By early 1974, Bruce Springsteen's career was stuck. Although his first two albums were critically acclaimed, he had trouble finding an audience outside the Northeast corridor where his live shows were knocking crowds dead every night.

Knowing that Columbia Records would drop him if his next release stiffed, Springsteen knew he had, as he would say in 'Thunder Road,' one last chance to make it real. Enter 'Born to Run.'

Recorded later in the summer of that same year, 'Born to Run' is Springsteen's masterpiece. Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Phil Spector are the most-often cited influences on its sound. Throw in some Duane Eddy guitar and a King Curtis-like sax solo from Clarence Clemons and you have a song that encapsulates pretty much everything great about the previous 20 years of rock n' roll history.

What sets 'Born to Run' (and 'Thunder Road,' from the same album) apart from virtually every other great anthem on our Top 100 Classic Rock Songs list is that it's not a song of outright rebellion, but of escape to a better life than the one you're destined to live, This provided an interesting irony in the mid-'80s, when there was talk of making it the official state song of New Jersey.

Even though the rest of the album had not yet been recorded, Springsteen's then-manager MIke Appel leaked the song to some Bruce-friendly FM radio stations. It quickly became popular and forced Columbia to release it as a single a few months later, when it reached No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Interestingly, 'Born to Run' is the only Springsteen song to feature Ernest "Boom" Carter on drums. Carter replaced original E Street Band drummer Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez in February 1974, but left six months later with pianist David Sancious to form a jazz fusion band called Tone. Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan replaced the duo, and remain in the band today.

'Born to Run' still features prominently at every Springsteen show in the encores with the house lights up, allowing everybody in the crowd to connect with each other, sing along, and reflect on the journey they have taken together, with this song as their guide.

Skip to: No. 100 | No. 80 | No. 60 | No. 40 | No. 20

Watch Bruce Springsteen Perform 'Born to Run'

More From Ultimate Classic Rock