By 1975, 26-year-old Bruce Springsteen had two heavily promoted major-label albums behind him, but nothing approaching a popular hit. Tapped by Columbia Records as the Next Big Thing back in 1973, he’d been marketed first as the “New Dylan” and then as America’s new “Street Poet,” but unless you were a rock-journalism junkie or had been witness to one of his raucous three-hour live shows in an East Coast rock club, you’d probably never bought one of his records or even heard his name. That would all change soon, however, for the poet laureate of the Jersey Shore. On this day in 1975, the epic single “Born to Run” became Bruce Springsteen’s first-ever Top 40 hit, marking the start of his eventual transition from little-known cult figure to international superstar.
Born in 1949, in Long Branch, New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen grew up during the golden age of American rock and roll, and it was his devotion to the music of that era that marked him as a breath of fresh air during his rise to fame in the early 1970s. Writing for Rolling Stone magazine in 1973, the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs said of Springsteen, “He sort of catarrh-mumbles his ditties in a disgruntled mushmouth sorta like Robbie Robertson on Quaaludes with Dylan barfing down the back of his neck.” That was in a positive review of Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park—the first of many positive reviews to come during the legend-building phase of his career. In 1974, a Rolling Stone editor named Jon Landau, writing in Boston’s Real Paper bestowed this now-famous praise upon the Boss: “I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” One year later, Landau would co-produce Springsteen’s third album and eventually take over management of his career.
That third album was to be Springsteen’s breakthrough and an American classic, Born to Run, which another giant of rock criticism, Greil Marcus, likened to “a ’57 Chevy running on melted down Crystals records.” While “Thunder Road” and “Backstreets” from the same album may be as beloved among devoted fans as the title track, it was the Phil Spector-inspired “Born to Run” that was the first exposure most Americans got to Bruce Springsteen. Its ascent into the Top 40 on this day in 1975 was followed less than two weeks later by simultaneous cover articles for Springsteen in Time and Newsweek magazines.