Born in the U.S.A. (song)

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"Born in the U.S.A."
Single by Bruce Springsteen
from the album Born in the U.S.A.
B-side "Shut Out the Light"
Released October 30, 1984
Format 7" single, 12" single
Recorded April 1982 at the Power Station in New York
Genre Heartland rock
Length 4:39
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Bruce Springsteen
Producer(s) Jon Landau, Chuck Plotkin, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt
Bruce Springsteen singles chronology
"Cover Me"
(1984)
"Born in the U.S.A."
(1984)
"I'm on Fire"
(1985)
Born in the U.S.A. track listing
Audio sample
file info · help

"Born in the U.S.A." is a 1984 song written and performed by Bruce Springsteen. Taken from the album of the same name, it is one of his best-known singles. Rolling Stone ranked the song 275th on their list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". In 2001, the RIAA's Songs of the Century placed the song 59th (out of 365).

Lyrically, the song deals with the negative effects of the Vietnam War on Americans and the cruel mistreatment of Vietnam veterans on their arrival back home.[1]

Recording history[edit]

The song was initially written in 1981 as the title song for a film that Paul Schrader was considering making and Springsteen was considering starring in (which ultimately became Light of Day starring Michael J. Fox). "Born in the U.S.A." turned out so well that Springsteen used it for his multi-platinum album, and because of this, Springsteen thanks Schrader in the liner notes. Casual home demos were made later that year, following the completion of The River Tour.

A more formal solo acoustic guitar demo was then made on January 3, 1982 at Springsteen's home in Colts Neck, New Jersey as part of the long session that would constitute most of the Nebraska album released later that year. Acoustic versions of several other songs that eventually appeared on the Born in the U.S.A. album were also included on this demo, including "Working on the Highway" and "Downbound Train". However, Springsteen manager/producer Jon Landau and others felt that the song did not have the right melody or music to match the lyrics, and also did not fit in well with the rest of the nascent Nebraska material. Thus, it was shelved. (This version would surface in the late 1990s on the Tracks and 18 Tracks outtake collections.)

In March 1982,[2] Springsteen revived the song with a different melody line and musical structure. A full E Street Band version was recorded, with much of the arrangement made up on the spot, including Roy Bittan's clarion opening synthesizer riff and what producer Chuck Plotkin nicknamed Max Weinberg's "exploding drums" .[3] The famous snare drum sound on this record was obtained by engineer Toby Scott running the top snare microphone through a broken reverb plate which could only sustain four seconds of gated reverb.[3] This is the version that would appear on the Born in the U.S.A. album, a full two years later. The studio recording also originally ended with a lengthy jam session, which was later edited for the song's commercial release.

In a 1986 speaking engagement at the University of Georgia, Max Weinberg (drummer for the E Street Band) stated that Born In The USA was his all time favorite song that the band had recorded. Later, in a separate question and answer session, Weinberg explained that it was his favorite because the song was not written in advance for the various instrumental parts. After a grueling studio session while members of the band were in the booth at the sound board, one member of the band at a time returned to the recording area joining in to make up their own new parts to the song that had been intended as an acoustic guitar only song. Even Bruce came out and started singing vocals. It sounded so good that they did it again and recorded it. Without reviewing the recording, Bruce said, let's do that one more time. So they recorded the second take (or the third time the unwritten version had ever been played). That second studio take was the CD release on the Born in the USA CD (personal communication when asking question to Max Weinberg after lecture in Georgia Hall, Tate Student Center, University of Georgia 1986).

Themes[edit]

The song was in part a tribute to Springsteen's friends who had experienced the Vietnam War, some of whom did not come back; it also protests the hardships Vietnam veterans faced upon their return from the war.

The song's narrative traces the protagonist's working-class origins, induction into the armed forces, and disaffected return to the States. An anguished lyrical interlude is even more jolting, describing the fate of the protagonist's (literal or figurative) brother (in some recordings or live shows, the word brother is replaced with buddy):

I had a brother at Khe Sanh

Fighting off the Viet Cong
They're still there, he's all gone

He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now

The Battle of Khe Sanh involved the North Vietnamese Army, not the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (the Viet Cong) heard in the song lyrics. Eventually the Americans prevailed and broke the siege, only to withdraw from the outpost a couple of months later. Khe Sanh thus became one of the media symbols of the futility of the whole war effort in the States.

