30th Anniversary Retrospective of Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA



In preparation for this writing I want it to be known that I did a lot of research. I listened to Born In The USA three times today, twice by CD in my car and once by vinyl at home, which probably is more commonplace than special, but I still call it research.

Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA album turned 30 years old on Wednesday (June 4). Born In The USA is the most successful album of Springsteen’s career going off of sales. It’s a diamond record going over the platinum threshold fifteen times. The album spurred every song he’d release off of it to the top of the charts. Plain and simple, the album made Bruce Springsteen a household name and a real commercial success.

Most hardcore Springsteen fans will tell you that Born In The USA is nowhere near close to being his best album musically or artistically, but after doing my research today I must admit that Born In The USA is more than just an in to the Bruce Springsteen world. Everyone knows the album cover and therefore Bruce’s ass, but everyone also knows about the classic songs.

Born In The USA

If you are ever feeling patriotic this is an easy go to. Being a Springsteen snob, this song sometimes annoys me. The title track wasn’t the biggest single off the album, but it seems that whenever you bring up Springsteen to someone who isn’t big into Springsteen they start belting the chorus.

The interesting thing about the song is that it might not be that patriotic if you actually listen to it. It’s quite a sad song sang to an upbeat musical score. It’s a hidden message of sadness, something that Bruce Springsteen does better than anyone else.

On The Charts: #9

Favorite Line: You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much, till you spend half your life just covering up.


Cover Me

When the Minnesota Twins were playing against the Yankees in New York last week, the game went into a rain delay. The grounds crew rain out to cover the field with the tarp and this song started playing over the stadium speakers. For a moment I loved the Yankees or at least the Yankees’ game ops. It was a weird moment.

Covering a baseball diamond is a weirdly perfect presentation of this song. In the song Bruce sings about being desperate for someone to cover him up and just get lost in their love. A baseball diamond needs that too. This desperation is so vivid and strong and is only emphasized by the sound of emergency in the music.

On The Charts: #7

Favorite Line: Turn out the light, bolt the door. I ain’t going out there no more.


Darlington County

References to prostitution, women and working. If that’s not enough to suck you in, the fun in the sound should be more than enough. Besides, I’m pretty sure it’s a fact that every song that has a ‘sha la la’ in it has to be loved by the masses. I still don’t know why Wayne disappears for a week, but I’m thinking that it has to do with one of those things that Bruce references. I’d say it’s probably the first one I list, knowing Wayne’s fate.

My favorite line in the song was kind of ruined by the national tragedy that inspired virtually all of Bruce’s 2002 release, The Rising.

On The Charts: Song was not released to radio

Favorite Line: Our pa’s each own one of the World Trade Centers, for a kiss and a smile I’ll give mine all to you.

Favorite Line 2.0: Driving out of Darlington County, seen Wayne handcuffed to the bumper of a state trooper’s Ford.


Working On The Highway

A couple years ago some publication, probably Rolling Stone, had a slideshow feature kind of thing on ‘the songs that even Springsteen die hards don’t know’. One of those songs was entitled ‘Child Bride’ which was written for Nebraska or at least during that time period. It probably isn’t as perverted in nature as it could be, but the gist of it is that the girl is underage as is easily guessable. ‘Working On The Highway’ is basically the same exact song just Born In The USA-fied.

Y’know how her daddy says she’s just a little girl and she knows nothing about this cruel, cruel world. Also the narrator was taken in the black and white and the judge put him straight away. It’s because the girl was too young. Bruce points out in ‘Child Bride’ the following, ‘well they said she was too young, she was no younger than I’ve been’, but that doesn’t stand up well in a court of law.

Bruce again hides the story rather well in the happy-go-lucky sound of the song. When listening to ‘Working On The Highway’ perversion doesn’t exactly cross your mind, but it’s there waiting behind the hammering guitar at the end of every line.

On The Charts: Song was not released to radio

Favorite Line: I went to see her daddy but we didn’t have much to say. “Son can’t you see that she’s just a little girl, she don’t know nothing about this cruel, cruel world”


Downbound Train

God, I love this song. It’s another one of those really depressing love went wrong and it sucks songs and I absolutely love it. I don’t know what that says about me. I add my love of the song up to my love of The Boss, trains and one line in this song.

The bridge of the song is so vivid that it’s almost scary. Bruce never made a music video for ‘Downbound Train’, but I can see in my mind Bruce running through the forest to this old house that he used to live in. I think that’s what really good songs do for the listener. They provide a vivid movie in your mind that doesn’t need to be supplemented by a music video.

On The Charts: Song was not released to radio

Favorite Line: Now I work down at the carwash where all it ever does is rain.


I’m On Fire

The closing song to side one of the album, if you go the vinyl route, and an insanely popular song. Bruce again pens a song desperate for a girl and it kills him not to be with her or at least there is a burning sensation of some sort without her.

It’s such a simplistic song. It’s straight forward which isn’t a thing that Bruce does a whole lot of. The directness of the song almost cuts like the edgy and dull knife he talks about in the song. Plus, the music video to this song is masterful. Bruce Springsteen as a mechanic is basically a picture of the ideal America.

On The Charts: #6

Favorite Line: Tell me now baby is he good to you. Can he do to you the things that I do? I can take you higher.


