Born In the U.S.A.
Bruce Springsteen’s seventh album, Born in the U.S.A., is notable for two indelible aspects: The photograph of Springsteen’s blue-jeaned ass on the cover, and the title song, quite possibly the most misunderstood anthem in rock ’n’ roll. Written during the sessions for 1982’s Nebraska, “Born in the U.S.A.” was a deeply informed, unfailingly patriotic song about the plight of the Vietnam veteran, inspired by Ron Kovic’s 1976 memoir Born on the Fourth of July. Not long after Springsteen released Born in the U.S.A. in 1984, though, his defiant title track became an unwilling anthem, with some right-wing politicians mistaking its bone-deep frustration for cheery patriotism. Even Ronald Reagan, then running for re-election, called out Springsteen’s “message of hope” during a campaign speech. It’s not clear whether Reagan ever actually sat down and played Born in the U.S.A.—but it seemed like everyone else in the country was listening. This was Springsteen’s most unabashedly pop and populist effort yet, as evidenced by the fact that it spawned seven Top 10 singles in the United States alone. So while the album lacks the thematic cohesion of his previous records—Springsteen himself referred to Born in the U.S.A. as a “grab-bag”—it nonetheless turned him into a certified global superstar. While a handful of tunes here had their roots in Nebraska—including not just the title song, but also “Working on the Highway” and “Downbound Train”—others were written simply in an effort to finish the album, including the smash “Dancing in the Dark” (Springsteen wrote the song after his manager, Jon Landau, told Springsteen the record didn’t have a hit single). Elsewhere on the album, there was the Elvis-flavored “Darlington County”—originally kicked around during work on 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town—as well as “Cover Me,” which Springsteen had written with Donna Summer in mind. And one of its best tracks almost didn’t make the final cut: Springsteen wasn’t entirely comfortable with “No Surrender,” which he felt falsely portrayed life as always triumphant. But bandmate Steven Van Zandt convinced him to let it stay, arguing that “No Surrender” was a song about friendship—and that one of its lyrics, “We learned more from a three-minute record, baby, than we ever had in school,” was a powerful reminder of the power of rock ’n’ roll. And despite the confusion about Born in the U.S.A.’s title track, Springsteen considers it one of his five or six best songs. It’s still the tune everyone remembers from this record—and, to this day, the one that best captures the peak of Springsteen’s mid-1980s glory days.