30 years today, “The Boss” released his seventh studio album which would become one of his most commercially and critically successful along with his breakthrough album ‘Born to Run’. He became a global icon.
Springsteen’s previous album ‘Nebraska’, a series of recorded home demos, was a far more dark and acoustic piece with bleak themes of isolation and pessimism; it was described as “one of the most challenging albums ever released by a major star on a major record label”. By contrast, ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ was a return to the confines of stadium rock.
The title track is a very misunderstood anthem. It was intended to convey the problems faced by veterans following their return from Vietnam. There are those who consider it patriotic/nationalistic, hence its appearance at annual 4th of July celebrations and left-wing rallies. In the US presidential election that year, both sides used the song and attempted to gain Springsteen’s support. Lyrically, there is a stark contrast between the anthemic and nationalistic atmosphere of the chorus with the narrative portrayed in the verses, to fully get across the intended meaning of the song. Also, that opening piano melody, which runs throughout, and the beating snare drums are recognisable for everyone.
The other most notable hit on the album was the first to be released – ‘Dancing in the Dark’. It was written about the difficulty of creating a hit single and the frustration of pleasing others, mainly because this was the last song on the album to be written and producer/manager Jon Landau wanted the first single to be a hit. However, these somewhat depressing lyrics are overshadowed by the catchy beat; the message is lost in the music. Still, it is a great synthesizer riff. Selling over one million copies, ‘Dancing in the Dark’ reached number 2 in the US charts and won Springsteen his first Grammy for Best Male Vocal.
The album had seven Top 10 singles, a record tying with ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson’s ‘Rhythm Nation 1814’. This resulted in a two-year worldwide tour, highlighted by his performance at Parc de la Courneuve, Paris. As a result of the album’s success, heartland rock saw a growth in popularity within the mainstream. This led to success for artists such as John Mellencamp and Tom Petty.
The album’s cover has also become a cult image in Western popular culture. It has the look to appeal to the common man, what with the slack jeans and the cap in the back pocket in front of the American flag. There were those who thought Springsteen was depicted urinating on the flag; he has denied this and said it was unintentional.
Bruce Springsteen’s career owes a lot to this album; “‘Born in the U.S.A.’ changed my life and gave me my largest audience. It forced me to question the way I presented my music and made me think harder about what I was doing.”