Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder
That’s What Friends Are For
Born In The U.S.A.
“Born in the U.S.A." is a 1984 song written and performed by Bruce Springsteen. Taken from the album of the same name, it is one of his best-known singles. Rolling Stone ranked the song 275th on their list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. In 2001, the RIAA's Songs of the Century placed the song 59th (out of 365). Lyrically, the song deals with the effects of the Vietnam War on Americans, although it is often misinterpreted as a patriotic or nationalistic anthem.
The song was in part a tribute to Springsteen’s friends who had experienced the Vietnam War, some of whom did not come back; it also protests the hardships Vietnam veterans faced upon their return from the war.
The song’s narrative traces the protagonist’s working-class origins, induction into the armed forces, and disaffected return back to the States. An anguished lyrical interlude is even more jolting, describing the fate of the protagonist’s (literal or figurative) brother (in some recordings or live shows, the word brother is replaced with buddy):
“I had a brother at Khe Sanh
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
The Battle of Khe Sanh involved the North Vietnamese Army, not the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (the Viet Cong) heard in the song lyrics. Eventually the Americans prevailed and broke the siege, only to withdraw from the outpost a couple of months later. Khe Sanh thus became one of the media symbols of the futility of the whole war effort in the States.
Two scholars writing in the journal American Quarterly explored the song as a lament for the embattled working-class identity. Structurally, they noted that “the anthemic chorus contrasted with the verses’ desperate narrative,” a tension which informs an understanding of the song’s overall meaning: the nationalist chorus continuously overwhelms the desperation and sacrifice relayed in the verses. They point out that the imagery of the Vietnam War could be read as metaphor for “the social and economic siege of American blue-collar communities” at large, and that lyrics discussing economic devastation are likely symbolic for the effect of blind nationalism upon the working-class. The song as a whole, they felt, laments the destabilization of the economics and politics protecting the “industrial working class” in the 1970s and early 1980s, leaving only “a deafening but hollow national pride
Official music video for ‘Electric Blue’ taken from WHITE HEAT: 30 HITS out now! (c) Diva Records Pty Ltd