"Born to Be Wild" is a rock song first performed by the band Steppenwolf, written by Mars Bonfire. It is often used in popular 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). However, the claim may be false as bands such as Blue Cheer had recorded songs with a heavier rock sound while "Born to Be Wild" incorporated elements of classic rock music.
"Born to Be Wild" was written by Mars Bonfire (who also wrote several other songs for Steppenwolf) as a ballad. Writer 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 in 1967 by Steppenwolf in a sped-up and rearranged version, that the All Music Guide'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."
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 and Nash to do the movie's soundtrack. Eventually, it became clear that the song was well suited for the movie.
Steppenwolf's version of "Born to Be Wild" has been used in several movies, trailers, TV shows and commercials, including:
^Ian Inglis (2003). Wallflower Press, ed. Popular Music and Film. p. 13. ISBN978-1903364710. "Steppenwolf's 'Born To Be Wild', a gritty, hard rock song that quickly became an anthem for defiant individualism."
^Barney Hoskyns (1996). Viking, ed. Waiting for the sun: the story of the Los Angeles music scene. p. 172. "The brilliant soundtrack, including the Byrds' 'Wasn't Born to Follow', Steppenwolf's proto-metal 'Born to be Wild', and Jimi Hendrix's 'If Six Was Nine', helped to set the film in a kind of outlaw-rock'n'roll context."
^Robert Dimery (2011). Hachette UK, ed. 1001 Songs: You Must Hear Before You Die. "Steppenwolf's proto-metal "Born to Be Wild," heard over the opening credits of Easy Rider, which made U.S. No. 2 for three weeks"
^Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (1993)