Performer: Bruce Springsteen
Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen
Original Release: Born in the U.S.A.
Definitive Version: Bruce Springteen & the E Street Band: Live in New York City, 2001
If you know this song only from the flag-waving, fist-pumping studio-album anthem that ruled the Eighties, you’ve never really heard this song before.
I can’t stand the original version. The Live in New York version puts this song at No. 318, because it’s a completely different song—only the words are the same.
When you hear the words stripped of the bombastic music, there is no question that Ronald Reagan never would’ve used this song as a re-election campaign song. It’s certainly not a song about Reagan’s America—at least the America he was peddling.
Springsteen wrote this song for the bleak Nebraska album for a reason. Why he then decided to tart it up and turn it into the celebratory hymn most people instantly recognize, I’ll never know, but this might be the most misunderstood song in rock history. As a point of fact, Springsteen doesn’t play the anthemic version on stage any more. He plays it more like the Live in New York version now, solo on acoustic slide guitar, almost apologetically rather than triumphantly.
When I started putting together the list for this here blog, I had a pretty good idea of about 800 or 900 songs that belonged on here. After that, I went to my CDs to load up songs that I remembered as being pretty good but that maybe I hadn’t heard in a while. If they made the cut, they ended up in a master list that wound up being about 1,200 songs. I’d cut that list down to 1,000.
I got to the S’s in my collection sometime in April 2011. When I pulled Live in New York City out of the carousel, I remembered that Springsteen had done an interesting acoustic version of Born in the U.S.A., both from hearing the album and seeing him do it live in 1999 (story to come). But I hadn’t broken out the album in a while, so I forgot it to a large extent. (Disclaimer: I’m not a big Springsteen fan.)
When the lyrics, almost unrecognizable to the crowd until Bruce gets to the chorus, kicked in, I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck. I sat in shock as the song continued with Bruce in vitriolic roar until the wild slide finish that at least raises the mood to contemplative from desultory. Woah! I get it. I think I love Born in the U.S.A. now.
After that one play, I took my computer into the kitchen where Laurie was making dinner that night. I turned down the music on the mini stereo in the dining room and set my computer on the kitchen table and just said, “You gotta hear this,” without telling her what it was. She was as amazed as I was. “I’ve never heard him so angry before.”
Me neither, and it just bears out what I tell people all the time and sometimes forget myself—go back and play those old records, tapes, CDs or MP3s that you might have. You might rediscover something you never really heard before that blows your mind. I did.