Local Current Blog

“Born in the U.S.A.” 30th anniversary: Talking points

Bruce Springsteen’s album Born in the U.S.A. was released 30 years ago today: June 4, 1984. Here are some facts you can drop when the anniversary comes up around the water cooler.

The album is Springsteen’s most successful, selling 15 million copies. That number puts it in the company of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, Journey’s greatest hits, and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill.

The title song was first recorded in the Nebraska sessions in a stark arrangement that’s worlds away from the thunderous sound of the album version. (The original recording was released on the Tracks boxed set in 1998.) Once Springsteen and the band hit on the new arrangement, they nailed it in just a handful of takes.

Seven of the album’s 12 songs were released as singles and entered the top 10, meaning that over half of all Springsteen’s career top 10 hits came from Born in the U.S.A.

“Dancing in the Dark” was composed in a situation mirroring its angry lyrics, when producer Jon Landau told Springsteen that great as the album was, it needed a big single. Springsteen stormed off and wrote “Dancing in the Dark,” a synth-driven first single that achieved Landau’s goal of landing Springsteen on the charts with a fresh, contemporary sound.

Born in the U.S.A. didn’t produce a #1 single—and in fact, Springsteen has never in his career topped the charts. “Dancing in the Dark” peaked at #2, blocked from the top spot by the wild success of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.”

The album’s iconic cover was shot by Annie Liebovitz. Springsteen was forced to deny rumors that the image showed him urinating on the flag. “We took a lot of different types of pictures,” he said, “and in the end, the picture of my ass looked better than the picture of my face, that’s what went on the cover.”

Springsteen never liked making music videos, but he agreed to film a live spot for “Dancing in the Dark” during a show at the St. Paul Civic Center—a venue later replaced by the Xcel Energy Center. The official video, directed by Brian DePalma, was preceded by an abortive earlier attempt that would have had Springsteen and Clarence Clemons dancing alone against a black backdrop. Here’s rehearsal footage from what would have been that version of the video:

Born in the U.S.A. was the last album recorded with the E Street Band before the band was temporarily dissolved. The album’s studio successor, Tunnel of Love (1987), was recorded by Springsteen alone with an engineer; band members added some touches to the album later, but after a fractious tour behind that album, Springsteen wouldn’t record another album with the E Street Band until 2002’s The Rising.

Ronald Reagan complimented Springsteen after conservative writer George Will saw a show on the Born in the U.S.A. tour (at the invitation of Max Weinberg, a politics junkie who brought the whole panel of This Week with David Brinkley) and wrote an approving column about it. “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts,” said Reagan at a New Jersey campaign stop. “It rests in the message of hope in songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen.” The singer quickly distanced himself from Reagan, to the delight of Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale. Springsteen, declared Mondale, “may have been born to run, but he wasn’t born yesterday.”

Springsteen took a break from the Born in the U.S.A. tour to wed actress Julianne Phillips in a tightly-guarded late-night ceremony at which the Boss had three best men: Clemons, Landau, and Steve Van Zandt. (Phillips can be seen picking Springsteen up at the end of the “Glory Days” video.) Tunnel of Love chronicled the strain in Springsteen’s marriage, and the couple were in the process of separating by the time of the Tunnel of Love tour, when Springsteen was photographed on a hotel balcony with longtime friend and band member Patti Scialfa. Springsteen and Phillips divorced in 1989; Springsteen and Scialfa wed in 1991 and remain married, with three children.