Born in the U.S.A. is the seventh studio album by American rock singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen, released on June 4, 1984. A critical and commercial triumph, it found Springsteen marking a departure in his sound. While its predecessor, the dark and acoustic Nebraska, featured songs of pessimism and isolation, Born in the U.S.A.'s lyrics expressed signs of hope in the daily fight of the ordinary American in following the American Dream, a new feeling complemented by synthesized arrangements and a pop-flavored, radio-oriented sound that helped Springsteen to extend his popularity and appeal to mainstream audiences. The album was supported by an enormous commercial campaign that helped create several hit singles, as well as remixes and music videos.
Born in the U.S.A. was the best-selling album of 1985 in the United States (and also Springsteen's most successful album ever), selling 15 million copies in the U.S alone, and 30 million worldwide. The album produced a record-tying string of seven Top 10 singles (tied with Michael Jackson's Thriller and Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814) and also a worldwide concert tour (the two-year Born in the U.S.A. Tour) that was a success. The album was lauded by most critics and is often considered one of Springsteen's finest albums (Rolling Stone magazine rated it the 86th-greatest album of all time, his second on the list) along with his 1975 breakthrough, Born to Run. The scathing condemnation of the title track is often misinterpreted as a patriotic anthem as a result of the repeating chorus. Its cover (a close-up of Springsteen's rear in front of an American flag, as he was photographed by Annie Leibovitz) became an iconic image of the era.
In 1981, Springsteen was asked to write music for a film by Paul Schrader called Born in the U.S.A. (Schrader's movie would eventually be released in 1987, entitled Light of Day, featuring Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett). Shortly after, when Springsteen was working on a song titled "Vietnam," he glanced at the script and sang the title. The song, entitled as the work-in-progress movie, was already finished during the sessions of Springsteen's introspective album Nebraska, and Springsteen originally wanted to include it on the album. However, it was removed as it did not coincide with the dark feel of the rest of the songs. The same happened with other songs already cut around January or February 1982 – the energetic rocker "Cover Me" and the intimate "I'm On Fire". Between April and May, Springsteen composed and recorded a number of songs specifically intended for an album besides Nebraska at The Power Station in New York – "Born in the U.S.A.", "Darlington County", "Working on the Highway", "Downbound Train", "I'm Goin' Down" and "Glory Days". By mid-1982, most of the album was already recorded over three months before the commercial release of Nebraska. In May 1983, Springsteen cut another song, "My Hometown" at The Hit Factory and around the end of the year he taped the two final tracks originally considered for the album – "No Surrender" and "Bobby Jean".
A last moment addition was "Dancing in the Dark", a song specifically commissioned by Springsteen's producer and manager Jon Landau, who was satisfied with the material recorded but wanted a blockbuster first single, one that was fresh and directly relevant to Springsteen's current state of mind. Landau and Springsteen got into an argument, but later on Springsteen wrote "Dancing in the Dark" with some trepidation. His irked mood from the day's argument combined with the frustrations at trying to complete the album quickly poured out into the lyrics. As he wrote on his 1998 book Songs, "It went as far in the direction of pop music as I wanted to go – and probably a little farther." However, Springsteen noted that "My heroes, from Hank Williams to Frank Sinatra to Bob Dylan, were popular musicians. They had hits. There was value in trying to connect with a large audience."
One of the songs that was about to be left off the album was "No Surrender". Springsteen claimed that this was because "you don't hold out and triumph all the time in life. (...) You compromise, you suffer defeat; you slip into life's gray areas." E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt convinced Springsteen otherwise: "He argued that the portrait of friendship and the song's expression of the inspirational power of rock music was an important part of the picture."
Born in the U.S.A. became the first compact disc manufactured in the United States for commercial release when CBS and Sony opened its CD manufacturing plant in Terre Haute, Indiana in September 1984. Columbia Records' CDs previously had been imported from Japan.
All songs written by Bruce Springsteen.
- "Born in the U.S.A. – 4:39
- "Cover Me" – 3:27
- "Darlington County" – 4:48
- "Working On the Highway" – 3:11
- "Downbound Train" – 3:35
- "I'm On Fire" – 2:37
- "No Surrender" – 4:00
- "Bobby Jean" – 3:46
- "I'm Goin' Down" – 3:29
- "Glory Days" – 4:15
- "Dancing In The Dark" – 4:00
- "My Hometown" – 4:34
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The liner notes of the album feature an Italian phrase, "Buon viaggio, mio fratello, Little Steven", which is Italian for, "Good journey, my brother, Little Steven". E Street Band member Little Steven Van Zandt left the E Street Band during the making of Born in the U.S.A. to pursue a solo career. He would return to the band during the brief 1995 reunion and during the 1999-2000 Reunion Tour.