Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Born to Be Wild" (1968)

78. Steppenwolf, "Born to Be Wild" (July 20, 1968, #2)

Me, I've never found much appeal in the biker outlaw lifestyle, but by God, when this thing starts I'm ready for just about anything. It packs a whole lot of living into its little life, including arguably the origin of the term "heavy metal" (if not exactly the sound of it, at least as we have come to understand it). Countless filmmakers, first-rate and otherwise, have resorted to it when they want to deploy a great knockout punctuation mark, lending a potent moment of sheer propulsion to any scene of vaguely rebellious, anti-authoritarian bent. It's there rearing its breeze-blown hairy head in everything from Easy Rider to Dr. Dolittle 2. Video games and professional wrestlers have gotten in on it too. Written by one Mars Bonfire—as fine a pseudonym as exists in all of rock, and though he gave us little else besides this, he didn't have to—it's a rode-hard anthem that in Steppenwolf's version stands up yet to close listen: the organ and guitar remain locked in death match all through, and the drumming, as plain as it may be, nevertheless drives it forward at highway cruising speeds. The lyrics are what they are, unsurprising and slavish declarations of liberty that nevertheless thrill all the way to the roots: "Get your motor running head out on the highway," blah blah blah. The point is that they feel so terrific, particularly when school is out and summer just starting. There's little better. It's like the first kicking jolt of love, or anyway of a good drug experience. And while it has been covered and covered and covered, the original is still the best.

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