Springsteen wrote this about the problems Vietnam veterans encountered when they returned to America. Vietnam was the first war the US didn't win, and while veterans of other wars received a hero's welcome, those who fought in Vietnam were mostly ignored when they returned to the states.
The original title was "Vietnam." The director Paul Schrader sent Springsteen a script for a movie called Born In The U.S.A.
, about a rock band struggling with life and religion. This gave Bruce the idea for the new title. Unfortunately for Schrader, when he was finally ready to make the movie in 1985, the title "Born In The U.S.A." was too associated with the song. Springsteen helped him out however, providing the song "Light Of Day
," which became the new title for Schrader's movie and the feature song in the film.
This is one of the most misinterpreted songs ever. Most people thought it was a patriotic song about American pride, when it actually cast a shameful eye on how America treated its Vietnam veterans. Springsteen considers it one of his best songs, but it bothers him that it is so widely misinterpreted. With the rollicking rhythm, enthusiastic chorus, and patriotic album cover, it is easy to think this has more to do with American pride than Vietnam shame.
This is the first song and title track to one of the most popular albums ever - Born In The U.S.A. sold over 18 million copies. The single was released in England as a double A-side with "I'm On Fire."
It was the first song Springsteen wrote for the album. He first recorded it on January 3, 1982 on the tape that became his album Nebraska later that year.
While campaigning in New Jersey in 1984, Ronald Reagan said in his speech: "America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about."
Springsteen talked about this in a 2005 interview with National Public Radio. Said Bruce: "This was when the Republicans first mastered the art of co-opting anything and everything that seemed fundamentally American, and if you were on the other side, you were somehow unpatriotic. I make American music, and I write about the place I live and who I am in my lifetime. Those are the things I'm going to struggle for and fight for."
Speaking of how the song was misinterpreted, he added: "In my songs, the spiritual part, the hope part is in the choruses. The blues, and your daily realities are in the details of the verses. The spiritual comes out in the choruses, which I got from Gospel music and the church."
Chrysler offered Springsteen $12 million to use this in an ad campaign with Bruce. Springsteen turned them down so they used "The Pride Is Back" by Kenny Rogers instead. Springsteen has never let his music be used to sell products.
This song inspired the famous Annie Leibowitz photo of Springsteen's butt against the backdrop of an American flag. Bruce had to be convinced to use it as the album's cover. Some people thought it depicted Springsteen urinating on the flag.
Looking back on the cover in a 1996 interview with NME, Springsteen said: "I was probably working out my own insecurities, y'know? That particular image is probably the only time I look back over pictures of the band and it feels like a caricature to me."
According to Max Weinberg, Bruce attempted to do the song in a rockabilly trio style, with a country beat.
The drum solo towards the end of the song was completely improvised. Drummer Max Weinberg said that the band was recording in an oval-shaped studio, with the musicians separated into different parts. Springsteen, at the front, suddenly turned towards Weinberg (at the back) after singing and waved his hands in the air frantically to signal drumming. Weinberg then nailed it.
Eight minutes were cut from the song, which Max Weinberg said went on into a psychedelic jam.
Bruce performed solo, acoustic versions on his tours in 1996 and 1999. He wanted to make sure the audience understood the song.
Springsteen allowed notorious rap group The 2 Live Crew to sample this for their song "Banned In The U.S.A." in 1990, after the group was arrested for performing songs with obscene lyrics. Bruce felt they had a constitutional right to say whatever they wanted in their songs.
This was recorded live in the studio in three takes.
Richard "Cheech" Marin parodied this in the song "Born In East L.A.
," which came from his 1987 movie of the same name. Sample lyrics:Next thing I know, I'm in a foreign land
People talkin' so fast, I couldn't understand
Born In The U.S.A. was the first CD manufactured in the United States for commercial release. It was pressed when CBS Records opened its CD manufacturing plant in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1984. Discs previously had been imported from Japan.
Springsteen's fist-pumping recitations of this lament for the plight of the Vietnam War veterans during his 1984-85 Born In The USA tour contributed to its mis-reading as a patriotic song by US right-wingers. Critic Greil Marcus wrote: "Clearly the key to the enormous explosion of Bruce's popularity is the misunderstanding… He is a tribute to the fact that people hear what they want to hear."
The video was directed by John Sayles, who wrote the screenplay for the 1978 movie Piranha and later directed the films Lone Star, Honeydripper and Eight Men Out . Most of the video is footage of Springsteen performing the song in concert - he wore the same outfit for a few consecutive shows so Sayles could get the shots (Springsteen didn't want to lip-synch). Other footage came from a Vietnamese neighborhood in Los Angeles and Springsteen's old stomping ground, Asbury Park, New Jersey. The video stuck to the true meaning of the song, with shots of factory workers, regular folks walking the streets, soldiers training for combat, and a line of guys waiting for payday loans. Sayles said in the book I Want My MTV: "It was right around the time that Ronald Reagan had co-opted 'Born In The U.S.A.' and Reagan, his policies were everything that the song was complaining about. I think some of the energy of the performance came from Bruce deciding, 'I'm going to claim this song back from Reagan.'"
This was not the first hit song to tell a story about a Vietnam veteran's return to America. In 1982, The Charlie Daniels Band took "Still in Saigon
" to #22 in America. That song was written by Dan Daley, who felt that only two artists were right for it. "Since it was such a political song, the strategy was there were only two artists that it would make sense to give it to," Daley told us
. "One was Bruce Springsteen and the other was Charlie Daniels. Because both had made public statements in support of Vietnam veterans."