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By Emma Harrison | June 4, 2024 | 0 Reply
bruce springsteen born in the usa album

Misconceptions or a blazing trail of patriotism? Sometimes things aren’t what they seem, and at first glance the flashes of red, white and blue emblazoned across the iconic cover of Born in the U.S.A., the seminal 1984 album from Bruce Springsteen, seem the epitome of patriotic sentiment.

Springsteen looks resplendent in his pristine white T-shirt and blue jeans, his red cap tucked into the back pocket in front of the backdrop of the red and white stripes of the American flag.

From behind, we don’t know that he’s “The Boss” (other than the fact that it’s on the cover of his record, of course!) and the photo taken by esteemed photographer Annie Leibovitz creates a real sense of ambiguity — this mysterious man from behind could be a rock star, a blue-collar worker or someone else entirely. There’s no doubt that there’s no image more evocative of The Boss’ blue-collar image than the cover of Born in the U.S.A.

Bruce Springsteen: 40th Anniversary ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ Vinyl Coming June 14 (Pre-Order)

The legendary photo of Bruce on the front cover is to pay homage and represent the “everyman” (and woman) — and some might argue that the tone is the antithesis of the “American Dream.” Upon the first listen, the music makes it abundantly clear, but it’s easy to see why Bruce and his fans have had to overcome misconceptions to ensure the album’s legacy is regarded as intended.

The misappropriation was magnified in particular by the US president of the time, Ronald Reagan, who misunderstood the meaning behind the music — asserting at a New Jersey campaign stop that “America’s future rests in the message of hope, in the songs of a man that so many young Americans admire, New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.”

You can understand how the sentiment was confused, the music for the title track is largely upbeat — working as a fantastic juxtaposition to the key themes of the album. Inspired by his love of honky-tonk blues as well as for his country, Born in the U.S.A. is the album that catapulted Bruce from just a rock star to one of the greatest of all time in just twelve tracks.

Click here to pick up Born in the U.S.A. 40th Anniversary Edition on translucent LP from our Rock Cellar Store

In response to Reagan’s misfire, a diplomatic Bruce Springsteen responded as follows:

“Well, I heard that the President was mentioning my name in his speech the other day, and I got to wondering what his favorite album of mine must’ve been. I don’t think it was the Nebraska album; I don’t think he’s been listening to this one.”

That may be true, but it’s easy to understand why Reagan tried to associate himself with Bruce at the time. There’s no doubt that the entity Bruce Springsteen is ultimately the poster boy for the U.S.A. — and the characters that we are introduced to throughout the album resonate as they, too, resonate with the singer/songwriter himself.

From feeling world-weary to the resignation of seeing your beloved hometown ravaged by economic decline, every stone is unturned to reflect the stories behind the working-class life, loves and tragedies.

His commitment was rewarded, and the album was both critically-acclaimed as well as a massive commercial success. It was the top-selling album of 1985 and topped the charts in nine countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom upon its release on June 4, 1984. Co-produced by Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, Steven Van Zandt, and Chuck Plotkin, and was recorded in New York City with the E Street Band over a period of two years between January 1982 and March 1984.

The genesis of Born In The U.S.A. came largely from a series of sessions that resulted in its predecessor, the acoustic-focused and haunting Nebraska, which was released two years earlier. Ever the prolific songwriter, Bruce produced between 70 and 90 songs — of which some were allocated to Born in the U.S.A.‘s final form, while others subsequently ended up on compilation albums and as B-sides.

Complex yet timeless, Springsteen’s seventh studio album is the epitome of life in America. The Asbury Park, NJ. native turned his feelings into art, and these expressions are felt throughout the record and explorations on working-class struggle, disillusionment and patriotism.

This can be found in abundance on the titular track, one of Springsteen’s most defining songs, which effortlessly fuses buoyant melodies with his sagacious yet irascible observations of the disenchantment of the so-called “American Dream.”

Click here to pick up The Best of Bruce Springsteen on CD from our Rock Cellar Store

Click here to pick up The Best of Bruce Springsteen on LP from our Rock Cellar Store

The title track’s majestic synths truly set the tone, with Bruce using his gravelly tones to shine a light on the neglect of Vietnam War veterans and lamenting the brokenness of the American working class.

Bruce had been inspired by a 1976 book called Born on the Fourth of July, penned by an ex-serviceman named Ron Kovic who was sadly wounded and paralyzed during the Vietnam War (this book was later turned into an Academy Award-winning 1989 film from Oliver Stone starring Tom Cruise). Ron’s story galvanized Springsteen to connect with other Vietnam veterans to learn more about their experience which inspired much of its writing.

