Now that we’re through a brief holiday break, on Mondays through January we’ll continue posting exclusive excerpts from Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums, which analyzes eight of Springsteen’s most groundbreaking albums and then argues which one should be considered “the greatest.” This week, a selection from the chapter on ‘Born in the USA.’
If “Born in the U.S.A.” is the only overtly sociopolitical song on the album, many of the others still delve deep into the politics of human relationships. It’s interesting how many of those songs use language usually reserved for the heat of battle: “Cover Me,” “I’m Goin’ Down,” even “I’m On Fire,” the catchy yet creepy ode to a “little girl” who can quench the desire of a tormented, sweat-stained wretch. Looking at it that way, it’s probably not surprising that it seems to have been covered by every depressed indie band of the last several decades.
“Cover Me” in particular is a perfect example of the album’s dual personality: Springsteen’s tone conveys urgent desperation (“come on in and cover me,” he pleads), even as his stinging guitar is matched with downright disco-friendly beats – it was originally written for Donna Summer, after all. Even “Dancing in the Dark,” remembered as Springsteen’s most disposable pop single, is actually a masterpiece of existential languor worthy of Samuel Beckett, but disguised a giddy toe-tapper.
The few songs that are deeper and darker musically, like the haunting “Downbound Train” with its unremitting tale of loss and depression, still manage to co-exist easily with the more anthemic aspects of the album, like the driving “woah-oh-oh” of “No Surrender,” with its ode to friendship and three-minute records – not to mention the pop melancholia of “Bobby Jean,” and the honky-tonk pleasures of “Darlington County” and “Glory Days.”
But if there’s a song that best cements the album’s place in the Springsteen hierarchy, it’s the closing track, “My Hometown.” Nostalgic and realistic at the same time, it hearkens back to both Born to Run’s dreams of escape – the narrator and his wife agonize over “getting out” – and Nebraska’s vision of a hardened landscape where jobs are scarce and violence is always as close as the back seat of a car. But it also shows a new maturity in its sensitivity to the importance of history and common ties: When the singer introduces his little boy to his hometown, eschewing another run through the chorus in favor of a haunting choral hum, the moment is hair-raisingly beautiful.
You can download Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums at Amazon or Amazon UK. And if you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry: You can download free Kindle software here.