Springsteen knew that the stakes for the third album were high. Garry Tallent, the bassist in the E Street Band, recalls, "We were ready to be booted from the label." Keyboardist Roy Bittan remembers that Bruce "felt everything was on the line." Guitarist Steve Van Zandt says that if the third record "didn't make it, it seemed obvious that it was going to be the end of the record career." To make matters more difficult, Bruce's ambition was as towering as the pressure. He would not settle. Years later, he recalled, "When I did Born To Run, I thought, 'I'm going to make the greatest rock 'n' roll record ever made.' "
It took him six months during the spring and summer of 1974 to record the title track. Van Zandt now laughs at the thought of it. "Anytime you spend six months on a song, there's something not exactly going right," he says. "A song should take about three hours." But Bruce was working with classic-rock motifs and images, searching for the right balance musically and lyrically. Born To Run marked a change in Springsteen's writing style. Whereas previously it seemed as if he had a rhyming dictionary open beside him, now his lyrics became simultaneously more compact and explosive. What mattered to him was to sound spontaneous, not to be spontaneous. "Spontaneity," he said, in 1981, "is not made by fastness. Elvis, I believe, did like 30 takes of 'Hound Dog,' and you put that thing on," and it just explodes...Within weeks, Appel also sent tapes to Scott Muni at WNEW in New York, Maxanne Sartori at WBCN in Boston, and Kid Leo (Lawrence Travagliante) at WMMS in Cleveland. To Leo: " 'Born To Run' was the essence of everything I loved about rock 'n' roll. Bruce held on to the innocence and the romance. At the same time, the music communicates frustration and a constant longing to escape." Leo played the song every Friday afternoon at 5:55; one fan remembers it as the start to the weekend happy hour. Nearly two dozen more stations had it by the new year. All this exposure, with no record in sight, made the record company nervous. When listeners heard something they liked, they usually wanted to buy it right away. But in this case, hearing the song on the radio helped build anticipation for the album...
He almost didn't release it. But Jon Landau, who had stepped in as a producer, helped persuade him to let go. According to writer Dave Marsh, Landau called Springsteen and said, "Look, you're not supposed to like it. You think Chuck Berry sits around listening to 'Maybelline'? And when he does hear it, don't you think he wishes a few things could be changed? Now c'mon, it's time to put the record out." The album appeared in 1975, and it launched Springsteen toward mega-stardom, getting him on the covers of Time and Newsweek simultaneously. Reviewing the album in Rolling Stone, Greil Marcus proclaimed, "It is a magnificent album that pays off on every bet ever placed on him—a '57 Chevy running on melted down Crystals records that shuts down every claim that has been made. And it should crack his future wide open."
Born To Run, song and album, fulfilled its destiny. By fusing the pop sounds of the 1950s and 1960s to the generational desires of the 1970s, it defined its time and transcended it. Even Springsteen eventually came around to appreciate what he had accomplished. In 2005, on the 30th anniversary of the album's release, he admitted that "[i]t's embarrassing to want so much, and to expect so much from music, except sometimes it happens—the Sun Sessions, Highway 61, Sgt. Peppers, the Band, Robert Johnson, Exile on Main Street, Born To Run—whoops, I meant to leave that one out."