Thunder Road (song)

"Thunder Road" is a 1975 song written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen, that became the opening track on his breakthrough album Born to Run. One of the artist's most popular songs, while never released as a single, "Thunder Road" is ranked as one of Springsteen's greatest songs and one of the top rock songs in history. It is No. 111 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list,[1] and also the 103rd best ranked song on critics' all-time lists according to Acclaimed Music.

"Thunder Road"
Song by Bruce Springsteen
from the album Born to Run
ReleasedAugust 25, 1975 (1975-08-25)
RecordedJuly 16, 1975 (completed)
StudioThe Record Plant, New York City
Songwriter(s)Bruce Springsteen
Music video
"Thunder Road" on YouTube

Composition and recordingEdit

"Thunder Road" was written by Springsteen while at his living room piano in Long Branch, New Jersey.[2] In October 1974, it existed as a solo recording, "Chrissie's Song", that included the line, "leave what you've lost, leave what's grown cold, Thunder Road".[3] By early 1975, Springsteen had combined lyrics from another composition, "Walking in the Street", forming a new song, "Wings for Wheels", which he debuted on February 5, 1975, at a benefit for a local club, The Main Point, radio broadcast in the Philadelphia area, and featuring four yet-to-be-released Born to Run songs. Still unsatisfied, he finished dismantling "Walking in the Street", by importing its main coda into "Wings for Wheels" as the instrumental ending, now calling it "Thunder Road". Springsteen stated at a 1978 concert that the name of his song had been inspired by seeing a poster of the 1958 Robert Mitchum film Thunder Road, though he did not see it.[4]

On April 13, 1975, music critic and record producer Jon Landau officially joined the album's production team, marking the start of a life-long professional relationship.[5] At Landau's suggestion, production was moved from 914 Sound Studios to Record Plant studios in Manhattan. When sessions began on April 18, Jimmy Iovine, fresh from recording John Lennon's "Walls and Bridges", replaced Louis Lahav (who returned to Israel in March) as engineer.[6] Bruce later describes as a "brilliant imposter" and a "young studio dog with fastest learning curve I've ever seen".[7] After three intensive days (April 18, 19 and 23) working on "Thunder Road", nothing further was noted in studio logs until July 15–16, when final overdubs and mixing were done.[3]

In his autobiography, Bruce Springsteen says he loosely envisioned Born to Run as a series of vignettes, following its character throughout the day, with "Thunder Road" serving as an "invitation" to the album and opening with a harmonica that suggests the beginning of a "new day".[7][8][9] Springsteen also describes Landau as an "astute arranger and editor" who "guarded against overplaying and guided our record toward a more streamlined sound".[10] Speaking to author Brian Hiatt about "Thunder Road" in 2005, Landau states it "was fantastic, but it was a little unwieldy, a little unfocused, a little more like a jam piece. … I remember talking with Bruce about a few ideas about how to just reshuffle the deck a little bit, and keep the song building from the very beginning right through the end."[5]

Lyrics and musicEdit

The lyrics to "Thunder Road" describe a young woman named Mary, her boyfriend, and their "one last chance to make it real". Musically, the song opens with a quiet piano (Roy Bittan) and harmonica (Springsteen) introduction, meant, as Springsteen said years later in the Wings for Wheels documentary, as a signifier that something was about to happen.[citation needed] The title phrase is not used until the middle section of the song. After the closing line, there is a tenor saxophone and Fender Rhodes duet played by Clarence Clemons and Bittan in the instrumental coda.[citation needed]

In this song, Springsteen mentions Roy Orbison "singing for the lonely" on the radio. Orbison, one of whose best-known songs is "Only the Lonely" (1960), was a huge influence on Springsteen.[11]

On July 17, 2021, after 46 years, Jon Landau, Springsteen's longtime manager and co-producer of Born to Run, said the line "Mary's dress waves" was corrected to read "Mary's dress sways" on It was referred to as a "typo."[12]

During Springsteen's writing of the lyrics to "Thunder Road", instead of "skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets", he had written, "skeletons found by exhumed shallow graves". Max Weinberg convinced Springsteen to move away from the darker lyrics and stay consistent with the blue collar spirit of the album.[13]


In 2004, it was ranked No. 1 on the list of the "885 All-Time Greatest Songs" compiled by WXPN (the University of Pennsylvania's public radio station).[14] The song came in at No. 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.

It is ranked No. 111 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.[15] It is also ranked number 3 on the magazine's list of his best songs.[16] According to Acclaimed Music, it is the 103rd most celebrated song in popular music history.[17]

It reached No. 5 as its highest position on radio airplay in France.[18]

Live performance historyEdit

During the 1974 to 1977 Born to Run tours, "Thunder Road" was always played by Springsteen accompanied only by Roy Bittan's piano and Danny Federici's glockenspiel, 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".[citation needed]

In concerts during the 1980s, the coda of the song was stretched out to showcase E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Clemons and Springsteen would charge at each other from opposite ends of the stage, with Springsteen sliding into Clemons in an embrace.[citation needed]

The early 1990s "Other Band" Tour performed the song on acoustic guitar with an organ in the background; this arrangement is documented on the 1993 concert video and album In Concert/MTV Plugged.[citation needed]

The song then disappeared from Springsteen concerts until emerging again in 1999 in the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Reunion Tour, where it was played at a significantly slower tempo than the studio version while Springsteen pointed to people he knew or to females in the front rows. An example of such a performance can be found in the 2001 release Live in New York City. Although played fairly regularly on 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.[citation needed]

