Bruce Springsteen – Born In The USA

Get your bandanas ready…this weekend I’m going to cover some of the Born In The USA album by Bruce Springsteen. We will start off with the title track.

Springsteen wrote this about the problems Vietnam veterans encountered when they returned to America. Vietnam was the first war the US didn’t win, and while veterans of other wars received a hero’s welcome, those who fought in Vietnam were mostly ignored when they returned to their homeland.

The other song that has someone really ripping the vocals is “Twist and Shout” sung by John Lennon with the Beatles.

The song peaked at #9 in the Billboard 100, #1 in New Zealand, #11 in Canada, and #5 in the UK in 1985. This is the first song and title track to one of the most popular albums ever…Born In The U.S.A. sold over 18 million copies.

I remember back in the 80s Chrysler offered Springsteen $12 million to use this in an ad campaign with Bruce… Springsteen turned them down so they used “The Pride Is Back” by Kenny Rogers instead. Springsteen has never let his music be used to sell products.

From Songfacts

The original title was “Vietnam.” The director Paul Schrader sent Springsteen a script for a movie called Born In The U.S.A., about a rock band struggling with life and religion. This gave Bruce the idea for the new title. Unfortunately for Schrader, when he was finally ready to make the movie in 1985, the title “Born In The U.S.A.” was too associated with the song. Springsteen helped him out however, providing the song “Light Of Day,” which became the new title for Schrader’s movie and the feature song in the film.

This is one of the most misinterpreted songs ever. Most people thought it was a patriotic song about American pride, when it actually cast a shameful eye on how America treated its Vietnam veterans. Springsteen considers it one of his best songs, but it bothers him that it is so widely misinterpreted. With the rollicking rhythm, enthusiastic chorus, and patriotic album cover, it is easy to think this has more to do with American pride than Vietnam shame.

The single was released in England as a double A-side with “I’m On Fire.”
It was the first song Springsteen wrote for the album. He first recorded it on January 3, 1982 on the tape that became his album Nebraska later that year.

While campaigning in New Jersey in 1984, Ronald Reagan said in 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.”

Springsteen talked about this in a 2005 interview with National Public Radio. Said Bruce: “This was when the Republicans first mastered the art of co-opting anything and everything that seemed fundamentally American, and if you were on the other side, you were somehow unpatriotic. I make American music, and I write about the place I live and who I am in my lifetime. Those are the things I’m going to struggle for and fight for.”

Speaking of how the song was misinterpreted, he added: “In my songs, the spiritual part, the hope part is in the choruses. The blues, and your daily realities are in the details of the verses. The spiritual comes out in the choruses, which I got from gospel music and the church.”

This song inspired the famous Annie Leibowitz photo of Springsteen’s butt against the backdrop of an American flag. Bruce had to be convinced to use it as the album’s cover. Some people thought it depicted Springsteen urinating on the flag.

Looking back on the cover in a 1996 interview with NME, Springsteen said: “I was probably working out my own insecurities, y’know? That particular image is probably the only time I look back over pictures of the band and it feels like a caricature to me.”

According to Max Weinberg, Bruce attempted to do the song in a rockabilly trio style, with a country beat.

The drum solo towards the end of the song was completely improvised. Drummer Max Weinberg said that the band was recording in an oval-shaped studio, with the musicians separated into different parts. Springsteen, at the front, suddenly turned towards Weinberg (at the back) after singing and waved his hands in the air frantically to signal drumming. Weinberg then nailed it.

Eight minutes were cut from the song, which Max Weinberg said went on into a psychedelic jam. 

Bruce performed solo, acoustic versions on his tours in 1996 and 1999. He wanted to make sure the audience understood the song.

Springsteen allowed notorious rap group The 2 Live Crew to sample this for their song “Banned In The U.S.A.” in 1990, after the group was arrested for performing songs with obscene lyrics. Bruce felt they had a constitutional right to say whatever they wanted in their songs.

This was recorded live in the studio in three takes.

Richard “Cheech” Marin parodied this in the song “Born In East L.A.,” which came from his 1987 movie of the same name. Sample lyrics:

Next thing I know, I’m in a foreign land
People talkin’ so fast, I couldn’t understand

Born In The U.S.A. was the first CD manufactured in the United States for commercial release. It was pressed when CBS Records opened its CD manufacturing plant in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1984. Discs previously had been imported from Japan.

The children’s TV show Sesame Street reworked this as “Barn In The U.S.A.,” credited to Bruce Stringbean and the S. Street Band. 

