Mars Bonfire has earned himself rock 'n' roll immortality, not to mention lifetime royalty checks, for penning Steppenwolf's inescapable classic "Born to Be Wild," that eternal anthem of would-be bikers and weekend hellraisers worldwide.
The power of the song has been blunted over the years, thanks to endless cover versions (including a duet between Ozzy Osbourne and Miss Piggy on the Kermit Unpigged album), and ironic use in sitcoms, films, and TV commercials. A listen to Bonfire's own recording of "Born to Be Wild" on this solo outing can remind one just how powerful the song really is.
Bonfire's take is druggier than the balls-out Steppenwolf hit, a slippery psychedelic tone without the dramatic dynamics and steamroller rhythm. It's still an upbeat rocker with twisting fuzz guitar leads, but Bonfire's vocals suggest a college kid dropping acid at a house party, while John Kay makes the same lyric into a threat. Bonfire didn't possess the macho bombast of his ex-bandmates; his self-titled debut is a lost masterpiece of introspective psych-pop full of great tunes.
The lead track, "Ride With Me, Baby" lays out everything on his mind with a groovy, dirty, Sunset Strip vibe. Bonfire manages to get out lines like "the beautiful thing has fallen thru with cancer, death, deformity" without sounding clumsy, and he catalogs his worries, woes, and hopes over six minutes of overdriven organ and guitar. "Night Time's for You" is another great rocker, a rather sinister celebration of the dark, while "Sad Eyes" and "Christina's Arms" are sweeter pop numbers.
Even at his most sensitive, Bonfire never drifts into the ether, keeping things grounded in hard rock instrumentation, so that even ballads like "Tenderness" and "How Much Older Will We Grow?" are loud, full-band affairs. Bonfire's talent as a songwriter was obvious to Steppenwolf, as they would go on to raid this album for a full four songs over the course of their career ("Tenderness," "Ride With Me, Baby," and "The Night Time's for You" all appeared on For Ladies Only).
This debut was repackaged a year later with a different track order as Faster Than the Speed of Life, but Bonfire was unable to net any hits of his own, and he retreated into private life.
by Fred Beldin
1. Ride With Me, Baby - 6:07
2. Born To Be Wild - 2:58
3. Sad Eyes - 2:25
4. Lady Moon Walker - 2:45
5. Tenderness - 4:26
6. How Much Older Will We Grow? - 5:47
7. So Alive With Love - 2:45
8. In Christina's Arms - 3:15
9. Little Girl Lost - 2:35
10.Time To Fly - 2:32
11.Night Time's For You - 2:16
All compositions by Mars Bonfire.
*Mars Bonfire - Guitar, Vocals
1968 Steppenwolf - Steppenwolf / The 2nd