Rarely have consecutive album releases by the same artist appeared so different as Nebraska and Born In The U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen. Nebraska with its stark, bare bones and non commercial songs vs. Born In The USA's up-tempo music which would spawn seven top ten singles and sell fifteen million copies in the United States.
Appearances can be deceiving, however. Beneath the ringing and memorable rock ‘n’ roll music, the lyrics are not as bright and optimistic as one might first suspect. Even the title track which has been used and accepted as a patriotic anthem explores the dark side of the Vietnam veteran experience as they were often forgotten and ignored. This song is representative of Springsteen's continuing exploration of the darker sides of life and while the messages may not be as bleak as those of Nebraska, they still coexist among the commercial and up-tempo hits that comprise this release.
Still, Born In The U.S.A. would change Springsteen’s life and career. He would attain a status that few artists would ever achieve. He was now in his mid-thirties and proved that he could produce popular hit songs. It may have been a last fling at youth, but whatever the case it would be his most popular album.
“Glory Days” remains one of my favorite Springsteen songs. At some time in their lives most people will look back on better times as life moves inexorably onward. The music is catchy and the lyrics tread a fine line between depression and nostalgia. It’s just a song that universally resonates.
“I’m On Fire” is a story of sexual yearning that is almost spooky in its presentation. The rocking “Cover Me” and the smalltown life of “Darlington County” are presented back to back and support each other well. “Bobby Jean” was a poignant farewell salute to Steve Van Zandt who was leaving the E Street Band at the time.
“Dancing In The Dark” won a Grammy Award for the Best Rock Vocal Performance of the year. This synthesizer driven tune was Springsteen’s highest charting individual single and was named by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock ‘n’ roll.
The album finishes with a second personal favorite of mine. “My Hometown” is another song of life grinding a father down, but there may be hope for the son.
I have always maintained that you can say all you want to about an album but the question always comes down to do you actually listen to it with any regularity? I have to say that I do play Born In The U.S.A. more than most Springsteen albums. For me, at least, the music pushes the album over the top and makes the lyrics listenable and even enjoyable.