Today I am featuring a song that is in my Top 10 all time favorite songs and by far my favorite Springsteen song. It is the song Thunder Road and if you have never heard this song before, today is your lucky day because this song is a piece of America.
From the opening harmonica and piano part, to the final line, through to orgasmic sound of the band at the end, it has all the elements of a great song. It is a song that will be played 100 years from now.
I can play and sing it on guitar, but I am still yet to learn the intro on piano. Once I do though, watch out!
This song contains what I feel is the best song lyric ever: “You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright.” I guess that lyric says it all.
I hope you enjoy the song as much as I do!
Album version of the song.
Live performance of the song from 1975.
Live performance of the song from 1976.
Live performance of the song from 1985.
Live performance of the song from 2002.
Live performance of the song from 2012.
How to play Thunder Road on piano.
“Thunder Road,” was written and performed by Bruce Springsteen, and is the opening track on his 1975 breakthrough album Born to Run. It is ranked as one of Springsteen’s greatest songs, and often appears on lists of the top rock songs of all time. Rolling Stone magazine placed it as #86 on its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
The song underwent considerable evolution as it was written, with an early version titled “Wings for Wheels” first performed at The Main Point in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, on February 5, 1975. The phrase “wings for wheels,” would eventually be used in the final version of the song’s lyrics. Other early versions also mention a girl named “Angelina” or “Christina” rather than the studio version’s “Mary.” Among other changes, including entirely different lyrics for some verses, “Wings for Wheels” originally concluded with “This is a town full of losers, and baby I was born to win,” instead of the studio version’s ending, “It’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling out of here to win.”
The lyrics to “Thunder Road” describe a young woman named Mary, her boyfriend, and their “one last chance to make it real.” Thematically, it reads as a nostalgic companion piece to “Born to Run“.
Musically, the song opens with a quiet piano and harmonica introduction, meant, as Springsteen said years later in the Wings For Wheels documentary, as a welcoming to both the track and the album, a signifier that something was about to happen. Eschewing a traditional verse-and-chorus structure, the song’s arrangement gradually ramps up in instrumentation, tempo and intensity. The title phrase is not used until the middle section of the song, and then is not used again. Finally, after the closing line there is a saxophone-and-Fender Rhodes duet in the instrumental coda.
The song’s title comes from the Robert Mitchum film Thunder Road. Springsteen declared that he was somehow inspired by the movie despite not having seen it. As he says: “I never saw the movie, I only saw the poster in the lobby of the theater.”
At the end of the “VH1 Storytellers”-Show Springsteen concluded: “So this was my… it was my big, my big invitation to my audience, to myself, [chuckles] to uh… anybody who was interested. Uh… my invitation to a long and earthly, very earthly journey. Hopefully in the company of uh, someone you love, people you love, and in search of a home you can feel a part of. Good luck and good evening.”
In 2004, it was ranked #1 on the list of the “885 All-Time Greatest Songs” compiled by WXPN (the University of Pennsylvania’s public radio station). Rolling Stone magazine placed it as #86 on its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” The song came in at #226 in Q magazine’s list of the “1001 Greatest Songs Ever” in 2003, in which they described the song as “best for pleading on the porch.” Julia Roberts, when asked which song lyric described her most accurately, chose “Thunder Road”‘s “You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright.” The song is featured in the book 31 Songs by British author Nick Hornby. “Thunder Road” has also been ranked as the 166th best song of all time, as well as the #3 song of 1975, in an aggregation of critics’ lists at acclaimedmusic.net. In 2010, it was ranked at #2 on Rock-U’s (Goom Radio) Top 500 Songs of All Time.
“Thunder Road” is one of Springsteen’s most performed songs and an audience favorite, with the artist logging more than eight hundred performances of the hit by the end of 2009. During the 1974 to 1977 Born to Run tours, “Thunder Road” was always played by Springsteen with nothing but a piano accompaniment, an example of which is found on Hammersmith Odeon London ’75. Not until later in the tour did “Thunder Road” make full-band appearances. In the 1978 tour “Thunder Road” usually opened with Springsteen telling a story as to why he wrote the song, and it might segue out of some other more dirge-like song such as “Racing in the Street“.
In concert in the 1980s, the song was often played to close out the first set; the coda was stretched out to showcase E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, then Clemons and Springsteen would charge at each other from opposite ends of the stage, with Springsteen sliding into Clemons in an embrace.
