Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4: Bruce Springsteen, "Born In The U.S.A."

Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Album: Born In The U.S.A.
Year: 1984
Label: Columbia

When it comes to icons of American music, there are very few who hold the status of New Jersey's Bruce Springsteen. One of history's greatest and most dynamic musicians, Springsteen has managed to always play "his" brand of music, while simultaneously achieving great commercial success. Taking as much influence from Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan as he did from The Rolling Stones and The Who, Springsteens' music runs from quiet would all the way to rock and roll anthems. By the time 1984 rolled around, Springsteen was already a household name thanks to legendary albums like Born To Run and Nebraska. Constantly presenting a sound and lyrics that all could relate to, with simple tales of common struggle, Springsteen was largely held as the "working man's rock star." However, shifting gears and concentrating on much more grandiose musical arrangements, his 1984 record, Born In The U.S.A. still stands today as his finest musical achievement.

Without a doubt, Born In The U.S.A. represents Springsteen's greatest commercial success. The album reached number one in nearly ten countries, and has sold over twenty-five million copies worldwide. More than half of the songs on Born In The U.S.A. were released as singles, with every one of the breaking into the top ten. While on the surface, the fact that all seven singles reached the top ten may not seem significant, the truth is, it has only happened on two other occasions. The only other times that a single album as yielded seven singles came on Michael Jackson's Thirller, and his sister, Janet's, Rhythm Nation 1814. The lead single, "Dancer In The Dark," shot to the second spot on the charts, becoming the highest charting song of Springsteen's career, and led to over one million copies of the album being sold in the first month of its release. Much of the success behind the album comes from the trio of producers in Springsteen, Steven VanZandt, and Chuck Plotkin. This trio world together on many of Springsteen's records, and their ability to keep the band focused, yet innovative, is what gives the album much of it's greatness. Having found success with everyone from The Who to Paul McCartney, one also cannot overlook the amazing work and contributions of engineer Bob Clearmountain. While the folks "behind the glass" had a large impact on how the final product sounded, their job was relatively easy due to the phenomenal level of talent that was working in the studio.

Bruce Springsteen's "E Street Band" has long stood as one of the most talented backing groups in the music world. Perhaps the most significant part of the incarnation of The E Street Band featured on Born In The U.S.A. is that it would be the last appearance of guitarist Steven Van Zandt for well over a decade. Easily one of the most accomplished songwriters and guitarists of his generation, the song "Bobby Jean" is largely considered to be about Van Zandt and his departure from the band. Though he achieved much of his notoriety in another role, drummer Max Weinberg is similarly one of the most recognizable musicians within The E Street Band. Holding the position since the early 1970's, Weinberg remains one of the most highly respected drummers on the planet, even having enough leverage to get TV network NBC to allow him temporarily out of his contract so he could tour with Springsteen. Three of the members of Born In The U.S.A.'s incarnation of The E Street Band are, in fact, original members. Sax player Clarence Clemons, bassist Garry Tallent, and organ player Danny Federici all spend nearly their entire musical careers backing Springsteen. Clemons played with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Ringo Starr as well as being offered a position as a player with the Cleveland Browns before he ended up in the band. Danny Federici was trained to play polka on the accordion, and this talent was featured throughout the Springsteen catalog until Federici's death in 2008. Garry Tallent is one of the more "invisible" members of the band, yet his sound and work on bass is an essential element to the bands' overall sound. While Bruce Springsteen always commands center stage, the grouping of musicians he had behind him on Born In The U.S.A. is much of the reason that the album was so successful.

While Springsteen's slightly raspy voice and fantastic vocal delivery are top notch, it is his lyrical content that makes him the superstar that he is today. Even with all of the success and recognition that it received, Born In The U.S.A. still stands as one of the most widely misinterpreted albums in history; perhaps no song more than the title track. While most consider the song, "Born In The U.S.A." to be an American anthem, the truth is, the song was written about Springsteen's friends who fought (and died) in the Vietnam War. The song follows a working class draftee who fights, then returns to the U.S. to find he has nothing. Taking the Battle of Khe Sanh (feel free to google that) as the focal point and analogy for the entire war, Springsteen crafts a perfect juxtaposition between dark, somber lyrics, and bright, rocking music. The song is also remembered for the controversy behind it being used (without permission) during the re-election campaign of Ronald Regan in 1984. The song is consistent with Springsteen's long-running tales of the downtrodden and the working class and their daily struggles. From the heart-wrenching "Downbound Train" to the racially infused, tale of economic struggle in "My Hometown," Springsteen proves over and over his amazing talent for penning phenomenal lyrics. Yet, Springsteen also offers a few more upbeat, jovial numbers. "Darlington Country" is a whimsical tale of traveling into a new town and trying to impress the local girls with the fact that they were from New York. The song, which was a live staple, did not appear for nearly eight years following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The other more upbeat treasure found on Born In The U.S.A. remains one of Springsteen's most popular anthems, "Glory Days." A tale of an older man reminiscing on his younger days, the bouncing beat and "everyman" lyrics make it one of the most heavily played, most recognizable, and most beloved songs of Springsteen's entire career. Nearly every song on Born In The U.S.A. is a "Springsteen classic," and as is often the case, while Bruce Springsteen has a superb voice, it is usually overshadowed by his stunning lyrics.

For nearly forty years, Bruce Springsteen has been an American music icon, representing and singing the struggles of the working man and middle class. Having authored countless "American anthems," Born In The U.S.A. features many of his finest moments, including the title track, his most successful single, and the stadium regular, "Glory Days." Shifting to a far more pop oriented sound, the inclusion of prominent synthesizer tracks gave many of the songs their "anthemic" feel, and the album represents Springsteen's shift to the next stage of his career. The shift in sound and style was also represented by the departure of longtime friend and guitarist, Steven Van Zandt. Behind Springsteen has always been a collection of the greatest musicians on the planet, and this grouping is no different, with The E Street Band in top form throughout the entire record. While Bruce Springsteen had already achieved worldwide success on the strength of his melancholy, yet honest and universally themed albums, it was his 1984 release, Born In The U.S.A. that cemented his status as a true musical icon and the album still stands as one of the most phenomenal pieces of recorded music in history.

Standout tracks: "Born In The U.S.A.," "Downbound Train," and "Dancer In The Dark."

1 comment:

TaylorSwift said...

One of my long standing dreams was to attend Bruce Springsteen concerts live. . I know all the words of his songs by heart …well he is performing this year. Next weekend I’m going to visit my sister and we will attend his
concert; someone recommended me to get cheap tix.So I'll be analyzing as well as enjoying the concert.