Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bruce Springsteen 7: Born In The USA

More than a couple of years in the making, Born In The U.S.A. was an album designed to please, with each side front-loaded with upbeat rockers, only letting up for the moodier pieces that close them. Even though lyrics were included, even in the cassette that was most likely the format purchased most that year, their miniscule size made them easy to ignore, so the less-than-rosy message of such clapalongs as “Darlington County”, “Working On The Highway” and “Downbound Train” was obscured. The title track was notoriously misinterpreted, helped along by a bagpipe-like arrangement that made the words seem more defiant than the defeated tone of the demo’s Vietnam vet narrator.
Granted, a lot of these songs weren’t the ones selling the album. A whopping seven of the album’s dozen tracks were released as singles, all reaching the Billboard top ten. (In fact, if you bought each of the 45s from this album, you could have bought the album twice for the same money, but then you’d’ve missed out on the B-sides, ranging from the radio favorites “Pink Cadillac” and “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart” to the live covers of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl”.)
The first of those singles was “Dancing In The Dark”, the last song written (under protest) for the album, and drenched in the synthesizers that threatened to replace the piano and organ on the other album tracks. “Cover Me” followed, accompanied by a (gasp!) dance remix. The title track sold itself, while “I’m On Fire” had the help of a moody video to match the edgy desire in the lyrics. “Glory Days” and “I’m Goin’ Down” came from the less covert second side, a couple of bar-friendly rockers, though only the former got a video. By the time “My Hometown” was released—amid a wave of singles that celebrated a “Small Town” and “Life In A Northern Town”, even though “We Built This City” and “You Belong To The City”—the album had pretty much reached saturation. The album’s low-key closer, it sounds the closest to the tone of Nebraska, which of course was the album that happened in the process of recording this one.
Of course, stations like WNEW-FM in New York City had already spent several years serving up your weekly double dose of Bruce Juice every Two-for-Tuesday, so it was inevitable that they’d wear Born In The U.S.A. out. And boy, did they. The singles and B-sides weren’t enough, so it wasn’t common to pick up “No Surrender” in their rotation. But the album’s true home run is “Bobby Jean”, one of the best send-offs to a former lover or bandmate, take your pick. (Clarence’s closing sax solo is a particular favorite.)
Today much of the album betrays that ‘80s sheen so common to mixes in those days, but it should surprise no listener that Born In The U.S.A. was massively popular, not just within driving distance of the Jersey shore, but all the way across the country and then some. It was packaged to sell, just as America was surfing a wave of patriotism of a height not seen since, arguably, the end of World War II. Its cover screamed red, white and blue, with the camera focused on Springsteen’s denim-clad ass, a red ball cap stuffed in a pocket and a white T-shirt roughly stuffed under his belt, with the stripes of Old Glory in the background. Gung-ho Reaganites didn’t even wonder if his hand was posed to suggest he might have been urinating on the flag.

Bruce Springsteen Born In The U.S.A. (1984)—

1 comment:

  1. I hated this album when it came out, probably largely due to overexposure, and partly because I was revolted by the meathead jocks who misinterpreted it as patriotic jingoism. (I knew it wasn't but felt like it was packaged and marketed in such a way as to pass with audience.) In time my view has softened considerably, and I really love it, the shiny happy 80s production cannot completely obscure the depth of the songwriting.