Released on June 4, 1984 “Born In The U.S.A” is an interesting and pivotal point in Bruce Springsteen’s story. This record took The Boss to the global stage. Bruce said “goodbye” to the bars of the Jersey Shore and endless sets at The Bottom Line. This was a calculated decision, one with which he wrestled and searched deep within himself to reconcile. Here was a man who had sung for and about the common man, the working person, those on hard times with very little prospect for change and here he was experiencing significant success, worldwide fame and tangible wealth. Would he accept this new responsibility and level of exposure? From the beginning Bruce never minced words in admitting that he was not content to merely be the king of the sweaty seaside bar scene but fully intended to ascend, to succeed. “The River” album was the springboard and the landing pad was “Born In The U.S.A. There was a gorgeous piece of work in-between entitled “Nebraska” but that beauty deserves it’s own Rambling entirely.
The themes and integrity of what had launched the E Street Band were still in tact, there were just significantly more butts in the seats now as the rooms went from platform-stage clubs where Clarence might blow notes right into your face to multiple night stands (in NJ you could get as many as 10) in concrete coliseums generally reserved for the local football team.
“Born In The U.S.A.” also greeted it’s listeners with a new production style. It would be a falsehood to deny that there are some very 1980’s nuances throughout the album but they don’t overwhelm the tracks. In retrospect these are fantastically written and crafted songs, many of which of have only proven to age like fine wine. Their full sound and impact, however, came to life on the tour to support the album, and frankly to this very day when the band plays any of these songs live.
The album is much greater than the sum of its radio and Mtv hits, but oh boy, were there hits! 7 of the album’s 12 tracks hit the Billboard Top 10 and the album itself would reach #1 and be certified 15x Platinum. The album’s popularity and success though are not to imply it was some dulled version of Bruce’s previous work, crafted merely for radio friendly-ness. It was simply where our artist found himself personally and professionally and when one looks at the precipice on which he stood in the early 80’s this was the only possible direction in which he could go…world domination.
This is classic Boss though, songs of love lost, love unrequited. People working far too hard for far too little. “Bobby Jean” is impossible to listen to without chills dancing on your spine nor tears forming in your eyes as you arrive at the third verse. The fictional story within will rip out your heart but it’s only when you later learn that the nonfictional basis for the song is the exit from the band of Little Steven Van Zandt, Bruce’s soul brother in arms, chief collaborator and sounding board, that you feel the ache in your bones. “No Surrender” breaches similar territory and the fact alone that Bruce would allow two tracks regarding the subject onto the same album shows just how important and cathartic it was for him the expel those emotions. Then we have the title track, written from a very different perspective than those who attempted to appropriate it for themselves were capable of hearing. This is not a man grasping for the brass ring with no regard for content or quality or his audience.
It can be hard to separate “Born In The U.S.A.” from it’s chronological context, socially or personally for Springsteen, but that’s ultimately an unnecessary exercise. This is an important album with a voice of it’s own and much to say and the fact that everyone owns a copy, the fact that it filled 55 thousand seat arenas or the fact that it made a video actor (and dancer) out of Bruce does not diminish it’s purpose or impact. It’s exactly the album The Boss should have made in 1984 but it’s sound and intent ring just as true in 2019.
Give it a spin today to celebrate and may we suggest listening from beginning to end. It really is an entirely different experience outside of Top 40/classic rock radio.
“…and I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it, but I probably will”