Springsteen’s fist-pumping recitations of this lament for the plight of the Vietnam War veterans during his 1984-85 Born In The USA tour contributed to its mis-reading as a patriotic song by US right-wingers. Critic Greil Marcus wrote: “Clearly the key to the enormous explosion of Bruce’s popularity is the misunderstanding… He is a tribute to the fact that people hear what they want to hear.”

The video was directed by John Sayles, who wrote the screenplay for the 1978 movie Piranha and later directed the films Lone Star, Honeydripper and Eight Men Out . Most of the video is footage of Springsteen performing the song in concert – he wore the same outfit for a few consecutive shows so Sayles could get the shots (Springsteen didn’t want to lip-synch). Other footage came from a Vietnamese neighborhood in Los Angeles and Springsteen’s old stomping ground, Asbury Park, New Jersey. The video stuck to the true meaning of the song, with shots of factory workers, regular folks walking the streets, soldiers training for combat, and a line of guys waiting for payday loans. Sayles said in the book I Want My MTV: “It was right around the time that Ronald Reagan had co-opted ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ and Reagan, his policies were everything that the song was complaining about. I think some of the energy of the performance came from Bruce deciding, ‘I’m going to claim this song back from Reagan.'”

This was not the first hit song to tell a story about a Vietnam veteran’s return to America. In 1982, The Charlie Daniels Band took “Still in Saigon” to #22 in America. That song was written by Dan Daley, who felt that only two artists were right for it. “Since it was such a political song, the strategy was there were only two artists that it would make sense to give it to,” Daley told us. “One was Bruce Springsteen and the other was Charlie Daniels. Because both had made public statements in support of Vietnam veterans.”

Springsteen has often reflected on the Vietnam War in his work. He didn’t serve because he dodged the draft, pretending to be a misfit high on LSD. He has expressed guilt, knowing someone else went in his place, and may not have returned.

When Springsteen performed a spare, acoustic version of the song during his Springsteen On Broadway run from 2017-2018, he would introduce it with a story about Walter Cichon (pronounced sha-shone), leader of a New Jersey rock band called the Motifs, who seemed destined for stardom. Cichon got drafted and in 1968 went missing in action (Springsteen’s 2014 song “The Wall” is about Cichon).

With this backdrop, “Born In The U.S.A.” tells the tragic story not just of soldiers who were neglected when they returned to Vietnam, but also to those who never made it home.

Jennifer Lopez incorporated a bit of this song into her set when she performed at halftime of the 2020 Super Bowl. Lopez honored both her homeland and her heritage by donning a feathered cape with the Puerto Rican flag on one side and the American flag on the other. When she revealed the Puerto Rican side, her daughter Emme sang the chorus of “Born In The U.S.A.” Lopez was born in New York City.

Springsteen left the song out of his set when he played the Super Bowl halftime show in 2009.

The opening line, “Born down in a dead man’s town,” is quoted in Stephen King’s It (1986) to introduce “Part 1: The Shadow Before,” which tells us all about the cursed town of Derry, Maine, and the children who came together to fight an evil clown.

Born In The USA

Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
End up like a dog that’s been beat too much
‘Til you spend half your life just covering up

Born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A
Born in the U.S.A

Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man

Born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man said “son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “son, don’t you understand”

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

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go

Born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A
Born in the U.S.A
I’m a long gone Daddy in the U.S.A
Born in the U.S.A
Born in the U.S.A
Born in the U.S.A
I’m a cool rocking Daddy in the U.S.A

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

36 thoughts on “Bruce Springsteen – Born In The USA”

  1. A very good song off a great album, which probably is his best-seller because it deserved to be. This track is overplayed on radio mind you, but that doesn’t make it bad. Funny though how so many people don’t listen to lyrics at all- it was obvious to me first time I heard it it was a scathing rebuke oft the US government , but people in that same government took it as a pat on the back from a popular star.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Shows you how much I listen to the radio these days…I haven’t heard it in a long time. Yep polititicans flocked to it without listening to anything but the chorus.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes it did….I was surprised about it going to number 1 in New Zealand. I wouldn’t have thought that in any country. It was quite successful around the world.
      I like Shut out the Light.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. OH. OH. OH. The above is one of the reasons I don’t like him despite liking some of his music. Reagan pays the man (not the song) a compliment and he gets a case of the ass over it. What? Republicans are the only politicians that co-opt things for their own purposes? “…and if you were on the other side, you were somehow unpatriotic.” He couldn’t graciously accept a compliment from a Rep but, he could play at Obama’s Inauguration (and vacation with him). What a blowhard hypocrite. *facepalm*

