Sometimes successful musicians have that one amazing peak to their careers, for Bruce Springsteen it was Born In The U.S.A.
The album was recorded in the first quarter of 1984, and released in June. Prior to the release of the album, Columbia Records released the first single “Dancing In The Dark”. It turned out to be Springsteen’s biggest single ever, peaking at #2, and going platinum (over a million copies sold). A couple of things helped the single. One, was the flip side…”Pink Cadillac”…which could have been a great single on it’s own. The other thing was the video. It featured a young Courtney Cox (future “Friends” actress) as a fan who was pulled up on the stage to dance with The Boss.
MTV played the heck out of the video, and it introduced Bruce Springsteen to a lot more music fans. Other popular videos followed as more singles were released.
Like most people, I originally missed Bruce Springsteen’s first two albums in 1973, but I started purchasing his albums when he broke into the mainstream with his third album, Born To Run, in 1975. I bought the Born In The U.S.A. album right away in 1984, based on the “Dancing In The Dark” single. So I dropped the needle and listened closely to the entire album. Later, I listened to the whole thing again and decided I liked it all…except the first song.
It’s probably because Bruce uses a guttural scream sound in his voice throughout, and because I have a tendency to not like choruses that are essentially one line , such as “Born In The U.S.A.”. I’m certainly in the minority, because it’s very popular with fans. By the way, “Born In The U.S.A.” is still widely misinterpreted as a patriotic song with the singer boasting about being born in the U.S.A. Actually, it’s mainly about being forced to fight in Vietnam, and the poor treatment faced by returning veterans. And no, Springsteen says the cover photo is not meant to give the impression he’s urinating on the flag.
Bruce was the first artist to have seven Top-10 singles from one album…“Dancing In The Dark” (#2), “Cover Me” (#7), “Born In The USA” (#9), “I’m On Fire” (#6), “Glory Days” (#5), “I’m Goin’ Down” (#9), and “My Hometown” (#6). He probably could have released an 8th Top-10 hit with “No Surrender”, a song which was played on Rock FM stations more than some of the singles.
Having so many great songs on the album is a demonstration of Bruce Springsteen’s strong songwriting. He could have even added “Pink Cadillac”. With that string of hit singles, Born In The U.S.A. was the top-selling album of 1985. It has officially sold over 15-million copies in the U.S.A., and over 30-million worldwide. Springsteen has had a lot of other successful albums, but none have come close in sales. Born To Run is second, with an official 6-million copies in the U.S.
One aspect of overwhelming success is that some people will claim you “sold out” or “became too commercial”. It’s understandable that early fans might feel that way. After all, they discovered the artist and liked the way he sounded. For Born In The U.S.A., there was a change to a more produced sound with synthesizers. But in reality, it was mostly the same musicians he used for years, and the lyrics were consistent with his previous work. He was simply at the peak of his Glory Days.