Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”, 35 Years Old Today

Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” marks its 35th anniversary today. The American rock icon’s seventh studio album was met with massive commercial success upon release, featuring seven top-ten singles; it was certified as a three-times platinum record within a year of its release, and has sold over 30 million copies just since 2012.

Working with remnant recordings from sessions off of his then-previous record release, “Nebraska,” Springsteen reunited with the E-Street Band and producer Jon Landau to assemble his most pop-infused album since “Born to Run.”

In “Born in the U.S.A.,” Springsteen pooled a flourishing gamut of themes and ideas explored in previous records: The poignant depths of the human spirit on the verge of collapse from “Nebraska” (1982); the hardship of lost love and heartbreak from “The River” (1980); and the eminence of one’s roots and upbringing in “Born to Run” (1975).

In honor of the album’s anniversary, here’s a deeper dive into a few key songs that, 35 years later, have stood the test of time, and carry themes as relevant today as they were in 1984.

Born in the U.S.A.

The eponymous opening track, “Born in the U.S.A.” sets the tone for the album, kicking off as the most anthemic rocker in Springsteen’s discography since “Born to Run.” Set against a backdrop of red, white, and blue, it’s easy to see why the album’s title track is oft misinterpreted as either a paean to patriotism and America or as an anti-war harangue.

In fact, it’s neither of the two. If anything, it leans closer to the upbeat celebration of Americana than its browbeating. In standard Springsteen style, the song is a story, telling the tale of a wounded combatant who, at no choosing of his own, was sent off to fight in Vietnam and then returns home to find his town left hung out to dry.

Come back home to the refinery

Hiring man said “son if it was up to me”

Went down to see my V.A. man

He said “son, don’t you understand”

There’s a widespread consensus now that the Vietnam War was largely a tragic boondoggle. It isn’t a controversial position. And Springsteen, in his lyrics, doesn’t focus on the vagaries of Vietnam; he instead lends his voice to the neglected and abandoned veterans of the conflict.

No Surrender

Springsteen’s affection for the downtrodden veterans of Vietnam has its reprise on the opening track of the record’s B-Side (the flip-side of the record), “No Surrender.” The track ties the album back to its namesake theme.

Well, we made a promise we swore we’d always remember

No retreat, baby, no surrender

Like soldiers in the winter’s night

With a vow to defend

No retreat, baby, no surrender

The song “No Surrender” is about camaraderie and staying true to oneself in the face of adversity. Springsteen communicates this idea soulfully:

Now on the street tonight the lights grow dim

The walls of my room are closing in

There’s a war outside still raging

You say it ain’t ours anymore to win

I want to sleep beneath

Peaceful skies in my lover’s bed

With a wide open country in my eyes

And these romantic dreams in my head

Once we made a promise we swore we’d always remember

No retreat, baby, no surrender

Blood brothers in a stormy night

With a vow to defend

No retreat, baby, no surrender

Life is unpredictable. But even in the thick of battle, amid raging war when all one wants to do is go to sleep and dream of a more idyllic era, one has to stay true to himself and to those around him. No retreat, baby, no surrender.

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CHARLES AZNAVOUR: 1924-2018

Charles Aznavour (Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian), the Paris-born Armenian singer-songwriter, actor, and diplomat, who was known as “France’s Frank Sinatra”, died this month, on October 1st, 2018.

Born in 1924 to Armenian immigrants who’d fled to France amid Turkey’s perpetration of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Armenians in the early 20thcentury, Aznavour was raised by a family of artists. His father was a singer, performing in French restaurants prior to opening his own.

Aznavour dropped out of school at a young age of nine to pursue his career as an entertainer — before his 10th birthday, he’d already starred in a movie and a theater production. Despite his young age, Aznavour insisted that he was never pressured or forced to become a performer. To him, it was a natural calling. “People say that they put me on the stage, but I put myself there. It was natural. It was what I wanted to do.” 

Aznavour later shifted his focus to professional dancing. He didn’t write his first song until the age of 24 in 1950.

He got his big break when he began opening for the legendary French singer, Edith Piaf. After his distinctive rich, mellow voice caught her attention, Piaf took Aznavour under her wing, mentoring the young virtuoso. Piaf advised Aznavour to pursue a singing career.

Aznavour went on to command a career lasting 80 years. He wrote a whopping 1000 songs, sold 180 million albums, and dazzled audiences in sold-out auditoriums well into his 90’s. He sang in an astounding 8 different languages: French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Armenian, and Neapolitan.

Aznavour’s music knew no boundaries, touching upon an eclectic range of themes.

He wrote songs that by any standard were ahead of their time. In “What Makes a Man” (1972), Aznavour sang about a gay transvestite. The lyrics are overall great but especially outstanding are the lines, “Nobody has the right to be; the judge of what is right for me; tell me if you can; what make a man a man.”

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