Born to be Wild is the unofficial anthem of all bikers everywhere — partly due to its use in the film Easy Rider (see the video below), but also partly because, hey, it’s Born to be Wild. It’s an infectious song that just cries out for you to sing along with the chorus.
It’s the first hard rock song to use the words “heavy metal” in the lyrics — although the musical genre wasn’t yet known by that name, and in context the term clearly refers to the sound of motorbikes.
While the trebly, crunchy distorted guitar sound was something of an innovation, the historical importance of Born to be Wild is probably as much in its attitude as in its music. While My Generation claimed independence from the social structures of the day, it did it in a wholly negative way — as the sneering quality of the vocal makes clear. It was all about what The Who wanted to escape from; but Born to the Wild is about what Steppenwolf want to escape to. It’s not only one of the earliest expressions of the hard-rock desire for freedom, but also one of the most positive: “Get your motor running / Head out on the highway / Looking for adventure / and whatever comes our way”.
That positive attitude may be why the song is still so universally loved nearly half a century on: joy is not an emotion often connected with heavy metal, but Born to be Wild is essentially a joyful song. Perhaps for this reason, it’s been used in a hundred films and TV shows and covered by a thousand bands — notably Blue Öyster Cult on their monolithic live album On Your Feet or On Your Knees. Heavy metal isn’t always doom and gloom!
[Side note: I used to have a friend who was a member of the Christian Motorcyclists Association UK. I suggested to him that their anthem should be Born to be Mild, but he didn’t get it. It was a sad waste of a fine joke, if I say it myself.]