You can feel and hear the signature E Street Band sonics throughout, from the gritty saxophone tones on the album’s fifth track, “Downbound Train,” which tells the heartbreaking story of the forlorn protagonist who has lost everything including his wife and takes the downtown train. It starts with a riff reminiscent of Keith Richards or Bob Dylan then segues into an country-bluegrass vibe that is melancholic and almost feels cinematic with the synthesizer and acoustic guitar painting a powerful and vivid picture.

Bruce Springsteen uses the metaphor of a train to represent the narrator’s life which has all but fallen apart with the lines I had a job, I had a girl…got laid off down at the lumber yard / Our love went bad, times got hard.

Expansive yet ethereal, the closing track to side 1 of Born in the U.S.A., “I’m On Fire,” is understated and pensive and is a rare departure from the other more sanguine tracks on the album. It feels like it could have been more suitably apt for Nebraska, but Springsteen uses it as a sonic amuse-bouche before the listener navigates to side 2.

The guitar playing is reflected in the more downbeat approach, finding Bruce using a finger-picking technique that works perfectly with feather-light synth-beats which reflect the sound of a train travelling along the tracks. He sings of feeling frustrated by thoughts and lust with lines like At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet / and a freight train running through the middle of my head.

The placement of “I’m On Fire” feels somewhat symbolic and acts as a bridge to the more synth-led tracks on Side 2 of the record, which propels “The Boss” from a New Jersey heartland musician to a more mainstream singer that takes influences from dance and synth-orientated music.

Loss is a prevalent theme throughout Born in the U.S.A. And as much as romantic loss is studied, two songs explore the loss of friendship on the second side of the album — including the thunderous “No Surrender,” which encourages us to “not give up” and is teeming with unrivalled optimism.

It is immediately followed by the rip-roaring “Bobby Jean,” which is about the loss of childhood friends. Life imitated art for Springsteen with the unexpected departure of longtime friend and collaborator Steven Van Zandt, who temporarily left the E Street Band in 1984 upon the completion of the album and just before the international tour — a decision that Van Zandt regrets to this day.

The sentiment of And you’ll hear me sing this song/ Well, if you do, you’ll know I’m thinking of you. on “Bobby Jean” couldn’t be more bittersweet and relevant for both men, who maintained their friendship during this time, with Steven eventually returning to the E Street Band in 1999 (after an impromptu appearance in 1995).

Another standout track on the album is the brilliant “Glory Days,” which tells the story of the privilege of youth and its loss as well as how it feels to come to terms with your lot in life. It’s spoken from the perspective of the narrator catching up with an old buddy from his high school days who used to be the star of the baseball team and how life changed for him, with the pair reminiscing about the “glory days” — a concept by large most people can identify with.

Side 2 comes to a euphoric end with “My Hometown” and “Dancing In The Dark,” the latter of which is a mainstay of Springsteen’s live shows. Coupled with that famous video of Bruce dancing with a young Courteney Cox, “Dancing In The Dark” is entirely celebratory and works as the thematic flipside of more downbeat tracks like “Downbound Train.”

It was a slow burning hit, eventually peaking at No. 2 in the Billboard chart less than a month after its initial release in the U.S. Despite having a plethora of demos to choose from, Bruce was advised to write a new track that could be released as a single. “Dancing in the Dark” originated from Springsteen’s frustration about having to write songs for the purpose of pleasing people, as well as his difficulty in being able to come up with a chart-topping single.

Celebrated at the time and now considered one of the best albums of all time, Born In The U.S.A. not only stands proudly alongside other classics in the Springsteen canon, but is an album that catapulted Springsteen to global success and made him a household name. It featured seven Top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and has been certified 17-times platinum in the United States alone.

For the music industry and in particular for Bruce Springsteen, it was an indisputable gamechanger, with Springsteen himself saying that the album “changed my life and gave me my biggest audience,” adding “It forced me to question the way I presented my music and made me think harder about what I was doing.”

Born In the U.S.A. is an invariable masterpiece that stands the test of time, as relevant today as it was back in the mid-1980s, and remains a bona fide classic that continues to thrill music fans all over the world.

Side One

Born in the U.S.A       4:39
Cover Me                   3:26
Darlington County       4:48
Working on the Highway       3:11
Downbound Train       3:35
I’m on Fire                   2:36

Side Two

No Surrender                4:00
Bobby Jean                   3:46
I’m Goin’ Down             3:29
Glory Days                   4:15
Dancing in the Dark    4:01
My Hometown              4:33


The SPL Rocks!

Pulled up to my house today
Came and took my little girl away!
Giants Stadium 8/28/03


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