No Surrender

If you want a good song to start side two of a record, I’d say that ‘No Surrender’ is a pretty good choice. The drums in the beginning are awesome and instantly grab your attention for the rest of the ride.

It’s a combination of rebellion and perseverance. The start of busting out of class is a feeling that anyone that has ever had any kind of schooling can relate to. As the song progresses so does the time line, but they aren’t going to give up. They’re not going to surrender.

I hope a high school graduating class used this as their class song somewhere. It’d be perfect for that occasion. Let’s pray some group of Bruceheads got to their class out it New Jersey.

On The Charts: Not released to radio

Favorite Line: We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school.


Bobby Jean

It’s widely believed that Springsteen wrote ‘Bobby Jean’ about Steve Van Zandt, who needs no introduction but is Bruce’s right hand man guitarist and co-producer on many albums. Little Stevie was leaving the band at the time and allegedly this was Springsteen’s way of saying goodbye. It was a strong goodbye.

‘Bobby Jean’ is one of those songs that you don’t really understand, or as some would say ‘get’, until you’re a little older. Once a little life happens, you start drifting away from people or people are gone. I think Bruce puts that feeling of someone being gone perfectly in this song.

On The Charts: Not released to radio

Favorite Line: 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.


I’m Goin’ Down

Girls are out there, man. This is probably a well-known fact, but one that men don’t go saying to everyone because, frankly, we don’t want to be slapped. Springsteen illustrates the whole ‘what the hell am I supposed to do, honey’ side of the argument. Maybe what he is supposed to do is the sexual innuendo that is in the title…  Are we supposed to ignore that?

Apparently, people we’re giving Bruce grief that he kept releasing singles off the album with this being his sixth release off of it. There’s an argument to be had there, but if the people want more stuff off of Born In The USA, give them more. Bruce responded by releasing another song off of the album to radio after ‘I’m Goin’ Down’.

On The Charts: #9

Favorite Line: I’m sick and tired of you setting me up. Setting me up just to knock-a knock-a knock-a me down.


Glory Days

‘Glory Days’ is the more fun, laid back cousin to ‘No Surrender’. It has that same kind of vibe of ‘we’ll always be together’ type of thing, but yet brutally honest about nostalgia. Bruce points out that nostalgia is fun, but maybe there’s more to life than reliving it. He later admits he does the same, because that is how life works. Life was fun when you drove too fast, drank too much beer and could do things athletically that you can’t do now.

The song is fun for me two years out of high school when you can see this happening a little bit already. I can’t wait until the 40th and 50th anniversary of this album, so I can look back and tell you all how much I love the ‘Glory Days’ and how badass I was. I wasn’t that badass.

PS. Bruce calling a fastball a speedball is one of the most adorable things ever because no one ever called a fastball a speedball until now and that’s because of him.

On The Charts: #5

Favorite Line:  I had a friend was a big baseball player back in high school. He could throw that speedball by you. Make you look like a fool, boy.


Dancing In The Dark

I don’t know if ‘dancing in the dark’ is a sexual innuendo because it’s just that obvious. Apparently people love sex, because ‘Dancing In The Dark’ is the highest charting song in Springsteen’s career. There’s more to this song than just sex though. Bruce hides this need for sex a little bit behind his discontent, need for change and depression. It’s virtually a pouring out of his soul that life sucks, but, hey, I can go have some sex and that’s kinda cool.

Also, I’m pretty sure that Springsteen refers to his penis as a ‘gun’ which is awesome and about the ballsiest thing you can do.

On The Charts: #2 (that’s right, Bruce Springsteen has never had a #1 hit)

Favorite Line: You sit around getting older, there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me.


My Hometown

Neil Young recently did an album that he recorded in an old-timey recording booth owned by Jack White called A Letter Home. The album features a bunch of covers including one of Springsteen’s ‘My Hometown’. Rolling Stone called ‘My Hometown’ a third-tier single from Springsteen and that Young should have done anything off of Nebraska instead of this song for his acoustic album. Pretty strong words for one of Springsteen’s best charting songs.

‘My Hometown’ has the small town feel to it. I can relate to it coming from a corn field. Well, everything but the racial violence thing which is a weird lyric to include in the song, but that’s beside the point. Stores closing and people getting out are still very prominent to a lot of small towns across this country. That might be the magic behind a lot of Bruce’s music, it’s still relevant 30 years later.

On The Charts: #6

Favorite Line: He’d tousle my hair and say son take a good look around this is your hometown.

Born In The USA was insanely popular. It’s one of only three albums ever to have seven singles make the top ten on the Hot 100. Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 are the other two.

It’s no Born To Run musically, but I probably have Born In The USA to thank for my getting into Bruce Springsteen. I think all current day Springsteen fans have a lot to thank Born In The USA for. The popularity of this one album fuels a lot of fans to go to Springsteen concerts and let real Tramps enjoy him for a long, long time.

Depression and love are intertwined throughout this album, subtly some ways and other ways not so. Nebraska shows the obvious depression, Born In The USA hides it and laughs it off and Tunnel Of Love shows that love can be found. Bruce Springsteen had a very interesting 1980’s.

I’m going back to my research now. I have only a year and change until the 40th anniversary of Born To Run. More importantly, a year and five months until the 20th anniversary of The Ghost Of Tom Joad.