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 died the previous day. On June 18, 2008, Springsteen performed the song, with acoustic guitar, for a Russert memorial event in Washington DC via tape-delayed satellite.[19]

On November 7, 2016, Springsteen performed the song at a Hillary Clinton presidential election rally in Philadelphia.[20]

In 2016 a fan made a video compilation of Springsteen performing "Thunder Road" over 41 years. The video illustrates how Springsteen's performance of the song has changed over the years.[21]



"Thunder Road" is a classic rock staple and has been covered by artists such as Eric Church, Melissa Etheridge, Cowboy Junkies, Badly Drawn Boy, Brazilian singer Renato Russo, Frank Turner, Tori Amos, Brian Vander Ark (Live at Eddie's Attic), Kevin Rowland, Nate Ruess during his Grand Romantic world tour, 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".[citation needed]

Michael Chabon referenced "Thunder Road" in his 1988 novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. "We were discussing Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen. I said that it was the most Roman Catholic record album ever made. 'Look what you've got,' I said. 'You've got Mary dancing like a vision across the porch while the radio plays...."[22]

In a 2010 interview, Stephen Merchant stated that the script for the film Cemetery Junction was loosely based upon the lyrics of "Thunder Road".[23]

In 2011 a limited, signed, letterpressed, handbound chapbook with the lyrics of "Thunder Road" along with Nick Hornby's essay on the song was released. (26 copies were signed by both, Bruce Springsteen and Nick Hornby, 200 copies were signed by Hornby only.)[24]

In 2016 actor, writer and director Jim Cummings released a comedy/drama film called Thunder Road, which includes an extensive scene depicting Cummings dressed as a policeman at his mother's funeral singing along to "Thunder Road", playing on his daughter's pink boombox. It won the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.[25]


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.[26] 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, before appearing on its namesake album The Promise, released in 2010.[citation needed]


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[27] Silver 200,000 
United States (RIAA)[28] Platinum 1,000,000 

  Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ "Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs". Rolling Stone. September 15, 2021. Retrieved September 23, 2021.
  2. ^ Sheffield, Brian; Hiatt, David; Browne, David; Fricke, Jon; Dolan, Thomas; Walsh, Simon; Vozick-Levinson, Patrick; Doyle, Andy; Greene, Will; Hermes, Rob (December 11, 2018). "100 Greatest Bruce Springsteen Songs". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 13, 2020.
  3. ^ a b Heylin, Clinton (2012). E STREET SHUFFLE The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd. p. 240. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  4. ^ Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - Thunder Road, archived from the original on June 28, 2011, retrieved January 13, 2020
  5. ^ a b Hiatt, Brian (March 31, 2019). "Exclusive: How Bruce Springsteen Created 'Thunder Road'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 13, 2020.
  6. ^ Heylin, Clinton (2012). E STREET SHUFFLE The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd. p. 80. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  7. ^ a b Springsteen, Bruce (September 27, 2016). Born to run (First Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.). New York. pp. 220. ISBN 978-1-5011-4151-5. OCLC 939532140.
  8. ^ Kirkpatrick, Rob (2007). The Words and Music of Bruce Springsteen. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-275-98938-5.
  9. ^ "Behind The Song: Bruce Springsteen, "Thunder Road" « American Songwriter". American Songwriter. October 21, 2019. Retrieved January 13, 2020.
  10. ^ Springsteen, Bruce (September 27, 2016). Born to run (First Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.). New York. pp. 215–216. ISBN 978-1-5011-4151-5. OCLC 939532140.
  11. ^ Springsteen, Bruce. South By Southwest Keynote Address. Austin, TX. March 15. 2012. [1]
  12. ^ Willman, Chris (July 18, 2021). "Bruce Springsteen's Manager Says Lyrics to 'Thunder Road' Will Be Corrected… After 46 Years". Variety. Retrieved July 19, 2021.
  13. ^ Spiardi, Dana (August 30, 2015). "Roaring Down Thunder Road: Darlin', You Know Just What I'm Here For". No Depression. Retrieved June 7, 2022.
  14. ^ "885 All Time Greatest Songs". Retrieved November 12, 2006.
  15. ^ "Thunder Road ranked #111 on Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs List". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 23, 2021.
  16. ^ "Thunder Road ranked #3 on 100 Best Bruce Springsteen Songs List". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 21, 2020.
  17. ^ "Thunder Road 103rd most acclaimed song". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
  18. ^ "Thunder Road". Retrieved April 11, 2022.
  19. ^ "Russert tribute: Family, friends and the Boss". Associated Press. June 19, 2008. Retrieved January 12, 2020 – via
  20. ^ Kreps, Daniel (November 8, 2016). "See Bruce Springsteen Play Solo, Rip Trump at Clinton Rally". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 12, 2020.
  21. ^ "Watch Bruce Springsteen Perform 'Thunder Road' Over 41 Years of Performances". Billboard. Retrieved January 13, 2020.
  22. ^ Chabon, Michael. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1988. Reprinted First Harper Perennial, 2005. p 151.
  23. ^ "BBC Radio 2 – Dermot O'Leary: 09/01/10". BBC. January 9, 2010. Retrieved December 4, 2010.
  24. ^ "The book I just published for Bruce Springsteen and Nick Hornby". May 31, 2011.
  25. ^ "SXSW Film Review: 'Thunder Road'". March 13, 2018. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  26. ^ "The Promise". Archived from the original on June 30, 2009. Retrieved June 4, 2009.
  27. ^ "British single certifications – Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved June 21, 2022.
  28. ^ "American single certifications – Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved May 25, 2022.

External linksEdit