By the Numbers: Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen

40 years ago, The Boss released his biggest hit.


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In 1982, six albums into his storied career, Bruce Springsteen had just released the critically acclaimed Nebraska. Pressed from his demos without his usual back-up from the E Street Band, the spare record was a major artistic success. For his follow-up, Springsteen reassembled E Street and got to work on cutting down a massive list of around fifty songs into a more manageable album. The new record would be of-the-moment, merging a pop and arena rock sensibility that would send the already massively popular performer into an entirely new stratosphere. That album was 1984’s Born in the U.S.A.

Eight Came Early

As Springsteen set about writing the songs that would comprise Nebraska, a number of other tunes began to develop. Those included “Downbound Train,” “Glory Days,” “I’m on Fire,” “Cover Me,” “Working on the Highway,” “I’m Going Down,” “Darlington County,” and “Born in the U.S.A.” (which was originally called “Vietnam”). As it was determined that those songs were more of the electric variety and not the sparse approach of Nebraska, they were set aside.

“Born in the U.S.A.” (Uploaded to YouTube by Bruce Springsteen)

Four Came Later

The eight songs above would be joined by four more tunes written during the creative cycle of Born. “No Surrender,” “Bobby Jean,” and “My Hometown” were recorded throughout the summer and fall of 1983. “No Surrender” almost didn’t make the cut, but E Street guitarist Steven Van Zandt (who was technically out of the band at this point working on solo material) was a huge champion of the song and wanted it on the record. Despite having 11 strong tunes and roughly sixty more in the bank, Springsteen’s legendary manager/producer Jon Landau insisted he write something new for the lead single. Though The Boss was reportedly not thrilled with the notion, he wrote an entirely new song that night. The result was “Dancing in the Dark,” which Springsteen and E Street knocked out in six takes on Valentine’s Day, 1984.

A Magnificent Seven, Plus Two

Though Van Zandt was not technically “official” during the making of the album, he and Springsteen were joined by five E Street regulars: Clarence Clemons (sax, percussion, background vocals); Roy Bittan (piano, synths, background vocals); Garry Tallent (bass; background vocals); Danny Federici (piano, organ, glockenspiel); and Max Weinberg (drums, background vocals). Additional background vocals were provided on the album by Ruth Jackson and Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg.

“Dancing in the Dark” (Uploaded to YouTube by Bruce Springsteen)

The First of Many

“Dancing in the Dark” would indeed be Born in the U.S.A.’s first single and the first music video made from the album. After early concepts and attempts were abandoned, Landau and Springsteen brought in movie director Brian De Palma. A superstar for his psychological dramas and horror films (like Sisters, Carrie, Blow Out, and Scarface), De Palma might have seemed like an odd choice on the surface. Instead, he’d make one of the most recognizable videos of the decade. Deciding to place The Boss in his natural habitat, on the stage, De Palma also wanted Springsteen to do something that was very ’80s but not regularly Springsteen: dance (hey, it’s in the title).

One Future Friend

De Palma planted a young actress in the front of the audience for the video so that, near the end, Springsteen could pull her on-stage and dance. That young actress with only a few credits to her name was Courtney Cox. The general fun and wish-fulfillment aspect of the video made it a huge hit on MTV, which was becoming a dominant cultural force. Cox went from being unknown to “that girl” to landing a starring role in NBC’s short-lived Misfits of Science before joining the final two seasons of Family Ties as Alex’s (Michael J. Fox) second major girlfriend. Cox would join another NBC show in 1994; we hear it did well.

“I’m on Fire” (Uploaded to YouTube by Bruce Springsteen)

Another First?

In 1984, the newest music delivery medium was the Compact Disc. Born in the U.S.A. became the first CD manufactured for a commercial release in the United States. The CDs were pressed at the then-brand new plant in (this writer’s hometown) Terre Haute, Indiana.

A Chart Full of Numbers

With the single and video for “Dancing in the Dark” released in May, the album followed in the first week of June 1984. The record debuted at #9 on the Billboard Top 200 album charts and was #1 by July. It hung around the Top Ten albums for an absolutely crazy 84 straight weeks. It didn’t leave the chart until over three years after its release. It hit #1 one in over a dozen countries and was the best-selling album in 1985. Not only that, it was the best-selling album of Springsteen’s career and one of the best-selling albums of all time. It has sold in excess of 17 million copies in the United States and 30 million worldwide.

Seven for the Tie

Until 1982, no artist had ever pulled off the feat of placing seven singles from one album in the U.S. Top Ten.  Then along came Thriller, and Michael Jackson captured the record. With Born in the U.S.A., Springsteen achieved a tie. “Dancing in the Dark,” “Cover Me,” the title track, “I’m on Fire,” “Glory Days,” “I’m Goin’ Down,” and “My Hometown” all reached the Top Ten. The only other artist to join the club in the pre-digital era was Michael’s sister, Janet (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty), who pulled her seven from 1989’s Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. In the digital era, they’ve been joined by Drake (twice) and Taylor Swift (for 1989). Swift presently holds the record for most Top Tens off of one album in the digital era in a tie with, well, herself; she’s managed it with both 2022’s Midnights and 2024’s The Tortured Poets Department. (And for the record, The Boss thinks Swift is a “tremendous writer” who makes “great records.”)

“Glory Days” (Uploaded to YouTube by Bruce Springsteen)

Two for the Road

When it came time to tour, E Street added two incredibly important members. With Van Zandt doing his solo work, his guitar duties were assumed by Nils Lofgren. Patti Scialfa also joined as backup singer, guitarist, and percussionist. Springsteen and Scialfa moved in together in 1988; they married in 1991 and have three children.

One of the Greatest

Born in the U.S.A. is widely considered as one of the great rock albums of all time. It routinely appears on lists of great albums, and sits at #142 on Rolling Stone magazine’s latest list of the Greatest Albums of All Time. At the Grammy Awards in 1985, Born in the U.S.A. was nominated for Best Album; “Dancing in the Dark” was nominated for Record of the Year and won for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male. In 2012, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.


The album and its tunes remain extremely popular 40 years later. Though the song “Born in the U.S.A.” has been mistaken for a patriotic anthem instead of a lamentation about the mistreatment of veterans, most audiences feel a solid connection to Springsteen’s glimpses into American life. Though Federici and Clemons have passed, Tallent, Van Zandt, Lofgren, Weinberg, Bittan, and Scialfa remain members of E Street today (along with instrumentalist/vocalist Soozie Tyrell, keyboardist/accordionist Charles Giordano, and Jake Clemons, who stepped up to take his beloved uncle’s place on the sax).

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  1. Springsteen is and always has been very talented and his music is memorable. But what turns fans and other casual listeners away is him sharing and often attempting to push his liberal political leanings on others. For the record, neither he or other artists should do this regardless of the side of the political aisle they align with. It is such a turn off. Keep producing music but keep the political thoughts to yourself. You’ll be better off if you will.


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