Music/Lyrics: Bruce Springsteen
Original Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Original Album: Born to Run (1975)
Historian: Scott Bernstein (ScottyB)
Last Update: 2011-06-23
Considering all of the success Bruce Springsteen enjoyed over the rest of his career, it's often forgotten that "The Boss" was close to losing his record deal when the now-legendary Born To Run album came out in 1975. His first two long-form releases were well-received by the critics, but sold poorly. Everything changed for Springsteen and his E Street Band once Born To Run was released and rocketed to #3 on the Billboard 200 record chart thanks in big part to the LP's opening track, "Thunder Road," which has since been found towards the top of many "Greatest Songs" lists over the years.
Bruce Springsteen, "Thunder Road" – 9/19/78
“Thunder Road” underwent many lyrical and musical changes before its release on Born To Run. The song started out with the title “Wings For Wheels,” but Springsteen eventually decided to name “Thunder Road” after a Robert Mitchum film with that title. While “Thunder Road” famously references a young woman named Mary, early versions had “Angelina,” “Chrissie” and “Christina” in Mary’s place. Bruce headed into the Record Plant studio in New York City to record the song in 1975 along with producer Jon Landau, who convinced the rocker to eschew his vision of a seven-minute track for the five-minute version that kicks off the album.
When Springsteen started performing “Thunder Road” in concert he did so with only accompaniment by E Street piano player Roy Bittan. Towards the end of the Born To Run tour he rearranged the composition for the whole band. “Thunder Road” has become a staple in the E Street Band’s catalog with The Killing Floor database of Springsteen performances showing 813 live takes between its debut on 5/2/75 and 11/22/09. In concert, Clarence Clemons’ sax solo was extended and often would end with Springsteen sliding into Clemons’ arms.
On 6/19/11 at the nTelos Pavilion in Portsmouth, Virginia, Phish covered Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road," joining a long list of artists who have covered the tune that includes Melissa Etheridge, Tori Amos, Cowboy Junkies and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy with Tortoise. Phish played "Thunder Road" in tribute to E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who passed away a day earlier due to complications from a stroke. Trey – a fellow New Jersey native – handled the vocal duties and outside of some struggles with the lyrics did an admirable job. Instead of bringing out a sax player to perform Clemons' signature sax solo, Trey mimicked "The Big Man's" part on guitar. After performing “Thunder Road,” Anastasio took to the mic and told the crowd, “thanks for putting up with our little shakiness. We learned that from a place of real love for the great Clarence Clemons who passed away yesterday.” Some in the audience started screaming “Bruuuuuce” which led Trey to say, “I don’t know if you’re saying ‘Bruce’ or ‘Tube’ so we’ll play Tube.”
Phish, "Thunder Road" – 6/19/11, Portsmouth, VA