Bruce Springsteen's 'Born In The U.S.A.' at 30: Classic Track-By-Track Album Review


Bruce Springsteen released the record that would become his biggest-selling album of all time thirty years ago on June 4, 1984. "Born In The U.S.A." would skyrocket Springsteen to global success, get misappropriated by a President, and turn his ass into an international icon. The album  featured seven top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, tying Michael Jackson's record set with "Thriller" ("Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814" would later yield seven in 1989-91, as well) and went on to be certified 15-times Platinum by the RIAA.

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"'Born In the U.S.A.' changed my life and gave me my biggest audience," Springsteen said in his 1998 lyric anthology, "Songs." "It forced me to question the way I presented my music and made me think harder about what I was doing."

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Boss's iconic album, we're taking a track-by-track look -- and listen -- back to each of its twelve tracks.

Springsteen's initial response would come at a concert shortly thereafter, in the form of an introduction to a song off of "Nebraska," "Born In The U.S.A."'s bleak, acoustic predecessor: "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."

He would later specifically address the incident, telling an interviewer, "You see the Reagan reelection ads on TV -- you know, 'It's morning in America' -- and you say, well, it's not morning in Pittsburgh. It's not morning above 125th Street in New York. It's midnight, and there's a bad moon risin'. And that's why when Reagan mentioned my name in New Jersey, I felt it was another manipulation, and I had to disassociate myself from the president's kind words."

"Born In The U.S.A." would ultimately peak at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spend 17 weeks on the chart.

6. "I'm On Fire"
Springsteen turns crooner; this number is definitely for the ladies: "Hey little girl, is your daddy home? / Did he go and leave you all alone / I got a bad desire / ohh ohh ohh I'm on fire." The vocals smolder, and the sparse instrumentation constructed out of synthesizer, snare drum, and  guitar riff (based, according to Springsteen, off of a Johnny Cash and Tennessee Three rhythm he was playing with in the studio one night) is clearly built to give Springsteen room to do just that.

8. "Bobby Jean"
"Bobby Jean" is a rollicking 4/4 ballad whose highlight is the plaintive sax solo from Clarence Clemons which brings the song to a close. It's deceptively powerful, the story building in momentum from verse to verse, and was absolutely written to be sung in a stadium so the entire crowd could wave their hands in the air back and forth in time. The song is believed to be written in tribute to Steve Van Zandt and his friendship with Springsteen:

"Now there ain't nobody, nowhere
nohow gonna ever understand me the way you did
Maybe you'll be out there on that
road somewhere, in some bus or train traveling along, 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 and
I'm just calling one last time
Not to change your mind, but just
to say I miss you baby, good luck, goodbye Bobby Jean"

The liner notes of "Born In The USA" offered the dedication: "Buon viaggo, mio fratello, Little Steven."  

10. "Glory Days"
Another one written for a stadium-sized sing-along, "Glory Days" is a tale of lost youth and adult resignation and acceptance of where you've ended up: high school baseball stars, marriages that didn't quite work out, and sitting around talking about the good ol' times.

"I had a friend was a big baseball
player back in high school (yeah)
He could throw that speedball
by you, make you look like a fool boy
Saw him the other night at this
roadside bar, I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside, sat down,
had a few drinks, but all he kept talking about was
Glory days"

11. "Dancing In The Dark"
There was a point at which "Born In The U.S.A." was finished, but Springsteen's manager, Jon Landau, told Bruce that he still needed a single. "Dancing In The Dark" was what he came back with. "It went as far in the direction of pop music as I wanted to go -- and probably a little farther," he later said. (That doesn't explain the Arthur Baker 12' remixes, however.) "Dancing In The Dark" was the first single, and the most popular song from the record, reaching No. 2 on the Hot 100 and spending 21 weeks on the chart.

- Album Review