A Song A Day – Born To Be Wild


It is a rare instance in music that a song gets to define a genre. One such case is the song Born to be Wild, by the Canadian band Steppenwolf; that gave the name heavy metal to the musical genre. The term had earlier been used by the counter-cultural writer William S. Burroughs in his novel The Soft Machine to describe a character as “Uranian Willy, the Heavy Metal Kid”. A story goes that the song was written to be a sung as a ballad (If this seems unbelievable, listen to their first single “A girl I knew”). Steppenwolf tried it, but it just didn’t work. So they decided to give the song a hard edge with loud drums, distorted guitars and from the second verse of the lyrics, it was defined as a heavy metal song.

Born to Be Wild was written by Dennis Edmonton aka Mars Bonfire who was a member of the band The Sparrows, a predecessor to Steppenwolf. Having just split from the Band, Dennis initially did not want to offer the song to Steppenwolf. He approached other bands such as The Human Expression but they refused to perform it. Finally, Mars approached Steppenwolf, which still had his brother as their drummer, and they decided to record it. When the song released in 1968, it became an instant hit reaching #2 on the Billboard Top 100 singles chart. The song has since become a legend and in 2009, VH1 listed it as the 53rd best hard rock song of all times.

In 1969, the song was used in the soundtrack of the cult-classic movie Easy Rider. The movie was about two wandering bikers who travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans in search of America. The song has since been associated with bikes so much that during the 2008 Harley Davidson anniversary Bruce Springsteen covered this song to end his show.

Having attained such a cult status, it is not a surprise that the song has been covered by a lot of bands.  The major bands that have covered this song include Slayer, INXS, Blue Oyster Cult and Ozzy Osbourne. Although I did not particularly like the Slayer cover, the cover by Blue Oyster Cult is a good listen. Ozzy Osbourne has a cover with the Muppet Show character Miss Piggy which was released on the CD Kermit Unpigged. The song has also been used a lot of movies after Easy Rider most notably Dr. Dolittle 2, Speechless, Armed and Dangerous, Mr Bean’s Holiday, Wild America, One Crazy Summer.

The song has over the years become a roaring symbol of freedom, danger and adventure. So the next time you are on a road trip, you know which song to be having on your ipod!

Steppenwolf – Born to be Wild

Kim Wilde – Born to Be Wilde

Blue Oyster Cult’s version

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Greetings from Tim. 🙂