    Critic Greil Marcus writes pure gold. Hey. Bruce. You got popular because people thought you were being patriotic. If you were trying to slam the Reagan Admin…you missed, you moron. “He didn’t serve because he dodged the draft, pretending to be a misfit high on LSD. He has expressed guilt, knowing someone else went in his place and may not have returned.” My Vietnam veteran would have some choice words for his cowardly ass. Gee, he got to stay stateside and get rich playing music. How admirable…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It wasn’t just Reagan…many latched on without listening to the words. I doubt Reagan latched on to it…it was probably an adviser…but yea I remember when all of this happened. This was the first time in my life that I could remember a huge politician quoting a rock song.
      Carter liked The Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin but didn’t quote from them.

      I did like the fact he turned down 12 million from Chrysler to do the ad…

      Yea after what he said about the draft it didn’t look good.

      Like

      1. That is a great article…it is true. Before Born in the USA he stayed quiet on politics. Then in the 90s he went way into it. He started to appear on talk shows and speak.
        The No Nukes concert was something…that he was even doing it. He just didn’t do anything other than make records and concerts.

        Carter loved the Allmans…he would play their albums late into the night lol.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. He did do some good though. I have to hand it to him on one thing. He raised a lot of money for the VA and for Vets on this tour. He would make a point of meeting with them so I have to give him that. Help them getting better facilities.

      Like

  3. I love The Boss. New info on his draft dodging, but I don’t hold that against him. And this is coming from a family who has had many serve in active duty in WWII and ‘Nam. The Boss has inspired countless individuals who have endured some very rough times over the years in our great, but never perfect land. We need his music more than ever now. Glad you are covering one of his greatest albums.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One draft story is Gregg Allman’s “foot shooting party”…yep it’s what you think. I’ll try to add the story to a Gregg Allman song.
      What Bruce did was to raise a lot of money for Vets…so he did help. He would come to town and pledge to donate to the Vets at most stop and meet with them to get them noticed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand sometimes soldiers need to step up and fight for freedom, but in the case of ‘Nam, it had nothing to do with freedom, and everything to do with …………… I’m not sure what but it wasn’t anyone’s freedom. I will be on the lookout for Gregg’s “foot shooting party.” Glad to hear Bruce made his amends. It doesn’t bring back anyone’s life, but it can make life for the survivors of war less tormented.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. That is GREAT! I love that song. I’ll do it tomorrow or Sunday dude. I’m trying to pick the ones that weren’t the giant ones at first anyway. Tomorrow comes Darlington County with my memories of a graduation trip to Florida.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Me also man… Darlington County, No Surrender, and this one are the ones I listen to the most. As B.O.C says…”Time to play B Sides”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Exactly! In some of my reviews I always would sometimes say that tracks 7-10 on any given album you could put under the category of ‘End of Album Gems”.

        Like

  4. “Born in the U.S.A.” was my intro to Bruce Springsteen. Unfortunately, I think that tune was overexposed on the radio in Germany, but I still like it to this day, along with pretty much every other tune on the album. “Downbound Train”, “I’m on Fire”, “No Surrender” and “Bobby Jean” – so many other great songs on that record!

    While I don’t doubt Springsteen’s intentions, I think he could have foreseen there was a risk a song titled “Born in the U.S.A.” with an anthem-like melody could be misunderstood in spite of the lyrics that make it clear he doesn’t glorify the country. Of course, in retrospect it’s always easier to be smart.

    “Born in the U.S.A.” led me to Springsteen’s earlier work and what became my favorite, the “Born to Run” album.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree we all heard it to death at the time. My favorite songs are the ones that weren’t hits. I’ll be posting some of the non hits this weekend. The thing that struck me about the album is the mix…it’s crystal clear compared to the River or other albums at the time.

      Yea he had to know about the title. He wrote it for Nebraska…that would have been interesting.

      The politicians just grabbed the patriotic chorus and ran with it. If they would have listened to the first line…it would have told them.

      I like Born To Run also…his debut album also is worth a spin….he sounds a lot like 1966 Dylan on it to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Springsteen did a whole speech about the Draft event before he unleashed into ‘War’ on the live album. I wrote it word for word when I was a kid. I think I’ll feature it in a blog post soon.

    I much prefer the versions of Born in the USA live in concert. It sends goosebumps up my arms when he yells ‘1,2..1,2,3,4’ and then the huge synthesizer sound blasts in from Roy Bittan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did like Tunnel Of Love…but the change was happening… Jeremy I liked the sound of this album. That is what struck me at the time….it was so clear.

      Liked by 1 person

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