Two scholars writing in the journal American Quarterly explored the song as a lament for the embattled working-class identity. Structurally, they noted that "the anthemic chorus contrasted with the verses' desperate narrative," a tension which informs an understanding of the song's overall meaning: the nationalist chorus continuously overwhelms the desperation and sacrifice relayed in the verses. They point out that the imagery of the Vietnam War could be read as metaphor for "the social and economic siege of American blue-collar communities" at large, and that lyrics discussing economic devastation are likely symbolic for the effect of blind nationalism upon the working class. The song as a whole, they felt, laments the destabilization of the economics and politics protecting the "industrial working class" in the 1970s and early 1980s, leaving only "a deafening but hollow national pride."[4]

Political reactions[edit]

In late August 1984, the Born in the U.S.A. album was selling very well, its songs were frequently aired on radio stations, and the associated tour was drawing considerable press. Springsteen shows at the Capital Centre outside of Washington, D.C. thus attracted even more media attention, in particular from CBS Evening News correspondent Bernard Goldberg, who saw Springsteen as a modern-day Horatio Alger story. Even more notably, the widely read conservative columnist George Will, after attending a show, published on September 13, 1984 a piece titled "A Yankee Doodle Springsteen" in which he praised Springsteen as an exemplar of classic American values. He wrote: "I have not got a clue about Springsteen's politics, if any, but flags get waved at his concerts while he sings songs about hard times. He is no whiner, and the recitation of closed factories and other problems always seems punctuated by a grand, cheerful affirmation: 'Born in the U.S.A.!'"[5] The 1984 presidential campaign was in full stride at the time, and Will had connections to President Ronald Reagan's re-election organization. Will thought that Springsteen might endorse Reagan (not knowing that Springsteen was very much a liberal and thus did not support Reagan at all), and got the notion pushed up to high-level Reagan advisor Michael Deaver's office. Those staffers made inquiries to Springsteen's management which were politely rebuffed.

Nevertheless, on September 19, 1984, at a campaign stop in Hammonton, New Jersey, Reagan added the following to his speech:

America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts; it rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.[6]

The campaign press immediately expressed skepticism that Reagan knew anything about Springsteen, and asked what his favorite Springsteen song was; "Born to Run" was the response from staffers.[citation needed] Johnny Carson then joked on The Tonight Show, "If you believe that, I've got a couple of tickets to the Mondale-Ferraro inaugural ball I'd like to sell you."

During a September 21 concert in Pittsburgh, Springsteen responded negatively by introducing his song "Johnny 99", a song about an unemployed auto worker who turns to murder, "The President was mentioning my name the other day, and I kinda got to wondering what his favorite album musta been. I don't think it was the Nebraska album. I don't think he's been listening to this one."[7]

A few days after that, presidential challenger Walter Mondale said, "Bruce Springsteen may have been born to run but he wasn't born yesterday," and then claimed to have been endorsed by Springsteen.[8] Springsteen manager Jon Landau denied any such endorsement, and the Mondale campaign issued a correction.

With "Born in the U.S.A." Springsteen was wildly misunderstood, at least for a short period. With these sound bites from Reagan and other conservatives praising the song and Springsteen, himself, it seemed as though they'd missed the point entirely.[citation needed] Springsteen was lamenting the loss of a true sense of national pride. The working class no longer had a say in the foreign policy or decisions made by the government as a whole. The reverberating chorus of "Born in the U.S.A." was a cry of longing, of sorrow. It was a hollow cry of patriotism that once was, but now ceased to exist.[4]

In Springsteen’s own words, the song "Born in the U.S.A." is about "a working-class man" [in the midst of a] "spiritual crisis, in which man is left lost...It's like he has nothing left to tie him into society anymore. He's isolated from the government. Isolated from his family...to the point where nothing makes sense." [4] Springsteen promotes the fact that the endless search for truth is the true American way.[9]

Journalist Brian Doherty has written: "The song’s lyrics are about a shell-shocked vet with 'no place to run, nowhere to go.' But who’s to say Reagan wasn’t right to insist the song was an upper? When I hear those notes and that drumbeat, and the Boss’ best arena-stentorian, shout-groan vocals come over the speakers, I feel like I’m hearing the national anthem."[10]

General reaction[edit]

A variant sleeve outside the United States

"Born in the U.S.A." peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts in late 1984. It was the third of a record-tying seven Top 10 hit singles to be released from the Born in the U.S.A. album. In addition it made the top 10 of Billboard's Rock Tracks chart, indicating solid play on album-oriented rock stations. The physical single was certified Gold by the RIAA on July 23, 1999,[11] and has also sold 865,000 digital copies in the U.S. as of July 2014 since becoming available for digital downloads.[12] The song was also a hit in the UK, reaching #5 on the UK Singles Chart.

Beyond the 1984 presidential campaign, "Born in the U.S.A." was widely mis-interpreted as purely nationalistic by those who heard the anthemic chorus but not the bitter verses.[13][unreliable source?]

When Springsteen played the song live in East Berlin in 1988 the German audience widely followed the chorus line to express their bonds with the western world and their weariness with their own way of life in the communist system of the GDR.[14]

Springsteen refused Chrysler Corporation CEO Lee Iacocca's request to use "Born in the U.S.A." in commercials for Chrysler cars, turning down an offer that would have been worth several million dollars.

