One of the Boss’ most beloved albums—and the one that catapulted him from critical darling to national rock hero—was, for the most part, an instant hit with reviewers when it was released 40 years ago today. Praised (or in the case of a couple of detractors, derided) for his epic (or alternately, overly sentimental) descriptions of working class kids, most critics saw Born to Run as a harbinger of the incredible things to come from the 26-year-old kid from New Jersey. “No doubt he will make still greater studio albums than this someday,” critic John Rockwell, writing in The New York Times, opined. “But in the meantime, you owe it to yourself to buy this record.”
1. "HEARING THESE SONGS IS LIKE HEARING YOUR OWN LIFE IN MUSIC …"
Rockwell praised Springsteen's sheer talent, admitting that "it's difficult even to try to describe them in a short space":
“Sometimes his lyrics still lapse too close to self-conscious myth making but generally they epitomize urban folk poetry at its best—overflowing with pungent detail and evocative metaphors, but never tied to their sources in a way that is binding. This is poetry that contains universality through the very sureness of its concrete imagery … Hearing these songs is like hearing your own life in music, even if you never lived in New Jersey or made love under the boardwalk in Asbury Park.”
2. "THIS EFFORT REFLECTS SPRINGSTEEN AT HIS BEST."
The editors at Billboard included Born to Run as a top pick in their September 6 edition:
“Sounds like the third LP from the Asbury Park kid is going to be the magic one that lifts him into the national spotlight. This effort reflects Springsteen at his best … Songs used vary nicely tempo-wise, but overall fare comes down to putting poetic imagery of the '70s together with some good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll …Good spector-like [sic] sound on several cuts.”
3. IT'S "THE COMPLETE MONUMENT TO ROCK AND ROLL ORTHODOXY"
Writing in The Real Paper, critic Langdon Winner made it quite clear he just didn't understand what all the fuss was about: “[Springsteen] has gone to the finest pop schools. He respects his elders. He bears the finest credentials and upholds the highest standards. Like all dutiful epigone, he threatens to become the consummate bore … [Born to Run] is the complete monument to rock and roll orthodoxy.”
4. "SPRINGSTEEN MAY WELL TURN OUT TO BE ONE OF THOSE RARE SELF-CONSCIOUS PRIMITIVES WHO GETS AWAY WITH IT."
Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," begrudgingly admitted that—at times—Springsteen is actually pretty good in the role of sentimental, blue collar troubadour:
“Just how much American myth can be crammed into one song, or a dozen, about asking your girl to come take a ride. A lot, but not as much as romanticists of the doomed outsider believe. Springsteen needs to learn that operettic [sic] pomposity insults the Ronettes and that pseudotragic beautiful-loser fatalism insults us all. And around now I’d better add that the man avoids these quibbles at his best and simply runs them over the rest of the time … Springsteen may well turn out to be one of those rare self-conscious primitives who gets away with it.”
5. "BORN TO RUN WILL PROBABLY BE THE FINEST RECORD RELEASED THIS YEAR."
Much more enthusiastic: Lester Bangs at Creem, who saw the album as Springsteen's make-it-or-break-it moment:
“And as if we weren’t suspicious enough already of all run-on rhapsodic juvenile delinquents, we have another cabal of rock critics … making extravagant claims for him, backed up by one of the biggest hypes in recent memory. … "Springsteen can withstand the reactionaries, though, because once they hear this album even they are gonna be ready to ride out all cynicism with him. Because, street-punk image, bardic posture and all, Bruce Springsteen is an American archetype, and Born to Run will probably be the finest record released this year.”
6. "IT SHOULD CRACK HIS FUTURE WIDE OPEN."
To Rolling Stone's Greil Marcus, the eight-track LP was nothing short of miraculous:
“It is a magnificent album that pays off on every bet ever placed on him … And it should crack his future wide open … "Springsteen’s songs—filled with recurring images of people stranded, huddled, scared, crying, dying—take place in the space between ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Born to Lose,’ as if to say, the only run worth making is the one that forces you to risk losing everything you have. … "… There is an overwhelming sense of recognition: No, you’ve never heard anything like this before, but you understand it instantly, because this music—or Springsteen crying, singing wordlessly, moaning over the last guitar lines of ‘Born to Run,’ or the astonishing chords that follow each verse of ‘Jungleland,’ or the opening of ‘Thunder Road’—is what rock & roll is supposed to sound like.”