Born down in a dead man's town....
Released June 1984
Recorded at The Power Station, New York City
Running time 46:57
This was the big one, the one that, unfortunately for those of us that still viewed Springsteen as a "cult" artist, saw his albums sitting in the record collections of those whose only other albums were Thriller, Brother In Arms and Face Values. This horrified me. For this reason I have never had much time for this album. Somewhat unfair, I know. Even now, looking back on it, it is certainly no classic, by any means. It is simply twelve radio friendly rock songs of varying potency and quality. It is not the glory of Born To Run, the streetwise romance of The Wild, The Innocent & The E St Shuffle, the angry hopelessness of Darkness On The Edge Of Town or even the haunting Nebraska, by any stretch of the imagination. Not at all.
For many, however, this was their first introduction to the wonderful artist that is Bruce Springsteen, and therefore it has a real emotional meaning for them. I understand that completely. For me, though, I was seven years down the line and viewed its appearance and almighty success somewhat differently. Just a personal thing. Yes, some of the tracks did it for me, but many of them, if I was honest, were a bit underwhelming. There was nothing like Badlands, Jungleland, Incident On 57th Street or Racing In The Street on here. Many years later, upon the release of the Tracks box set, in 1998, I realised just how much quality material Springsteen had left off this album. Like Dylan, Springsteen made some awful choices when it came to track selection. For example, This Hard Land or Brothers Under The Bridges didn't make it, yet Cover Me and I'm Going Down did.
1. Born In The USA
2. Cover Me
3. Darlington County
4. Working On The Highway
5. Downbound Train
6. I'm On Fire
7. No Surrender
8. Bobby Jean
9. I'm Goin' Down
10. Glory Days
11. Dancing In The Dark
12. My Hometown
After the acoustic bleakness of Nebraska, Springsteen brought the E St. Band back to provide a full on backing, and a much fuller, richer one than the tinny sound of The River. This is unashamedly a commercial, rock album. From the bombastic, anthemic, but often totally misunderstood Born In The USA (the bottleneck blues original would have put the point over far more convincingly, with no ambiguity) to the rockabilly fun of Working On The Highway and the cowbell riff-driven Darlington County to the bleakness of I'm On Fire and My Hometown, there is still some enjoyable stuff on here.
My own personal favourite is the rousing guitar and drum attack of No Surrender and the sax and piano singalong Bobby Jean has a Spectoresque/Clarence Clemons sax solo appeal, very typical E St. Band. Downbound Train has a dark message to it, worthy of the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album. It is probably the album's bleakest track and stands alone from most of the good-time rock of much of the rest of it, with its lyrics about losing a job and a girl and getting "laid off down at the lumber yard". While No Surrender is my favourite, Downbound Train is probably the album's standout track in terms of Springsteen credibility.
However, two of its most popular tracks, Dancing In The Dark and Glory Days have never done much for me. The latter a somewhat embarrassing lament for days gone by that were probably never as glorious as the protagonist makes them sound. (Admittedly, that is the whole point of the song). Neither have the rock-by-numbers tracks like Cover Me and I'm Goin' Down. I would definitely put the previous six albums ahead of this one.
For many, though, this is his best album, so who am I to disagree?
Maybe the last word on it should go to Springsteen himself, who has expressed some mixed feelings about the album, feeling that Nebraska contained some of his strongest songwriting, while this album did not necessarily follow suit -
"...The title track more or less stood by itself. The rest of the album contains a group of songs about which I've always had some ambivalence."
Below is a clip of Springsteen performing Born In The USA in 1985.
B- (for its commercial success, mainly)