This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #184: Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen.
Any list of the best or biggest selling or most popular songs of the 1980s always includes Bruce Springsteen’s biggest selling single of all-time, “Born in the USA” from the album of the same name. That album spawned seven Top Ten singles, sold thirty million copies worldwide and helped elevate Springsteen, from his cult-like early career status, all the way to the very top of the music pecking order in the US. However, as is often the case with songs such as this, that literally drape themselves in the American flag, there is a lot of emotion and, at times, misconception that accompany “Born in the USA”. For me, I really enjoy this song because of the clever point Springsteen makes by structuring the song as he does. But, there is even more to talk about than that so, let’s get down to the business of telling the incredible story of “Born in the USA” by “The Boss”, Bruce Springsteen.
Bruce Springsteen is a wonderful songwriter. Much of his song catalogue features his creative takes on the lives of ordinary, working class people. For anyone paying attention, his politics have always been pretty plain to see. He has always been on the side of those who work hard for their paycheque. Along wth other singers such as John Mellencamp and Bob Seger, for example, Springsteen has been dubbed the leader of a genre of Rock music known as “Heartland Rock” because he so perfectly paints portraits of everyday life in the Heartland of America. That he can tell these stories so well, with a poet’s touch, is only part of the skill set he brings into the studio with him when it comes time to record new songs. Springsteen’s craftmanship also shines through in how clever his song construction is. Allow me to explain.
The song, “Born in the USA” is about veterans of the Vietnam War and, in particular, the horrors they faced during that conflict, as well as, the poor treatment they received from their fellow Americans once they returned home. It details the detachment many veterans felt from the political system, from society and from their own families and friends because of what they had endured. Bruce Springsteen is very much on the side of these veterans all throughout this song. He sings of their struggles with great force and passion. However, his crowning glory comes from the structure of this song. Springsteen’s whole point is to illustrate the divide in America; between those jingoistic warmongers, who define America via its’ military strength and those who serve that appetite by paying the price with their physical and mental health. Springsteen contends that the odds are stacked against those who serve so, he built his song in a way that illustrates this point each time it is played. “Born in the USA” has two parts: a rousing, anthemic, nationalistic chorus and then, a series of verses that tell the story of the struggles of Vietnam vets. For many, the part that people remember most about this song is the fist-pumping, arms in the air, USA-USA-USA! chorus! This chorus represents the nationalistic aspect of American culture and, as Springsteen shows, wth every performance of this song, that militaristic mindset dominates American society, just as the chorus dominates this song.
Not surprisingly then, “Born in the USA” stands as one of the most misunderstood songs of our modern times. It is a song that is continuously adopted by the political Right-wing in the US as an anthem for their mindset and the policies that flow from it. Bruce Springsteen has had to repeatedly file court injunctions in order to get politicians such as Ronald Reagen and Donald Trump to stop using his song at their campaign rallies and in their political ads. For many casual fans, “Born in the USA” plays as a patriotic song. Singing it out loud feels like the right thing to be doing when one is proud of who they are and where they are from. But, when you really listen to the lyrics, it is easy to discern that “Born in the USA” is a treatise on the price ordinary citizens/soldiers pay when living in a country where the military machine drives so much of the narrative of America’s national story. “Born in the USA” may be an arena rocker of a song but, make no mistake, it is not a pro-patriotic song by any stretch of the imagination.
But, what boggles my mind just as much as Springsteen’s song construction or the poetry in his lyrics, is how prolific a writer he was at the time. Just prior to the release of the album, “Born in the USA”, Springsteen released another critically-acclaimed album called, “Nebraska”. This album contained songs such as “Atlantic City”, “Mansion on the Hill” and “Open All Night”. The amazing part of this is that he wrote the songs for “Nebraska” at the very same time as he wrote the songs for the album, “Born in the USA”. In total, he wrote and recorded over 80(!) songs; some of which went on to become, “Nebraska”, some of which went on to become “Born in the USA” and the rest of which, fans hope some day, become a third album all of its own. Bruce Springsteen has been quoted as saying he feels prouder of the quality of the songs on “Nebraska” than he does of the songs on “Born in the USA”, which he refers to as a “grab bag” of songs. But, the popularity of that “grab bag” of songs is undeniable.
So, without further ado, here is one of the most popular and misunderstood songs in the last half-century of music in America….”Born in the USA” by one of the most talented singer/songwriters of our time, Mr. Bruce Springsteen. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Born In The USA” by Bruce Springsteen, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Bruce Springsteen, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.