We started out as a band, which turned into a super, giant corporate money-making machine.
-- Danny Federici
, organist, The E Street Band
Born in the U.S.A. was Bruce Springsteen's biggest record in terms of sales. It has sold over 15 million copies, and once was the best-selling record of ALL TIME. But is it really that good? Compared to Springsteen's own Born to Run and many other records it outsold, the answer is no.
Born in the U.S.A. was released in 1984. It was Springsteen's seventh record, and followed 1982's decidedly uncommercial solo effort Nebraska. Sessions for "USA" actually began before Nebraska, though only the rather lightweight Darlington County and the title track had been written. Rhythm guitarist Steve Van Zandt quit the band in 1983, and appears on only a few tracks.
By 1984, Springsteen's musical palette has essentially been reduced to anthemic mid-tempo rockers, and downbeat ballads, all rendered in an energetic but highly predictable fashion. His voice is now his best weapon, a leather-lunged monotone that is as intimate, in its own way, as Johnny Cash's. He's written some of his best singles ever this time around, but, like on his previous commercial effort The River, they sit next to some truly paint-by-numbers filler. The E Streeters are caged in by this unadventurous approach as well. There are a few short and forgettable sax solos by Clarence Clemons, and on the one song that gets stretched out, Born in the U.S.A. itself, the jam doesn't really go anywhere.
The title track drew a lot of attention, as is mentioned above, from politicians who didn't bother to read the lyrics. It's very anthemic, almost martial in its rhythm, and lyrically, it's a right-on-the-money indictment of how this country treated its Vietnam veterans... if it is a little vague, and the chorus and the overall shininess of the song become mucho irritating after awhile. The second song, Cover Me, works a lot better because it doesn't aim so damned high. It's just a hard-rocking, minor-key paranoid love song ("Promise me, baby, you won't let them find us / Hold me in your arms, let's let our love blind us / Cover me..."), and it's one of the two or three best songs here.
Three pieces of fairly atrocious filler go by (especially Downbound Train, which has this nice, mournful tone, and some of the dumbest lyrics Bruce ever wrote). Then comes I'm On Fire, which is another creepy love song, this one with a very subdued backing. It concludes side one.
Side two opens with the dangerously upbeat nostalgia piece No Surrender, and the somewhat slower nostalgia piece Bobby Jean, which are both halfway decent, but everything has begun to sound the same by now. Then the VERY mindless rocker I'm Goin' Down, which qualifies as a guilty pleasure, especially Bruce's silly vocal ad-libs at the end...
I'm not kidding. Then we've got Glory Days, the third nostalgia piece in four songs. It's a very well-known song. But dear god, Bruce and the E's sound like old guys who don't know they aren't hip anymore. Things finally perk up at the end with Dancing in the Dark and My Hometown. "My Hometown" is about the only profound thing Bruce really has to say here, it's another downbeat ballad about fathers and sons, Bruce being driven around his hometown as a kid by his father, and then years later Bruce driving his kid around, except the town has died in the interim, and you can't go back anymore. It's right up there with the title track to The River for evocative. And Dancing in the Dark is the monster hit single, and one of the great pop songs of the 1980's. It's candy, but it's good candy, and more substantial than many. Bruce married the girl from the video, but it didn't last very long.
So how did this sell 15 million copies? A couple of monster singles, MTV, and a very aggressive marketing campaign by Columbia Records. Anyone who believes that the best albums sell the most copies is sadly mistaken. Bruce had quite a hangover from his success; his next album, Tunnel of Love, was downbeat from start to finish, and he fired the E Street Band not long afterward. Too much candy'll do that to you.
1. Born in the U.S.A.
2. Cover Me
3. Darlington County
4. Working on the Highway
5. Downbound Train
6. I'm On Fire
7. No Surrender
8. Bobby Jean
9. I'm Goin' Down
10. Glory Days
11. Dancing in the Dark
12. My Hometown
Bruce Springsteen-- Voice and Guitar
Clarence Clemons-- Saxophone
Roy Bittan-- Piano
Danny Federici-- Organ
Garry Tallent-- Bass
Max Weinberg-- Drums
Steve Van Zandt-- Rhythm Guitar, Mandolin
Springsteen albums recommended INSTEAD of this one:
Born to Run
Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ
These two show him at the peak of his powers as a songwriter and lyricist, and the band is much looser and rocks harder. Most of his albums have some very good songs on them, this one for example, but the consistency is lacking. This record sold 15 million copies. It doesn't need my help.