Music video[edit]

The music video for "Born in the U.S.A." was directed by noted filmmaker John Sayles. It consisted of video concert footage of Springsteen and the E Street Band performing the song, poorly synchronized with audio from the studio recording. Released in mid-December 1984, there supposedly had not been enough time to mix the audio from the concert.

This footage was intermixed with compelling mid-1980s scenes of working-class America, emphasizing images that had some connection with the song, including Vietnam veterans, Amerasian children, assembly lines, oil refineries, cemeteries, and the like, finishing with a recreation of the album's cover, with grizzled Springsteen posing in front of an American flag.

Remixes[edit]

On January 10, 1985, Arthur Baker's 12-inch "Freedom Mix" of "Born in the U.S.A." was released. It was a fairly radical remixing, even more so than those Baker had done for the album's previous singles "Dancing in the Dark" and "Cover Me". The mix removed any (possibly misleading) anthemic elements and pushed the song's mournfulness to the front. Synthesizer, glockenspiel, and drums were chopped up and isolated against Springsteen vocal fragments saying "Oh my God, no," and "U.S.A.—U.S.—U.S.—U.S.A."

This remix was the least commercially successful of Baker's efforts, however, as unlike the prior two it failed to appear on Billboard's Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart.

Live performances and subsequent versions[edit]

On Springsteen's 1984-1985 Born in the U.S.A. Tour, "Born in the U.S.A." almost always opened the concerts, in a dramatic, crowd rousing fashion. One such version is included on the Live/1975-85 album.

On the 1988 Tunnel of Love Express Tour, "Born in the U.S.A." generally closed the first set, and on the 1992-1993 "Other Band" Tour, it appeared frequently at the end of the second set. These were both full band versions, although the latter stressed guitar parts more than the familiar synthesizer line.

Beginning with the 1995-1997 solo acoustic Ghost of Tom Joad Tour and associated promotional media appearances, Springsteen radically recast "Born in the U.S.A." once again, playing an acoustic guitar version that was unlike both the original Nebraska and full band performances. This was a stinging, snarling rendition that only included the title phrase twice. This was both in connection with the Tom Joad Tour's wan moods as well as Springsteen's attempt to make clear the song's original and only purpose; in his introduction to the song in this shows he said he still wasn't convinced the song had been misinterpreted, but now as the songwriter he was "going to get the last say." Fan reaction was divided, with some greatly liking the new arrangement and others thinking the song's musical ironies had been lost.

During the 1999-2000 Reunion Tour, "Born in the U.S.A." was not always played, and when it was, it was the stinging solo acoustic version, now on 12-string slide guitar. Such a performance is included on the DVD and CD Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live In New York City. Not until 2002's The Rising Tour and 2004's political Vote for Change tour did the full band "Born in the U.S.A." make a regular comeback; only in the U.S., foreign audiences still got the acoustic one, but a foreign example of "Born in the U.S.A." is heard on Live in Barcelona, in which the full band version is heard.

But then towards the end of Springsteen's solo Devils & Dust Tour in 2005, the most challenging "Born in the U.S.A." yet was unveiled, when he performed it using an amplified "stomping board" and an ultra-distorting vocal "bullet microphone", two devices designed to render any song utterly incomprehensible to all but the sharpest of ears. This slot was normally reserved for the dourest of Nebraska material, and "Born in the U.S.A."'s appearance in it solidified the impression that its origins in those sessions had not been an accident after all.

During the Magic and Working on a Dream Tours, the song was played just 15 times, even though other songs from the album, such as "Dancing in the Dark", "Bobby Jean", and "Glory Days" continued to be regulars. It was famously used as an opener on the radio broadcast 4 July 2008 show in Gothenburg, Sweden.[15]

Track listing[edit]

7": Columbia / 38-04680[edit]

  1. "Born in the U.S.A." - 4:39
  2. "Shut Out the Light" - 3:45
  • The B-side of the single, "Shut Out the Light", was another Vietnam veterans tale.
  • also released on CD in 1988 (Columbia / 38K-04680-S1)

12": Columbia / 44-05147[edit]

  1. "Born In The U.S.A." (The Freedom Mix) - 7:07
  2. "Born In The U.S.A." (Dub) - 7:27
  3. "Born In The U.S.A." (Radio Mix) - 6:01

Charts and certifications[edit]

Chart successions[edit]

Preceded by
"I Want to Know What Love Is" by Foreigner
New Zealand Singles Chart
February 22, 1985 - March 1, 1985 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"I Want to Know What Love Is" by Foreigner
Preceded by
"19" by Paul Hardcastle
Irish IRMA number-one single
June 8, 1985 - June 22, 1985 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"You'll Never Walk Alone" by The Crowd

