In the summer of ’84, after releasing six studio albums over 10 massively successful years, heartland rock’s reigning champion, The Boss, would turn out an album for the people, a vestige of the everyman, and possibly the greatest American rock album of all time: Born in the U.S.A.
The year 1984 was a somewhat misunderstood epoch of sociocultural nationalism for Americans. On his previous album, 1982’s Nebraska, Springsteen had begun to sort out a feeling of servitude to the realism of our society and the legacy of the people who populated it. That sparse album was essentially a collection of demo recordings that skipped the band and went straight to wax. With its success, he utilized all the production tools and the entire E Street Band to create a more pop friendly vessel to carry similar songwriting and storytelling. The results were incredible.
The album’s composition has a serious amount of depth to it. Even the singles, beyond being so radio friendly, are fleshed out narratives that use common colloquialisms teeming with relatable metaphors to convey a sense of familiarity with human experience.
Lyrically, Springsteen addresses a lot of underlying themes in American culture at the time; touching on recession period issues including the disparagement of Vietnam veterans, sociopolitical affairs in small town America, the failing of nostalgic romanticism, the naive hopes and dreams of prosperity among voters, the marginalization of blue collar workers and the tedious grind of adulthood.
This album made commonality important, drawing attention to realize the importance of representing the pieces to the whole.
My favorite track—also my favorite Springsteen song—is “Downbound Train.” A very 1970s rock riff begins a song about conventional ’80s rock topics (making money, having women, things going well) and takes a drastically real turn into a lament about lost love, a dying positivity about individualism, a moment of surrealism and a waking daydream disintegration, as the narrator reenter the grind of living a life of normality. It’s such a familiar premise, and so creatively exposed. In a lot of ways, I feel that single song encapsulates the entire album.
In today’s world it’s really strange to imagine an album as dualistic as this one. It’s equal parts pop and rock, catchy hooks and complex themes, arena size ballads and low-tempo laments, vivacious music and deeply sentimental lyrics.
Speaking to and for the average American of 1984, this recording produced seven Top 10 singles by being so highly relatable for its audience. Songs like “Dancing in the Dark,” “I’m on Fire,” “Glory Days” and of course the title track have become radio, film, cover band and barroom jukebox staples every day for the past 35 years. This was also the very first album to be produced in the U.S. on compact disc, manufactured in the symbolic midwestern town of Terre Haute, Indiana.
By embracing his music’s blue collar roots, Bruce Springsteen made the biggest album of his career and one most iconic albums ever released. Endowed with the approachability of the most universal pop albums, it’s a Trojan horse of creative verbosity and Reagan-era elucidation. Thirty-five years later, it’s still a subversive proclamation about the everyday lives of ordinary folks who were born in the U.S.A.
Listen to: “Downbound Train,” “My Hometown” “Dancing in the Dark”
Kiefer is a writer, musician and zealous record collector. He started hoarding vinyl because mp3s weren’t convenient enough, cassettes were too expensive, and he couldn’t turn a CD over. The soundtrack of his life is chronicled every week as #KiefersMusicMondays on Instagram (@key_fur). Currently residing in Lubbock, TX—home of Buddy Holly—he’s an avid music enthusiast by day and a mixologist by night, fighting the good fight for all things artistic. He started writing for MMC in 2019.