Released in June 1984, Born in the U.S.A. remains among the best-selling albums in rock and roll history, with seven Top 10 hits that sent 1999 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Bruce Springsteen's rock stardom into the stratosphere. Its narrative tone had much in common with 1982's stark, somber and critically lauded Nebraska, with many of the songs that comprised Born in the U.S.A. beginning life in the same sessions that produced that album. The root influences of blues, American folk songs and the new cinematic style of directors such as Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick brought a darker and more introspective view to the characters. “I’m on Fire,” for example, was a song of desire, compulsion and personal struggle that became a Top 10 hit in 1985, despite its intense subject matter.
However, Born in the U.S.A. also traded in more nostalgic storytelling and tongue-in-cheek humor on tracks like "Glory Days" and "Dancing in the Dark" – all of which proved especially resonant with audiences around the country. Thanks in no small part to 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees the E Street Band, the arrangements were bright and bold, charging and vibrant, laden with hooks, anthems and sing-a-longs that married well with Springsteen's increasingly grand-scale live performances.
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“I believe that the life of a rock and roll band will last as long as you look down into the audience and can see yourself, and your audience looks up at you and can see themselves – and as long as those reflections are human, realistic ones,” Springsteen said. The four-night finale to the 15-month Born in the U.S.A. tour drew 330,000 people to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Still, not since Americans strained to decipher the purportedly obscene lyrics of the Kingsmen's garbled garage-rock hit "Louie Louie" has a song been so widely misheard and misinterpreted as Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." The title track of his Number One album tells the story of a Vietnam veteran who loses his brother in the Battle of Khe Sanh, returns home only to be turned away by employers and the Veterans Administration, and now finds himself with "nowhere to run, ain't got nowhere to go." But the bravado vocal and fist-pumping chorus lent an anthemic quality to this grim narrative. The result was not just a U.S. Top 10 hit but one regularly (mis)used to accompany demonstrations of jingoism wholly at odds with the song's implicit social critique. In 2010, anti-Muslim protestors chanted the chorus while picketing the site of the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" in Lower Manhattan; "Born in the U.S.A." was also played, with incongruously celebratory intent, during the 2010 Little League World Series.
With more than half of Born in the U.S.A.'s tracks entering the Top 10 – "Dancing in the Dark," "Cover Me," "Born in the U.S.A.," "I'm on Fire," "Glory Days," "I'm Goin' Down" and "My Hometown" – and more than 15 million copies sold, the album ranks among the most significant of the era, alongside such landmark recordings as Prince's breakthrough Purple Rain and Michael Jackson's monumental Thriller.
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