It's an invitation painted on a background of spiritual themes: redemption, salvation and the promised land. It starts out slowly and gently, as if to invite you in and then builds to a rollicking crescendo complete with all of the E street band joining in. It has no chorus.
It's about loneliness, longing and getting out of the hick-town you grew up in.
It's about letting the wind blow back your hair, even when you have very little to blow back.
The opening song of 1975's epic "Born to Run" album was named for a 1958 film noir that Bruce Springsteen never saw. He had only seen the poster and liked it. He was also openly trying to emulate one of his rock heroes Roy Orbison, whom he mentions by name in the opening verse.
In the words of Steve Van Zandt, it's a mini-movie. You can see Mary and her dress and the old beat up porch on some house in Freehold. You can see the dirty hood, the graduation gown at rags at her feet and the lonely cool before dawn.
I still sometimes get a chill on hearing the opening piano and harp chords if I haven't heard it for a while. It never fails to bring me back to 1975 going to High School with a gang of guys in Joey L's 1968 Corvair with the 8 track of Born to Run and the unfiltered tick of the distributor reving with the engine RPMs mixing with the music out of the speakers.
This, if simply by shear numbers of versions on the iPod, has to be my favorite song of all time.