DVD, Wings For Wheels, featuring a driving tour of Asbury Park with Springsteen behind the wheel and commentary from E Street Band members and Springsteen manager Jon Landau, teases out random details of the album’s birth: This is the house where the album was written. This is how we overdubbed the glockenspiels. There is no such thing as a Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out; we made it up. “I have no idea what that means to this day,” Springsteen admits.
Lovingly packaged, Born redux also contains a booklet of rare photos, a remarkable and exhausting concert DVD from Springsteen’s starmaking 1975 Hammersmith Odeon show, and a remastered (though not remixed) version of the album with the guitars (slighted in the original version, likely because Born was composed on, and mostly centered around, the piano) and vocals punched up.
Much detail is paid to the mechanics of the recording sessions; there are generous helpings of alternate takes and studio footage; and a segment featuring a bemused present-day Springsteen listening to early outtakes is worth the price of admission.