The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #56: Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #56: Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen.

There are some songs that when they are played take you back to an exact moment in time. You instantly remember every single aspect of where you were, how you felt, who was with you….everything! “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen is one of those “instant memory” songs for me. Let me tell you the story.

A long time ago, in the life I used to lead before meeting my wife and becoming a father, I was set up on a blind date with a young woman who was a nurse at our local hospital. When we were introduced, I thought that she looked a lot like the actress, Meg Ryan, during her “When Harry Met Sally” days. This girl was very sweet and funny and we got along just fine for awhile. Eventually, it became clear that I wasn’t her idea of a forever love and we ended up breaking up. I don’t miss her or our time together but, I am thankful to her because of one memory I have been able to keep. This is that memory.

We were both still in our twenties at the time of our meeting. Neither of us had our own house yet; I shared a house with another guy. She still lived with her parents in their family home. For me, however, going to her family home is where this memory begins. Her family home was located in an area that had yet to fall under the developer’s plow blades. It was all still farmland and forest. Pristine. Quiet. Peaceful. In order to get to her house, I would have to turn off of the main highway (*which was Hwy #57, for my local peeps) and drive down a narrow laneway for about one hundred metres. This laneway was bordered by a thick growth of trees on both sides so, to drive down the laneway was akin to driving into the neck of a bottle. Once I reached the end of the laneway, Her parent’s property opened up into a circle; with her house in the centre, a barn, off to the right and a pool just to the back of the house. The property was encircled in trees, just like the laneway was. When you were inside the circle, it was like the rest of the world didn’t exist. It just all seemed so tranquil and private; completely cut off from the rest of the world.

Because she was a fairly young nurse, my friend used to often have to work the overnight shifts at the hospital (so the nurses with young children could be home with them). So, we developed a routine whereby I would show up at her house at a little after 10:00pm and I would drive her to work for her eleven o’clock shift. Try to imagine the scene; it would be pitch black by the time I would arrive. The only source of light would be from the windows of her house or the beams of my headlights. The night sky would be filled with stars. It would be perfectly still, except for the buzz of insects and the odd croak of a frog. Then, into the beams of my headlights she would appear. She would always twirl back toward the door to say good night to her parents. Her hair would always do a little flip. Her nurses uniform would sway. I would watch it all from the car and think about how lucky I was. Then she would slide into the front seat and our brief time together would begin.

“Screen door slams. Mary’s dress sways.

Like a vision, she dances across the porch

while 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.”

There is just something about country darkness. Away from the artificial glow of the city lights, you can see the Heavens for free, each and every night. On those nights, when we would drive away together under a sea of stars, it all seemed perfect. Looking back, I know that it was the feeling of the beauty of those moments, when the rest of Life seemed to melt away and there was nothing but the night sky for company, that are what I really remember and treasure. We were young and had no real responsibilities, except to share that moment together. It was as free as I ever felt.

“Well, I’ve got this guitar and I’ve learned how to make it talk,

My car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk,

From your front porch to my front seat,

The door is open but the ride ain’t free.

And I know you’re lonely for words that I ain’t spoken

But tonight we’ll be free, all the promises’ll be broken.”

As it turned out, we usually ended up driving out of the country and from under the stars, into the city, where I would drop her off….a peck on the cheek, my reward…..and then I would watch her walk into the hospital for her shift and I would drive home again…alone, again. Obviously, a relationship like that has a shelf life. Like the mix tape I got years earlier from another girl, sometimes there is one nugget of happiness that we all get to keep from the people we meet during the course of our lives. For me, watching her come out of her house, in the starlight, in my car light, is the memory that I carry. Like all of the young ladies who came before my wife, I value each of them for helping me learn and grow as a man and as a human so that I would be ready when the right one… true love….finally came along. I am very lucky. I always have been. To know good people is important. I have no idea whatever happened to this girl with regards to the rest of her life but, I hope she is happy and doing well. She is deserving of that. She was nice to me but not right for me and that is ok. It happens. But, because of it, every time I hear the opening verse of “Thunder Road”, I am taken back to another time and another place, under the stars, at peace.

“Thunder Road” was the lead track on Bruce Springsteen first big album entitled, “Born To Run”. He has stated that the twinkling piano keys and the opening notes of the harmonica were meant to act as if a wonderful story was about to begin and the listener as being invited inside to hear it. Like many songs of his, Springsteen’s ability to create vivid scenes with his words was unparalleled. There is magic in his story of two young lovers daring to dream of a better life and willing themselves to start that journey together. In all of his songs; especially one like “Thunder Road”, his characters always seem very realistic. I never get the sense that he is writing about the shiny people of the world. He is writing about everyday folks, like you and me. I guess that is one of the reasons I always associate “Thunder Road” with my own life because, at the time, I was hopeful that my young girlfriend and I were starting out on a journey to something special, each night as I drove through the neck of that bottle to get to her house. That the promise of that possibility was broken is not that important in the end. Like any good song or photograph, it was a feeling of what may be….that is frozen forever in time. I don’t need to dwell on that moment in my mind’s eye because where I ended up was where I was supposed to be. But, on those odd occasions when I do hear the opening notes of “Thunder Road”, it always takes me back and I always smile in reply.

Without further delay, here is a gorgeous live version of “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen from way back when he was just starting to tour in support of the “Born To Run” album. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Bruce Springsteen, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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