Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Bruce Springsteen's classic Born in the U.S.A., an album that sold over 30 million copies worldwide and spawned seven Top 10 singles (an all-time record tied with Michael Jackson's Thriller and Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814). To celebrate its anniversary, here's my ranking of the album's 12 songs, from weakest to best.
12. "I'm Going Down"
Full disclaimer: There are no bad songs on Born in the U.S.A., but not every song is great, either. "I'm Going Down" is catchy enough, but its I-V-vi-IV chord progression has been so exhaustively overused that I can't hear it without cringing. (Other examples of the progression include Green Day's "When I Come Around," Adele's "Someone Like You," most songs on the radio and in commercials right now.)
11. "Glory Days"
In Stereogum's retrospective on Born in the U.S.A., they described "Glory Days" as being too similar to John Mellencamp for some listeners, and I agree wholeheartedly. Though the lyrics are much bleaker than the guitar riff would lead you to believe, it still treads unsafely close to the cheesiest of '80s pop. However, the video was shot at Maxwell's in Hoboken, so at least there's some important New Jersey history attached to it.
10. "My Hometown"
Before sitting down to write this, I had planned on putting "My Hometown" as my least favorite track. After listening to it a few more times, though, I've come to appreciate its subdued atmosphere and simple melody, especially after the bombastic energy of the album's other tracks.
9. "No Surrender"
The album's second side comes roaring out the gate with "No Surrender." Though the other songs have far better melodies, this is probably the album's most straightforward rock song.
8. "Working On The Highway"
Coming off as an '80s update of some old rockabilly song, "Working On The Highway" isn't the album's best pop song, but it is absolutely its most infectious. Its insistent guitar/organ riff might grate on plenty of people's nerves, but I think it's brilliant.
7. "Darlington County"
Born in the U.S.A. runs through plenty of moods, ranging from desperate to triumphant, and "Darlington County" is by far the album's sunniest track, even if it is about going down South and getting arrested.
6. "Cover Me"
Because Springsteen originally wrote "Cover Me" for Donna Summer, it has a vaguely disco-inspired groove that sets it apart from the album's other songs, and yet it's still one of the album's darkest and heaviest tracks.
5. "Born in the U.S.A."
Even though the angry lyrical content of "Born in the U.S.A." isn't exactly a secret, the song's arena-sized synth-line still tricks people into thinking it's a blindly patriotic anthem. If you're turned off by the song's grandeur, the Nebraska-era acoustic demo might be up your alley.
4. "Bobby Jean"
If there's any song from Born in the U.S.A. that could have been recorded for one of Springsteen's earlier albums, it's the vastly underrated "Bobby Jean." While the album's other songs express a distinctly adult sense of desperation, "Bobby Jean" harkens back to Born To Run's more adolescent romanticism.
3. "Dancing in the Dark"
Let's be honest: "Dancing in the Dark" is Bruce Springsteen selling out. Whenever rock singers start messing around with dance music, you know they've probably sold their soul to the devil, but Springsteen was such as excellent songwriter at this point that he was able to write a sell-out dance song without sacrificing any lyrical or musical integrity.
2. "I'm On Fire"
Even people who hate Bruce Springsteen can admit that he did at least two things right: Nebraska, and "I'm On Fire." It's the album's shortest, sparsest, and strangest song, but that just makes it all the more powerful and intense.
1. "Downbound Train"
I wasn't alive in the '80s, but whenever I picture the working class struggles of the decade, they're usually soundtracked with "Downbound Train." Lines like "I work down at the carwash where all it ever does is rain," provide absolutely perfect emotional resonance, and the track's mournful synth-lines complement these bleak images.
What are your favorite songs from Born in the U.S.A.? How would you have ranked them differently? Let us know in the comments section!