Covers and parodies[edit]

The song has appeared on recordings ranging from instrumental bluegrass collections to children's music albums (sung by groups of children). Even the London Symphony Orchestra has performed their take on the song.[20]

In 1985, Patti LaBelle covered the song on her live album. Jazz-funk bassist Stanley Clarke recorded the song for his 1985 release, Find Out!. The Allmusic describes this version as "a black man's parody of white arena rock, with Springsteen's bitter lyric ground out rap-style by Clarke."[21] Eric Rigler has recorded an instrumental bagpipe version of the song that has appeared on various Springsteen tribute albums since 2001.[22] Swedish-Argentinian singer-songwriter José González performed a solo acoustic version for a time, choosing not to sing the song's title refrain. Singer-songwriter Richard Shindell covered the song in concerts, performing solo and playing bouzouki. Shindell recorded the song for his album South of Delia. This Morning presenter Matt Johnson performed the song as Bruce Springsteen on week 6 of the ITV show 'Your Face Sounds Familiar'.

There are a number of "Born in the U.S.A." parodies. For example, Cheech and Chong's 1985 comic-political "Born in East L.A." and Mad featured a parody written by Frank Jacobs in its July 1985 issue, called "Porn in the U.S.A." A group of Sesame Street characters (billed as "Bruce Stringbean and the S. Street Band") performed a version of the song called "Barn in the U.S.A." for the album Born to Add.[20] In Canadian Bacon, a Michael Moore film about a Cold War scenario between Canada and the United States, a group of Americans are travelling across Canada while singing along to "Born in the U.S.A." In an apparent nod to the widespread misunderstanding of the lyrics, the characters are only capable of singing the chorus of the song and trail off during the verse. With Springsteen's permission, rap group 2 Live Crew released "Banned in the U.S.A.", a parody of "Born in the U.S.A." released to draw attention to 2 Live Crew's First Amendment troubles.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Born in the U.S.A.": It was his acidly ironic retort to the indifference and hostility Vietnam veterans received on their return home. On hearing Springsteen's Born to Run in 1975, the rock critic Lester Bangs, who liked it quite a bit, once warned, "...his imagery is already ripe, and if he succumbs to sentiment or sheer grandiosity it could well go rotten." [Springsteen Reader, p. 77]. [1]
  2. ^ Brucebase, On The Tracks: Born In The USA
  3. ^ a b "Bruce Springsteen ‘Born In The USA’ | Classic Tracks". Soundonsound.com. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  4. ^ a b c "Project MUSE - American Quarterly - Dead Man's Town: "Born in the U.S.A.," Social History, and Working-Class Identity". Muse.jhu.edu. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  5. ^ "george will on bruce - rec.music.artists.springsteen | Google Groups". Groups.google.com. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  6. ^ "Ronald Reagan Rock, Hammonton, New Jersey". Roadsideamerica.com. 1984-09-19. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  7. ^ "RRC: Archives". rockrap.com. October 1984. Retrieved 2010-04-11. 
  8. ^ "Capitol Rocks to Springsteen's Beat". Associated Press. 1985-08-05. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 
  9. ^ "Project MUSE - Reviews in American History - The Intellectual as Fan". Muse.jhu.edu. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  10. ^ Doherty, Brian. Rage On, Reason (October 2000)
  11. ^ "American single certifications – Bruce Sprinsteen – Born in the U.S.A.". Recording Industry Association of America.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
  12. ^ Paul Grein (July 10, 2014). "Chart Watch: "Beachin'" Over The 4th". Yahoo! Music. 
  13. ^ "Born in the USA Songwriting". Shmoop.com. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  14. ^ See the German "Pop 2000" Episode 9 (#5/5) at 04:20.
  15. ^ "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) by Bruce Springsteen Song Statistics". setlist.fm. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  16. ^ Belgian peak
  17. ^ Nyman, Jake (2005). Suomi soi 4: Suuri suomalainen listakirja (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Tammi. ISBN 951-31-2503-3. 
  18. ^ a b "American single certifications – Springsteen, Bruce – Born in the U.S.A.". Recording Industry Association of America.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
  19. ^ Grein, Paul (July 10, 2014). "Chart Watch: 'Beachin Over the 4th". Nielsen SoundScan. Yahoo! Music. Retrieved July 20, 2014. 
  20. ^ a b "Covers of Bruce Springsteen songs" from a fansite by Matt Orel.
  21. ^ Find Out! review at Allmusic.
  22. ^ Bruce Springsteen Tribute: Made in the U.S.A. review at Allmusic.

Further reading[edit]

  • Born in the U.S.A. The World Tour (tour booklet, 1985), Tour chronology.
  • Marsh, Dave. Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s. Pantheon Books, 1987. ISBN 0-394-54668-7.

External links[edit]