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Born In The U.S.A.

by

Bruce Springsteen



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

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. (thanks, Marshall - Sacramento, CA, for above 3)
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." (thanks, Margaret - Buellton, CA)
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.
The children's TV show Sesame Street reworked this as "Barn In The U.S.A.," credited to Bruce Stringbean and the S. Street Band. Check out the album cover in Song Images. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 2)
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."
Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen Artistfacts
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More songs with names of countries in the title
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More songs used on Sesame Street

Comments (58):

This song was parodied brilliantly by English comedy duo Mel Smith & Griff Rhys Jones, in their 1984 TV show, Alas Smith & Jones. It was Griff dressed in Springsteen like clothing, singing 'Lost in the USA". Unfortunately, no copy is yet available on YouTube.
- John, Auckland, -
Top Gear had it on the Vietnam Special and like 20 different Vietnams came running down the street.
I almost died laughing.
So damn funny!
- ulysses, dorrigo, Australia
Greatest American song ever!
Perfect, just gold.
Best Voice ever.
- ulysses, dorrigo, Australia
To Ken, in Lousville......
When the News does "Walkin'" live, they acknowledge that they were not in Viet Nam but they had friends who were. The song is for them, the Vets, as are the others you cited. Not being there does not mean they can't do songs for and about the ones who were.
- Steve, Beechmont, KY
The Sesame Street Version Of The Song
Teaches About The Life And The Animals Of The Farm
- Cory Stoczynski, Lancaster, NY
This is a great message song. Springsteen was brave to put it out in the midst of the rah-rah Reagan era. ...But couldn't he have come up with a "middle 8," as they used to say? A little secondary part of the song just to break up the monotony? It is the same beat and melody from beginning to end.
- dirk, Nashville, TN
This song is about how The US government screwed the Vietnam Vets when they came back from the war. No jobs waiting for them,shotty vet facilities,being called "baby killers' when they came back..the list goes on..I love this song and it's honesty..
- Jim, Long Beach, CA
As a tribute to my New Jersyite...Bruce you nailed it!!!!
- Tony, South Philly, PA
Americans at their core are dissenters. It is in their blood, it's an inherited gene. Our forefathers shot, stabbed, and killed to get away from their government. Dissention is just as patriotic as saluting the flag. If you're waving your silly flags thinking that only flag wavers are patriotic, you are the least patriotic of all. It's the American way to be dissatisfied with being slaves to any one way of thinking. That is the number 1 reason why this song IS patriotic. American patriotism is very unique this way.
- Paul, San Angelo, TX
I think the shame of this song comes from the fact that the way it's interpreted gets critiscism--I LOVE Springsteen's music-but you write a song and give it away and what it turns into isn't yours anymore-the other version paints a better picture of what he wanted it to--but this one has a patriotic feel to it (the drive of the beat)-like it or not--I think it says somethng more though--something about inheriting the life of our folks and owning it--even if it isn't the dream they had for us...just a thought
- Brian, KC, MO
Me and my father always sing along to this song in the car. Great song!
- Tessa, Washingtonville, PA
Khe Sanh is the district capital of Hướng Hoá District, Quảng Trị Province, Vietnam, located 63 km west of Đông Hà.. Khe Sanh Combat Base was a United States Marine Corps outpost in South Vietnam.
- James, Fort Worth, GA
Where's Khe Sahn? Is that a part of Asia? The Middle East?
- Annabelle, Eugene, OR
Talk about misinterpretation, Reagan asked Bruce if he could use this in his reelection campaign!!
- G, Potomac, MD
Many songs have been misinterpreted, but what makes this one stand out is that it isn't subtle. The song's critical tone should have been obvious to everyone. Take the line "Sent me off to a foreign land, to go and kill the yellow man." What, did people actually think the point was, "Yippee, I killed Asian people"? Just goes to show that lots of people don't pay attention to lyrics.
- N.I., Baltimore, MD
Considering how Springsteen closes the song with the out-of-place line "I'm a cool rockin' daddy in the USA", it's not so hard to understand why this song has been misinterpreted so much over the years.
- Joshua, La Crosse, WI
awesome song, with true lyrics about war. one of the best all time, i'd say :)
- colin, guelph, ON
This song was used in 2005 to torture prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Played it all night while the prisoners were forced to listen to it. Holds the honest glory of the American patriot. Fighting and being injured for the country you love, then coming home and getting shoved in a blue-collar job.
- Gene, San Diego, CA
I'm 17 and had to pick a song of my choice that protests a war. I didn't even know that this song was a protest song and like many others thought that it was a patriotic one. People suck and America sucks and I didn't realize that until I started this project. Thanks Bruce.
- Alexis, San Francisco, CA
I don't understand the whole Springsteen phenomenon, least of all this song.

