A Theory: Born To Run vs. Lite Rock Radio

At every place I’ve worked that had music piped-in or an office radio, the dial was always set to “lite rock” or “adult contemporary”. Now, I don’t have a problem with music that is melodic and accessible. I actually like some of the artists who get played on those stations. I just get really annoyed hearing the same old songs day in and day out. Over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern in the Lite Rock playlists, be they piped-in or broadcasted. If Bruce Springsteen gets played at all, the selections are usually limited to “Glory Days”, “Brilliant Disguise”, or “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”. In all the places I have ever worked, “Born To Run” has never been played. Ever.

Now, “Tenth Avenue” and “Born To Run” are both from the same album. It’s no surprise that “Tenth Avenue” gets played on Lite Rock, it’s a mid-tempo catchy tune. Yet, the song never climbed past #83 on the Billboard Top 100. Meanwhile, its predecessor reached #23 on the Top 40! What is it about “Born To Run” that rubs these stations the wrong way?

I think it comes down to content. “Tenth Avenue”, in my interpretation, is an autobiographical number about Springsteen finally assembling the E Street Band after a long, hard road of false starts. Notice him sharing the initials of the song’s protagonist Bad Scooter who is “searching for his groove” as well as referencing saxophonist Clarence Clemmons as the “Big Man” joining the band. It tells the story of things finally coming into focus for a struggling musician. “Born To Run” is an altogether different animal. It’s a wild mustang ready to bolt as soon as the gates open, it’s a young couple speeding past the city limits in a clattering shit box with the windows rolled down, the finest romantic anthem for escaping from a stifling environment.

Now, Lite Rock stations still play plenty of songs about hitting the town at night and partying, so why does “Born To Run” get no airplay? Maybe it’s because “Born To Run” is about a lot more than the nightlife. Maybe they won’t play it on “YOUR #1 AT-WORK STATION!” for the same reason I won’t listen it or the album it comes from when I am driving to work. Why listen to music about youthful thirst for liberation while commuting to a place you look forward to leaving? Maybe it’s because the song isn’t about getting out of work to go party or for a night on the town, it’s about getting out of town, permanently.

This could all be over-analysis on my part, but I would be delighted if it turned out that the Lite Rock radio staff members picking these songs decided that “Born To Run” might influence or inspire employees to leave work a bit early or maybe quit on the spot if they are having a bad day. I couldn’t blame either the radio staff or their audience. I have a hard time listening to that song and sitting still. The only time I’ve ever listened to Bruce at work is after I’ve clocked out, climbed in my car, belted up and taken off (at the end of my shift of course).

I’m glad that “Born To Run” gets no play on Lite Rock radio stations that market themselves to workplaces. That’s a testament to the song’s power. Springsteen was never fond of his bandmates or fans referring to him as “The Boss”. Maybe the suits in charge of these Lite Rock stations are worried that should employees chasing “a runaway American Dream” hear about “highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive”, it might prompt them to start taking orders from a very different Boss.


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