- 04 Jun 21
37 years ago today, Bruce Springsteen released his seventh studio album, Born in the U.S.A., on Columbia Records. Spawning seven Top 10 hit singles, it has gone on to be regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. To celebrate, we're revisiting Liam Mackey's original review of the classic album – first published in Hot Press in 1984.
Lissen, the first time I heard the new Bruce Springsteen record, I was with my mate Johnny The Zip in his big black Buick screaming down the New Jersey turnpike, headin' for a major scene in Benny's Billiards.
We were just shootin' the breeze when suddenly Johnny looked at me and grinned his famous grin. "Lissen to this," he said, and punched a button under the dash. There was a hiss, a bit of crackle, and then it came – a monster beat with a cracking snare that nearly shook the car apart. Johnny was already slappin' the wheel when The Voice exploded out of the speakers, a towering, raging voice that might yet shake down the walls of Babylon: "Born in a dead man's town/The first kick I took was when I hit the ground". "Bruce is back", whooped Johnny as, grinning wildly, he put his foot to the floor.
OK, OK, I admit it – I told a little bit of a lie back there. The New Jersey Turnpike was actually the Tallaght by-pass, the black Buick a grey Morris Minor, Johnny's name is Brendan and Benny's Billiards is an ultra-moderne snooker emporium out at Jobstown. But, hand on heart, I was telling the truth about Bruce. Honest.
'Born In The U.S.A.', the title track of Springsteen's new album, is the song in question and a suitably epic opening it provides, for a record which sweeps away all doubts about the man's creative well-being prompted by his long absence from stage and vinyl.
It's a record which also signs and seals the E-Street Band's reputation – somewhat diluted in the course of The River's meandering travels – as one of the stellar rock'n'roll aggregations.
If proof be needed head immediately for 'Darlington County' three tracks into the first side.
Richards, no, make that Cooder-style guitar and Mighty Max Weiberg's most wicked backbeat – an unflaggingly propulsive force throughout the entire album – set this tale of wild times and bad luck in motion, and when Clarence Clemon's inimitably rude sax erupts for the first time, only the most self-inhibited could resist the swing. Add to that a ragged, rousing 'She La La' refrain and you've got the kind of classic American rock'n'roll that hasn't been done so effectively since the Stones were exiled on main street and John Fogerty was rockin' all over the world.
True, much of this music is traditional but not in the sense that it's time-warped or stylistically strait-jacketed. Springsteen may, for the most part, adhere to time-honoured conventions but the joy, conviction and – that word – passion with which he and the band invests them, is liberating to the point where music like this is, finally, timeless. "We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned from school", Springsteen hollers on 'No Surrender' and the invigorating big band sweep of that song – and also such as 'Bobby Jean' and 'Glory Days' – is sufficient justification for his faith in the College of Musical Knowledge. (And, incidentally, if revision is what you need than that's here too in the form of 'Working On The Highway', a rockabilly stormer that would set the ghost of Eddie Cochran jiving).
Lyrically, Springsteen has in the past been subject to criticism – and not without justification – for crashing the same car too many times. Born In The U.S.A. has its inevitable quota of stock car references but they stay within the legal limit. As was also the case with Nebraska, his best writing here – and much of it is excellent, particularly on the elegiac 'Hometown' and the beautiful 'I'm On Fire' – attests to a man with a distinctive voice and a way of using uncluttered imagery and simple language that has the power to cut to the core.
By any standards, Born In The U.S.A. is a great record, and one which, in the Springsteen canon, can stand proudly alongside his two previous classics, Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
Listening to it again (and again), you can begin to understand why they call him The Boss.