The whole thing is built on a riff - and not even a good riff, but a boring one. There is no melody to speak of. The lyrics are depressing as well as politically and historically obtuse.

And then there's Springsteen's voice, or shall I say lack of it.

As Seinfeld would say, "....what's with Bruce Springsteen?!"
- Steve, Arnol, MD
Quite a revelation to know that the song isn't patriotic. Well I never concentrated much on the lyrics of the song in first place. The chorus line is catchy.
- Soutiman, Mumbai, India
This is my second-favorite song about war/peace. ("Imagine" by John Lennon is first.)It's one of the most emotionally complex songs in all of rock'n'roll: It deftly weaves together grief, anger, sorrow and wistfulness. I think that the question of whether or not it or the song is patriotic or not (I think both are.)is beside the point. If I had to pick one word, it would be "elegiac." Bruce is really singing about loss. However, it's not about non-victory in battle; rather, it deals with the loss of honor and dignity. (To Chris from Gloucester, England: NOBODY wins a war. All any military confrontation has ever done is to set the stage for more of the same: hate and carnage and more hate and more carnage.) I can easily imagine song this in "The Spoon River Anthology." If you haven't read it, or "The New Spoon River Anthology," check them out: They contain the best monologes in the English language that weren't written by Shakespeare.
- MusicMama, New York, NY
Bruce turned down 12 million because he didn't want this song to be on a commercial? 'Atta boy, Brucey! This song is sweetness
- Max, Laconia, NH
The TRUTH is that Bruce conceived, & began writing "Born in the U.S.A." in 1975; while He was about to do a concert in Connecticut. I was Chief of Concert Security, a Vietnam Veteran ("long gone Daddy in the U.S.A."), & We were having a conversation: Bruce asked Me why I was wearing a military "U.S." marked item: I said "cause I was born in the U.S.A.",: We began talking about Vietnam Veterans, & the War. I asked Bruce if He could write a song for Vietnam Veterans; that's where it began, & where the Title came from. Bruce also conceived "Dancing in the Dark" ("this Gun is for Hire", "You can't start a Fire without a Spark") at that time: Summer of 1975 in Connecticut. Annie L. was there taking photos for Rolling Stone. Willie Nelson was there, too. I'm not taking credit for anything: just inspiration: Bruce has the Gift of astute observation, contemplation, composition, melody, & presentation! BOB K. in Connecticut
- BOB, Windsor, CT
I was actually born in the States but came to Germany when I was still a baby. My Mom never spoke English at home, so I didn`t learn English until I was 10 and in secondary school. But she must have translated the chorus to me, cause I remember that as a 4yr old, I would sing along frantically. I don´t know if patriotism is inborn, but even then, being the toddler I was, I sure felt proud of being born in a country I wouldn´t be visiting for another 12 yrs or so...The song still rocks me, although reading the lyrics now is quite disillusioning...
- Jazzz, Frankfurt
This song was part of my "Voices of Vietnam" project during my sophomore year, along with others like "War" and "Masters of War".
- Matthew, Milford, MA
Tim, I salute you. Also this song is pretty good. I like how people misunderstand it.
- Sam, Portsmouth, VA
And uhh here is some of your "over-patriotism"...America is always going to be the greatest country in the world and we can destroy any one in a fight...toughest people in the world are here in America...that's why we play football over soccer...and last time I checked, England and Canada always go to us for help so all you English/Canadians talking trash on America...just don't come to us for help next time you need it...Oh and uhh World War I and II, I believe the Americans were the main reason the allies won those wars.
- Tim, Philadelphia, PA
By the way that arguement about America not winning all their wars...well America may not have won all their wars but they sure as heck achieved their objective.
- Tim, Philadelphia, PA
This song is amazing and it attracted me to become a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen.
- Tim, Philadelphia, PA
the song can certainly be both patriotic and bitter. The lyrics are bitter as arsenic, but the fact that Bruce is angry at what happened to american soldiers, how they were treated by our government and by their fellow citizens, is a sign of a high-minded patriotism.
- dave, san jose, CA
every war the U.S has entered was a stalemate....last time i checked World War I and World War II and the American Revolutionary War were not stalemates
