|First posted 3/23/2008; updated 11/28/2020.|
Born in the U.S.A.
Released: June 4, 1984
Peak: 17 US, 15 UK, 113 CN, 18 AU
Sales (in millions): 15.0 US, 0.9 UK, 30.0 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: classic rock
Song Title [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
All songs written by Bruce Springsteen.
Total Running Time: 46:58
4.490 out of 5.00 (average of 21 ratings)
Quotable: “The album that catapulted Bruce Springsteen from cult-favorite critics’ darling to stadium-rocking global superstar.” – Jason Warburg, The Daily Vault
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
“It's…hard to believe now that for much of his [pre-Born in the U.S.A.] career Bruce Springsteen was a gigantic cult artist; a musician who could sell a couple of million records and fill hockey rinks, but who was was no more likely than Elvis Costello to get airplay on pop radio.” CDU “Born in the U.S.A. [was] the album that catapulted Bruce Springsteen from cult-favorite critics' darling to stadium-rocking global superstar.” JW “With song titles and choruses that seemed to reflect all that was good and strong in America, belying songs that were about everything that was going wrong, Born in the U.S.A. was one of those cultural events that resonated with just about everybody.” CDU
On the strength of seven top-ten pop hits, the album sold 30 million copies worldwide and “catapulted Bruce Springsteen from cult-favorite critics’ darling to stadium-rocking global superstar.” JW “Springsteen had become increasingly downcast as a songwriter during his recording career, and his pessimism bottomed out with Nebraska,” AMG “his bleak acoustic album” RS on which “the songs were plainspoken, folk-derived tunes.” CDU While Born in the U.S.A., “trafficked in much the same struggle” AMG spinning “tales of disillusioned America,” CDU Springsteen “softened his message with nostalgia and sentimentality.” AMG He crafts “big, sing-along choruses” CDU with “galloping rhythms…set off by chiming guitars,” AMG ultimately creating an “uptempo worldview [that] is truer” RC to what one feels like is at Springsteen’s core. The music “incorporates new electronic textures while keeping as its heart all of the American rock & roll from the early Sixties…The music was born in the U.S.A.: Springsteen ignored the British Invasion and embraced instead the legacy of Phil Spector's releases, the sort of soul that was coming from Atlantic Records and especially the garage bands that had anomalous radio hits. He's always chased the utopian feeling of that music, and here he catches it with a sophisticated production and a subtle change in surroundings.” RS “Born in the U.S.A. was as lean and muscular as Springsteen himself, trading in the E Street Band's over-the-top saxophone-and-piano sound of old for a sleeker, forward-driving guitar-and-synthesizer feel.” CDU
“Springsteen has evolved…This…is his most rhythmically propulsive, vocally incisive, lyrically balanced, and commercially undeniable album…The aural vibrancy of the thing reminds…that what teenagers loved about rock and roll wasn't that it was catchy or even vibrant but that it just plain sounded good.” RC The “album is a glorious grab bag of radio-ready populist anthems--his best display of pure pop songwriting ever…Springsteen's widespread acclaim was warranted.” AZ “Dance-music DJs…[and] fist-raising pop fans…turned seven of these songs into top-10 singles and kept Born in the U.S.A. in a year-long battle for the top spot on the album chart.” CDU “Springsteen had softened his message with nostalgia and sentimentality, and those are always crowd-pleasers.” AMG “Seemingly, the whole world sang along.” CDU “It was as if no other album mattered that year.” CDU
“Springsteen has always been able to tell a story better than he can write a hook, and these lyrics are way beyond anything anybody else is writing.” RS “Not counting the title powerhouse, the best songs slip by at first because their tone is so lifelike” RC and “they're sung in such an unaffected way that the starkness stabs you.” RS This “is a bittersweet and often despairing look at what happens when maturity eventually sets in.” JW “The characters are no longer scruffy hoods with colorful names like the Magic Rat, they're nameless working stiffs” JW who “dread getting stuck in the small towns they grew up in almost as much as they worry that the big world outside holds no possibilities.” RS They brood “over unfulfilled dreams…and unfulfilling relationships…or indulging in premature nostalgia over old times…and old friends.” JW “Though the characters are dying of longing for some sort of payoff from the American dream, Springsteen's exuberant voice and the swell of the music clues you that they haven't given up.” RS
“Born in the U.S.A.”
