9 Born In The USA
Single and title track of 1984 album
BEN HARPER: I’d pick the version in the box set that was from a TV show that has slide guitar all over it. Fuck, that sends goosebumps up and down your spine because on that version you hear the lyrics. And you realise it’s “born in the USA” as an expression of struggle, not as some fulfilment of the American dream. That fucked me up, man. What a song.
BRETT SPARKS: The most misunderstood song of his (or possibly anyone’s) career. A cynical, ironic critique of post-Vietnam American society, it was originally written as a dark, minor-key, slide-guitar blues, not the anthemic number that Reagan latched onto. First thought, best thought, perhaps. The mass misinterpretation of this song is solid proof that most Americans do not get irony.
RENNIE SPARKS: Ah, America, God bless your huge mountain of nuclear missiles and the snickering moron who now has his hands on the button. Let’s hope we don’t have to go through another Vietnam before people understand this song again.
ADAM DURITZ: I didn’t include any songs from Nebraska, but I kind of think of Born In The USA and Nebraska as two parts of the same album. Nebraska was, after all, made up of demos from the original Born In The USA sessions. Lost in the rush to wave flags at the sound of this song is the fact that it is at its heart a harrowing and truly bitter howl of anger from a dispossessed veteran struggling to understand why the country he loves has betrayed him, and those like him, who fought and died for it.
ED HARCOURT: An incredible, all-consuming song. I really find the way it was misconstrued to be some patriotic, pro-American anthem when it’s so totally opposed to that – so sardonic – to be incredible, the way people can so completely fail to grasp the true nature of a piece of music.
JIM SCLAVUNOS: When I first heard Springsteen, I hated him. I thought he was really shrill and hysterical-sounding. The more I heard songs like “Born In The USA”, however, I found myself begrudgingly coming to like him and his big stadium anthems. Now, I think Springsteen is one of the few American songwriters with a conspicuous class consciousness, and this shines through in songs like “Born In The USA”. The choruses have this stirring anthemic aspect which could appeal to conservative types, but the verses are clearly about the cruelty and complexities of war. Personally, I think the song comes with a similar mentality to post-Vietnam movies like Born On The 4th of July and embodies the same contradictions within American patriotism.
PETER CASE: Idiots thought he was being patriotic on “Born In The USA”, but they missed by a mile – it’s a blanket indictment of US policies, delusions, and lies… the whole mess.
DANIEL DAVIDSON: I grew up hating “Born In The USA” because my dad used to play it every Sunday, but the more I started to understand the Vietnam connection the more I forgot about the flag-waving and fist-pumping and appreciated the lyrics. Now I fucking love it and have converted half my mates.
RUSSELL SIMINS: The weird videos that accompanied “Born In The USA” and “Dancing In The Dark” really put me off this album at the time, but I now consider it one of The Boss’ finest albums. The fact that the Republican Party tried to use the song during Ronald Reagan’s presidency meant a lot of people misinterpreted it as a fist-pumping, all-American pride anthem. These days, most people understand he meant it to be seen as a dark and negative examination of war and politics.
JOHN BRAMWELL: A lot of people mistook “Born In The USA” for being a strong American anthem by a major American icon when really it was a fantastic anti-war and anti-America song. I think it’s one of his best lyrically and whenever I hear it, I picture Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter. I don’t know if Springsteen was influenced by the film or the director was influenced by him. I just know they’re both about a blue-collar worker that gets sent to Vietnam against his will.
LYNDON MORGANS: The sweat-drenched work-shirt, the crack-of-doom snare ricocheting off the stadium walls, the apotheosis of Bruce as blue-collar godhead: I used to get a bit sniffy about it all, thought it was just posturing, but that was the Welsh Congregationalist anti-rockist in me. Once all that shit passed, I realised that Bruce doesn’t posture, he means every note, every syllable, so now I sing along and punch the air and never let ideology get in the way of my rock’n’roll.
RICHARD WARREN: When you look back through Springsteen’s back catalogue, he’s always tried to provide a lifeline with American working-class people and, for me, Born In The USA is the album that demonstrates this most clearly. Everything about this LP, from the title song to the iconic sleeve, is just pure, passionate, unadulterated Springsteen. Turn your guitar up to 10 and play along!
The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle album track, 1973
GEORGE P PELECANOS: It’s tempting to downgrade “Rosalita” because it has been so overexposed, but that would be childish. Even people who aren’t into music play this one at parties which, of course, is part of its populist charm. And anything that New York music critics and that black-clad asshole at the record store sneer at is okay by me. I can’t say enough about it, and anyway, words would not do justice to something that exhilarates on such a primal level. This one has it all: youth, love, and the redemptive power of music, expressed in the music itself. One of the great rock’n’roll performances, and as close to a perfect song as anyone’s ever recorded.
SEAN ROWLEY: I love the song – with this track he threw off the New Dylan bullshit, but the moment it became a permanent fixture on my rock’n’roll jukebox was when I saw the promotional clip, which was shown on The Old Grey Whistle Test. This was my first visual contact with him. Fuck me, he had some energy, it was pure rock’n’roll theatrics in the tradition of Little Richard, and the look, sort of street punk Al Pacino, but what really captured me was his smile – it was a knowing grin, it was saying, “Yes, I really am this fuckin’ good.”
TIM DeLAUGHTER: “Rosalita” is a passionate and freewheeling portrayal of love on the streets. Both the lyrics and music are really moving, and it has a sort of early ‘Springsteen anthem’ feel to it.
CHRIS T-T: I’ve always liked the original version of “Rosalita”, but the live version on Live 1975-85 is scorching. Springsteen sounds like he’s singing with every bone in his body and the band sound like they’re on fire. Never mind The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, this is the best rock’n’roll track of all time.
CHUCK MEAD: ‘Rock’n’Roll Romeo & Juliet’. One of Bruce’s finest plays.