- Andrew, Dartmouth, MA
The song IS patriotic. It's about the fact that the treatment of the soldiers when they came back was UN-patriotic. They had given their all and deserved better. You can protest and be patriotic at the same time.
- Dennis, Anchorage, AK
No, it's definitely not a patriotic song. Reagan was clueless about a lot of stuff. It's a song of emotional outpouring. What psychologists call "catharsis." Like wailing in grief at a funeral. Bruce created a song that let people put their arms around the entire Vietnam experience and weep out of love for those who endured it, veterans, families, protesters, even the smug people who spent 15 years just pushing it all away and refusing to deal with it. It's not "patriotic" and it's not "anti-American."
- dirk, Nashville, TN
Ronald Reagen also praised Bruce for this "patriotic" song - Bruce said - "I don't think he (Regan) is listing.
- John, Kirkland, WA
a lot of americans are overpatriotic. i am patriotic and i love our country( so you people wont accuse me of being a "commie.") but anyway great protest song, compares with ohio by neal young and blowing in the wind by bob dylan. awesome song
- Sam, Provo, UT
How can all of you people talk about this song in terms of it being "anti-American"? It's not anti-American. It's about the frustration of the Vietnam War. It's about the destruction and misery that a confusing war brought onto well-meaning people and patriotic Americans. In the end, their efforts amounted to nothing. ("They're still there, he's all gone," he sings about his dead brother. People gave their lives and spirits for something that left them ruined and cynical. And then the country turned its back on them. This is a song that sort of puts its arms around the people who suffered in the name of the USA. It's a song that asks us to recognize the pain stand shoulder to shoulder with them and acknowledge what they did in our name--right or wrong. But this is not an anti-American song.
- dirk, Nashville, TN
Well excuse us Americans for our "over patriotism", Steve in Markham, Canada. Why should we be ashamed to be proud of our country? Yes, the U.S. makes mistakes. Doesn't your country? If Canada needed help, the U.S. would help in a second. It seems that everyone is against us until they need our help.
- Heather, Newark, OH
Springsteen is so angry when he sings this song, he shouts more than he sings. His voice seems angry and bitter starting and ending with his hopelessness.
- Iain, England, United States
"Born in the USA" isn't an anti-American song. What it's against is two things: the way the Vietnam war was conducted (badly--Dubya needs to read some history books fast, and think about what happened), and the way vets were treated when they came back home. I'm a Vietnam-era vet. I got lucky and didn't get shipped over there, but I remember how the public treated us at the time, and the disillusionment of the Vietnam vets coming back home.
- Pat, Las Vegas, NV
Forget that this an anti-America song. It's a groovy, well-written tune, just like "Every Breath You Take."
- Miles, Vancouver, Canada
it's been said that the BOSS got denied from serving in the military during vietnam due to medical reasons.
- kevin, Sandy, UT
I think Dan from Sydney is confused...listen to the song, there is no way you can say this is patriotic
- Matt, Mokena, IL
Bravo Bruce, the instant you allow your music to be used by companies for ads, you lose credibility as an artist. Glad to see The Boss didn't tarnish his reputataion. And while on the subject wasn't the goal of the Vietnam War the same as the Korean War? Push back the commies, to protect the Democratic nations, not to liberate the Communist north? Why did no one protest that war? Becuase we didn't lose?
- Nathan, Defiance, OH
Defintely the most misunderstood song that I can remember. To this day, many people think this is a patriotic song and living in Canada, many Canadians think this is the usual American over-patriotism. I believe this is because of the way he sings the chorus and has his fist pumping during the video and his concerts. Too bad for those idiots. This is a great song.
- Steve, Markham, Canada
Good lord, what was the GOP thinking?! You would think that SOMEONE that was working for the '84 Reagan campaign would actually listen to the song. Good for Bruce though.....there probably isn't anything more liberating than telling the leader of the free world "no, you can't use my song to drive up interest rates and increase the homeless rate." lol
- Todd, Sacramento, CA
