“Born to Be Wild” is a song first performed by the band Steppenwolf, written by Mars Bonfire. The song is often invoked in both popular and counter-culture to denote a biker appearance or attitude. It is sometimes described as the first heavy metal song, and the second verse lyric “heavy metal thunder” marks the first use of this term in rock music (although not as a description of a musical style).
“Born to Be Wild” was written by Mars Bonfire (who also wrote several other songs for Steppenwolf) as a ballad. Bonfire was previously a member of the Sparrows, the predecessor band to Steppenwolf, and his brother was Steppenwolf’s drummer. Although he initially offered the song to other bands — The Human Expression, for one — “Born to Be Wild” was first recorded by Steppenwolf in a sped-up and rearranged version that AllMusic’s Hal Horowitz described as “a roaring anthem of turbo-charged riff rock” and “a timeless radio classic as well as a slice of ’60s revolt that at once defines Steppenwolf’s sound and provided them with their shot at AM immortality.”
“Born to Be Wild” was the band’s third single off their 1968 debut album Steppenwolf and became their most successful single, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed “Born to Be Wild” at No. 129 on the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. Also in 2004, it finished at #29 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema. In 2009, it was named the 53rd best hard rock song of all time by VH1. In 2018, the song was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a new category for singles.
The song was initially released in 1968, but it was subsequently included in many compilation albums and soundtracks. The first of these was the soundtrack for the movie Easy Rider, released in 1969. Unlike the album or single version, the song on this soundtrack is accompanied by the sounds of motorcycles as an introduction (another Steppenwolf song from their first album, “The Pusher”, was also used in the film). When the movie was in production, “Born to Be Wild” was used simply as a placeholder, since Peter Fonda had wanted Crosby, Stills & Nash to do the movie’s soundtrack. Eventually, it became clear that the song was well suited for the movie.
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