This song is about Springsteen's experiences growing up in Freehold, New Jersey, his hometown. Bruce doesn't have many nice things to say about Freehold, and would play another scathing song about his hometown called "Freehold" on his 1999 tour.
The original title was "Your Hometown." Recorded in February 1983, it wasn't released as a single until December 1985.
The lyrics are a bleak portrait of life for the working class in the Reagan era, as many small towns fell apart. It helped earn Springsteen the reputation as a voice for the common man.
Springsteen describes the closing of a factory in this song ("They're closing down the textile mill..."). In 1985, the year after the song was released, the 3M company closed their factory in Freehold, bringing this verse to stark reality.
Springsteen played a benefit show for the affected workers on January 19, 1986 at the Stone Pony, in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Introducing this song, he said: "The marriage between a community and a company is a special thing that involves a special trust. What do you do after ten years or 20 years, you wake up in the morning and see your livelihood sailing away from you, leaving you standing on the dock? What happens when the jobs go away and the people remain? What goes unmeasured is the price that unemployment inflicts on people's families, on their marriages, on the single mothers out there trying to raise their kids on their own. The 3M company: it's their money, it's their plant. But it's the 3M workers' jobs. I'm here to say that I think that after 25 years of service from a community, there is a debt owed to the 3M workers and to my hometown."
Springsteen often confabulates the incidents he describes in his songs, but when he sings about the "two cars at a light on a Saturday night" in the second verse, it refers to a real incident he witnessed in 1965, when racial tensions were running high.
The UK single was backed with "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," which boosted sales significantly.
This was the last track on Born In The U.S.A., one of the most successful albums ever, selling over 18 million copies. It was the last of seven US Top 10 singles from the album.