Springsteen jumps in full force, kicking things off with one of his most powerful anthems. He strikes just “the right ironic fervor for the Vietnam vet’s yelping about the dead ends of being Born in the U.S.A..” RS “In the first line…Springsteen croaks, ‘Born down in a dead man's town, the first kick I took was when I hit the ground.’” RS Musically, it has “unquestionable musical potency; Max Weinberg's thundering drum fills at the climax of the song still give…chills after hundreds of listens.” JW
Thinking the song extolled the pride of being American, “the witless wonders of the Reagan regime attempted to co-opt…[it] as an election-year campaign song.” AMG The fact that it was “a brutal account” CDU of “the disenfranchisement of a lower-class Vietnam vet” AMG “whose country forgot him” AZ escaped their attention completely.
Cover Me, a song Springsteen “initially wrote for Donna Summer (!), [throbs with] heavy-guitars-over-a-disco-beat.” JW “The band finds the right feeling of paranoia for [this], the lone song to resurrect that shrieking, ‘Badlands"-style guitar.’” RS
On the “classic buddy/road song” JW Darlington County, Springsteen explores “the futility of a macho spree without undercutting its exuberance.” RC “Two guys pull into a hick town begging for work…but Springsteen is whooping with sha-la-las in the chorus. He may shove his broody characters out the door and send them cruising down the turnpike, but he gives them music they can pound on the dashboard to.” RS
“Working on the Highway”
“The fast-stepping” RC Working on the Highway has “a tight, frenetic Elvis Costello arrangement.” JW It “whips into an ecstatic rocker that tells a funny story, hand-claps keeping the time about crime and punishment.” RS in a song that “turns out to be about a country road gang.” RC “You get…a vivid sense of these characters…because Springsteen gives them voices a playwright would be proud of.” RS “To let us know the guy's in love,” RS all Springsteen has to say is “‘One day I looked straight at her and she looked straight back.’” RS
“In the saddest song he's ever written, Downbound Train, a man who's lost everything pours his story, while, behind him, long, sorry notes on a synthesizer sound just like heartache. ‘I had a job, I had a girl,’ he begins, then explains how everything's changed: ‘Now I work down at the car wash, where all it ever does its rain.’ It's a line Sam Shepard could've written: so pathetic and so funny, you don't know how to react.” RS
“I’m on Fire”
"I'm on Fire a smoldering look at unrequited passion.” JW “The tight-lipped character who sings…practically whispers about the desire that's eating him up. ‘Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby, edgy and dull, and cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my soul,’ he rasps. The way the band's turned down to just a light rattle of drums, faint organ and quiet, staccato guitar notes makes his lust seem ominous: you picture some pock-marked Harry Dean Stanton type, lying, too wired to sleep, in a motel room.” RS
“No Surrender is a friendship anthem for the ages” JW with “the uplifting sweep of his early anthem ‘Thunder Road.’” RS It is “one of the best tunes the man has ever written.” JW
This touches on the hopeful endurance of friendship. It serves as an ode to long-time guitarist Steve Van Zandt, who’d just left the band. Certainly lyrics like “‘Maybe you’ll be out there on that road somewhere/ In some motel room there’ll be a radio playing and you’ll hear me sing this song/ Well, if you do, you’ll know I’m thinking of you and all the miles in between’” RS “may put a lump in your throat” RS but thanks to a “wall of sound with a soaring saxophone solo…the music says, Walk tall or don’t walk at all.” RS
“I’m Goin’ Down”
“A great dancer himself, Springsteen puts an infectious beat under his songs. In the wonderfully exuberant I'm Goin' Down, a hilarious song that gets its revenge, he makes a giddy run of nonsense syllables out of the chorus while drummer Max Weinberg whams out a huge backbeat.” RS
“Glory Days may have employed Springsteen’s trademark disaffection, yet it came across as a couch potato's drunken lament.” AMG It “acknowledges that among other things, getting old is a good joke.” RC
“Dancing in the Dark”
“The biggest departure from any familiar Springsteen sound is the breathtaking first single, Dancing in the Dark, with its modern synths, played by E Street keyboardist Roy Bittan, and thundering bass and drums.” RS This was the biggest hit of Springsteen’s career and an example of his “best…pure pop songwriting ever.” AZ
The song sports “as unlikely a lyric for a hit single as the world might ever see.” JW “The kid who dances in the darkness here is practically choking on the self-consciousness of being sixteen. ‘I check my look in the mirror/I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face,’ he sings. ‘Man, I ain't getting nowhere just living in a dump like this.’ He turns out the lights…to escape in the fantasy of the music on the radio [and find] a release from all the limitations he was born into.” RS
“In My Hometown, the singer, remembers sitting on his father's lap and steering the family Buick as they drove proudly through town; but the boy grows up, and the final scene has him putting his own son on his lap for a last drive down a street that's become a row of vacant buildings. ‘Take a good look around,’ he tells his boy, repeating what his father told him, ‘this is your hometown.’” RS
“With Born in the U.S.A., all those predictions from a decade earlier--that Springsteen was the future of rock--had come true.” AZ
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