The very first LP I purchased with my own money was Steppenwolf’s self-titled first album, Steppenwolf. I was probably thirteen or fourteen at the time. I was hooked. Born to be Wild was the song that did it. I became a rocker right then and there.
Born to be Wild (1968)
This hit song, destined to become a rock classic and a favorite among bikers, was the first to include the phrase “heavy metal thunder,” and as we know, “heavy metal” later became a commonly used term for hard rock.
Born to be Wild was featured in the 1969 movie Easy Rider, a counterculture classic starring Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda as bikers who ride from Los Angeles to New Orleans. Another Steppenwolf song, “The Pusher,” was also used in the film.
This was written by Mars Bonfire, the stage name of Dennis Edmonton. Dennis’s brother, Jerry, was Steppenwolf’s drummer. Bonfire wrote a few other songs for Steppenwolf as well, including “Ride With Me” and “Tenderness.”
In a Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Songs list, John Kay was quoted as saying, “Every generation thinks they’re born to be wild and they can identify with that song as their anthem.”
Magic Carpet Ride (1968)
This was the second big hit for Steppenwolf and was based on a bass line bass player, Rushton Moreve, came up with. Unfortunately, he only lyrics he had managed to come up with were, “I like my job, I like my baby.”
Lead singer John Kay wrote the rest of the lyrics. He got inspired when he put the demo tape in a home stereo system he bought with the royalties from their first album. That’s where he came up with the line, “I like to dream, right between my sound machine.”
This became the second big hit for Steppenwolf, released on their second album.
The Ostrich was another one of my favorites. As a sophomore in high school English class, we had to bring in and play one of our favorite songs and then give a short talk about what it was about the song that appealed to us. For my presentation, this was the song I choose. I remember getting an excellent grade on this project.
However, that might have been simply because most of the kids in my class brought in the same song, Hotter than Hell, by KISS.
This song is essentially a condemnation of drug dealers. It is one of the first songs to deal with the harsh realities of drug use and portrays “the pusher” as a heartless criminal who is only after your money.
Hoyt Axton, an American folk music singer-songwriter wrote this song after one of his friends died of a drug overdose. Axton has written songs for many artists and genres, including Elvis Presley, The Byrds, and Three Dog Night.
Along with Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild,” this song was featured in the 1969 movie Easy Rider, starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. The film is considered a landmark of ’60s counterculture, and using this song in the film was significant because it portrayed the downside of doing drugs.
The lyrics of this song certainly “pushed” the limits as far as what was acceptable for broadcast in 1968. It was not the first song to make abundant and obvious drug references, but it was the first major release to include the phrase “God damn,” which appears in the line, “God damn the pusher man.” The following year, the Grateful Dead included this same epithet in their song “Uncle John’s Band.”