The song then disappeared from Springsteen concerts until emerging again in 1999 in the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Reunion Tour, where “Thunder Road” was played as celebratory from start to finish, at a significantly slower tempo than the more upbeat studio version, with Springsteen pointing to people he knew or to attractive females in the front rows during the extended outro. An example of such a performance can be found in the 2001 release Live in New York City. Although played fairly regularly on the The Rising Tour as on Live in Barcelona, the song then rarely appeared on the Devils & Dust Tour, this time on piano. The song was not performed during the Sessions Band Tour; it reappeared on 2007-2008 Magic Tour and continued to be played regularly on the 2009 Working on a Dream Tour.
On June 14, 2008, on stage at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Springsteen dedicated a performance of the song to political broadcast analyst Tim Russert, a longtime Springsteen fan who had suddenly died the previous day. On June 18, 2008, Springsteen performed the song, with acoustic guitar, for the Russert memorial event in Washington via satellite/tape.
“Thunder Road” is a classic rock staple and has been covered by artists such as Melissa Etheridge, Cowboy Junkies, Badly Drawn Boy, Brazilian singer Renato Russo, Frank Turner, Tori Amos, Kevin Rowland, Matt Nathanson, Mary Lou Lord and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy with Tortoise. (Tortoise’s version is interpreted in minor key.) Adam Duritz of Counting Crows often sings large portions of the lyrics to “Thunder Road” in the middle of their song “Rain King.”
In the film Explorers, the main characters’ space vessel is named “Thunder Road” after the song.
In 2008, years before ideas for his film Cemetery Junction were put down in writing, Stephen Merchant also mentioned his ambitions for the song on his self-titled BBC Radio Show: “The more you listen to it the more you realize just how extraordinar(il)y it is put together, and how it builds, and how it’s just so cinematic. And that final line when he declares ‘It’s a town full of losers and we’re pulling out of here to win’, oh, goodness me! I’ve always wanted to make a movie of that song (…) I don’t mean literally, I just mean a film that can invoke the spirit of that song. Later, in an interview with BBC Radio 2’s Danny Wallace on 9 January 2010, Merchant stated the script for Cemetery Junction was loosely based upon the lyrics of the Bruce Springsteen song “Thunder Road”. This sentiment was repeated by Gervais on 12 April 2010 when he appeared on The Graham Norton Show.
In the novel High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, the protagonist Rob Fleming ranks “Thunder Road” as one of his five best side one track ones.
In the Sonny with a Chance Christmas special, the sketch titled The Real Princesses of New Jersey mentions Thunder Road when Sterling Knight‘s character yells “I’m listening to Thunder Road! You come over here!”.
A FoxTrot strip has the song playing on Peter’s stereo, with a loud blast of “OH, THUNDER ROAD” sending Peter flying into his bedroom wall when Jason takes off the mute button (FoxTrot has repeatedly paid homage to Springsteen and his work).
Sometime after the release of Born to Run, Springsteen wrote a follow-up to “Thunder Road” called “The Promise”, which explicitly mentions the first song by name but reveals a far more pessimistic outlook on the narrator’s life and future. Unreleased for years, “The Promise” gained considerable legend for its 1978 Tour performances; it finally materialized in a re-recorded version on 1999’s 18 Tracks. “The Promise” can also been seen and heard on disc two of the DVD release of Live in New York City.
by Bruce Springsteen
The screen door slams
Marys dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside
Darling you know just what Im here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking
That maybe we aint that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You aint a beauty, but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me
You can hide `neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a savior to rise from these streets
Well now Im no hero
All the redemption I can offer, girl
Is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now?
Except roll down the window
And let the wind blow
Back your hair
Well the nights busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back
Heavens waiting on down the tracks
Oh-oh come take my hand
Riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh-oh thunder road, oh thunder road oh thunder road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey I know it’s late we can make it if we run
Oh thunder road, sit tight take hold
Well I got this guitar
And I learned how to make it talk
And my cars out back
If you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The doors open but the ride it aint free
And I know you’re lonely
For words that I aint spoken
But tonight well be free
All the promisesll be broken
There were ghosts in the eyes
Of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road
In the skeleton frames of burned out chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they’re gone
On the wind, so mary climb in
Its a town full of losers
And Im pulling out of here to win.