This important song dated 1984 has been dissected many times, but still should be covered for this blog on politics in popular music – at least, to get it out of the way as its omission would seem curious.
It’s been misinterpreted as much as understood, with the error being that the song is patriotic. The majestic but frustratingly repetitive keyboard part maybe hypnotizes; the lyrics then are not considered beyond the refrain. Ronald Reagan even noted the song in a campaign speech, even though Springsteen’s politics are liberal.
So the irony in the chorus, “Born in the U.S.A” might be an early postmodern type of take on politics in music: a conventional rock song, but with an unconventional message for the genre; a bombastic, commonplace arena rock tune nonetheless calling for a reappraisal of the status quo in its message. Sneaky!
Such protest is standard among the folkies and alternative music purveyors, but this was (Big) Bruce.
It would have made some intuitive sense to have minor key chords to fit the message of the words. Perhaps a plodding, slower tempo. To have the musicians perform, all clenching furrowed brows. The politics of the verses would have demanded attention and been understood and respected as a result… that is, assuming the song in this form would still have made it to a top ten hit.
Irony aside, have a happy fourth of July.