Chris from england, we have not been brainwashed that much. Even going back to the beginings of our country only 3 american wars have ended in stalemates or defeats. The majority were still victories. War for independence was a US victory, 1812 was a stalemate (but we owned at New Orleans afterwards), Mexican war was complete domination (we seized about half their country), Civil War was a union victory in that the union was preserved, we dominated the spanish american war (seized philipines, guam, puerto rico, and held cuba breifly), WW1 was a US victory, so was WW2, Korea we accomplished our goals but neither side decisively drove out the other so that will count as a stalemate, vietnam we lost, gulf war we completely dominated (ruined that whole republican guard in 3 days), and gulf war 2 is still yet to be decided. Thats 7-2-1 and one undecided. Not too shabby.
Not "practically every war the U.S. has ever been in has ended in a stalemate." We've had 7 decisive victories, unless of course you consider us saving you guys in Britain during WW2 just another "stalemate." The US military still has reason to be proud of its history. Nam has been our only large blemish so far.
- James, Bridgeport, CT
This song is part of what makes me keep dollar bills in my car and my window rolled down at freeway entrances and intersections.
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
Ronald Reagan used this song for his Campaign cause he thought that the "Born in the U.S.A." part mean the rest of it was patriotic. So much for that.
- Eric, Cumberland, RI
This is considered as part of the early 80's "Vietnam triology", including Huey Lewis and the News' "Walking On A Thin Line" and Billy Joel's "Goodnight Saigon". Neither Springsteen, Lewis or Joel served in the military, much less in Vietnam.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
I always thought he was really patriotic bout America. Oh well i like this song, at least the chorus
- Madeline, Melbourne, Australia
The United States of America won its freedom when the British Army was forced to surrender at Yorktown on October, 18th 1781. This conflict was necessary to free the people of America from the tyranny of England. Most wars are not justified, and are simply the failure of leaders to find a peaceful resolution to conflict. Bruce Springsteen is a man who understands that fact and has dedicated his life, as well as his music to glorifying peace, and to showing Americans (and all) what is wrong with war. What makes America great is that we are free...and that is something to be celebrated. But just as America has a lot to celebrate and be proud of, we also have many things to be ashamed of...and Bruce Springsteen is a great American for having the courage to give equal voice to the good and bad. What I love about this song is that it somehow finds a way to do both of those things with lyrics and music.
- John, Island Park, NY
It's the music of the song that makes it sound so much like an "anthem." Springsteen has a unique gift of mixing upbeat and downbeat elements together. I love the hard-hitting opening lyrics--shouted out with almost gleeful defiance: "Born down in a dead man's town/ The first kick I took was when I hit the ground/ End up like a dog that's been beat too much/ Till you spend half your life just a coverin' up." That describes a lot of people from my small hometown.
- Fred, Abilene, TX
Bruce was born in Freehold, New Jersey.

He was indeed perturbed by attempts by Reagan and others on the song to use the song for political purposes. It's astounding, actually, how the song could possibly be interpreted as a patriotic anthem. The song's actual message isn't at all subtle or cryptic; you almost have to purposefully avoid listenig to anything but the chorus to take it as a declaration of American pride.
- Steve, Woodbridge, VA
I think it's less about the Vietnam war and more about how the working man gets shafted in the United States of America. Who does the working? Who does the fighting? Most importantly: who does the dying?
- Trevor, Boring, OR
If only the majority of people understood this wasn't a flag waving patriotic song. If people knew what the song meant, it more than likely wouldn't be considered the "rock anthem" it is today.

Also, one of the very few times Springsteen has spoke out in public, promptly calling the press conference to say that he had been miss quoted by Regan
- Tyler, Hamilton, Canada
Ronald Regan mistakenly chose Born In The USA as the theme song for his presidential re-election campaign (1984). It's rumored that Springsteen was furious when he found out...
- Kelly, Farmington , MI
What's really great about this song is that it's honest.
- Erik, Davis, CA
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