Album: Steppenwolf/ Music from the Easy Rider Soundtrack
Writer: Mars Bonfire (a.k.a Dennis Edmonton, a.k.a. Dennis Eugene McCrohan)
Born to Be Wild is an anthem to motorcycle clubs and, for that matter, many heavy metal fans. It is one of the songs by Steppenwolf to appear in the most famous motorcycle movie ever made, Easy Rider, and most people would not be able to name the other, which is The Pusher. In fact, most people would probably have a hard time naming any other Steppenwolf songs at all, although they probably are very familiar with a few of them. But when they hear those opening lyrics, “Get your motor runnin, head out on the highway” they are immediately rockin out. Especially if they happen to be driving. It’s a song you can’t hear without first cranking up the volume and then pushing down on the accelerator.
The first two singles from Steppenwolf’s self-titled debut album went nowhere, but Born to Be Wild, the third, went to no. 2 in August of 1968, spending 13 weeks on the charts. It then appeared in Easy Rider, cementing its place in the classic rock canon.
Other Steppenwolf songs that made the charts were Magic Carpet Ride, a classic rock radio staple, which went to no. 3 (November, 1968), and Rock Me (no. 10, April, 1969), Monster (no. 39, February, 1970), Move Over (no. 35, May, 1970) Straight Shootin’ Woman (no. 29, October, 1974), along with several other which didn’t quite crack the top 40.
The song they are most known for, the emblem of “counterculture” and the biker lifestyle, was not always meant to be anything of the sort. Steppenwolf, in its original form was far from a heavy metal band, and in its final form was still not what most die-hard metal fans would call heavy metal, but may have ironically coined the name in the song with the line “Heavy Metal Thunder.”
They were formed from a folk band called Sparrow, originally out of Toronto. Born to Be Wild, actually written by Mars Bonfire, the stage name for Dennis Edmonton who, with his brother Jerry was a part of Sparrow which formed out of Jack London and the Sparrows Sparrow evolved into Steppenwolf, with Jerry Edmonton as drummer, while Dennis started his solo career under the name Mars Bonfire.
Born to Be Wild was originally meant to be a ballad! Still, their early music had some edge, and they defined a sound for themselves that became an influence to heavy rockers the world over.
Steppenwolf got their name from the Hermann Hesse novel, and their lyrics often borrowed heavily from literature. For all the counterculture talk, they were vehemently anti-drug and probably would not have been at home in a biker club.
Not only did the song originally have no chance of being a biker anthem, nor even a hard-rock song, it was never meant to be in the finished soundtrack of Easy Rider.
In the movie, Born to Be Wild is the second song, starting to play just after The Pusher ends. The Pusher was an anti-drug song, by the way, but this didn’t stop it from being banned in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where Steppenwolf performed. Of all things, they banned the song not because of any drug reference, but because it said “god damn” several times. John Kay, the singer, decided not to sing the lines, but he got the crowd to sing them for him.
Born to Be Wild appears in the Easy Rider movie with the opening credits, while Wyatt and Billy are riding their motorcycles. You can watch the opening scene and listen to the song below. If not for the song, there would have been very little going on in the scene. Yet, originally, Dennis Hopper used it in the rough cut of the film just as a placeholder, and meanwhile, Peter Fonda was hoping Crosby, Stills, and Nash would do the soundtrack. The song, obviously, stuck. No offense to any CSN fans, but, that scene would have sucked without Born to be Wild.
The song has appeared in other movie soundtracks as well, including:
- Coming Home (1978)
- Lost in America (1985)
- Problem Child (1990)
- A Bug’s Life (1998)
- Borat (2006)
- Mr. Bean’s Holiday (2007)
It seems everybody identifies with it!
The song has also been covered by Wilson Picket, who almost made the top forty himself with the song, as well as Etta James, Bruce Springsteen, Ozzy Osbourne, Blue Oyster Cult, INXS, Link Wray, Status Quo, and Kim Wilde.
In 2002, Steppenwolf was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, way better than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Easy Rider Opening Credit Scene with Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf
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