“Much of Born In The USA was recorded live with the full band in three weeks. Then I took a break, recorded Nebraska and didn’t return to my rock album ’til later… Then brain freeze settled in.”
To read Springsteen’s biography Born To Run you’d almost believe that the writing and recording of the songs that made up Born In The USA was a relatively succinct period divided up into a couple of sessions and that the only songs that exist from the time graced the two albums it bore: Nebraska and Born In The USA.
Both Tracks, studio logs and his own Songs book tell a different story though. Between Bruce’s sitting down with “some books, a few scattered guitar picks, and a harmonica rack jostled with the crumbs of the afternoon’s lunch” and, importantly, a Paul Schrader script for a film called ‘Born In The USA’ and penning a song that he initially title ‘Vietman’ and the song hitting the airwaves were several years and a LOT of songs.
Following the decision not to release ‘Murder Incorporated’, and despite the idea of keeping studio costs down, Bruce headed back to New York’s The Hit Factory with The E Street Band from May – June of 1983, though without Van Zandt for the most part.
These final sessions were the end of an era, not realised let alone acknowledged at the time. Aside from the missing Van Zandt’s input, the last sessions for Born In The USA would be the last time Springsteen entered the studio with the full band for a long time to come and would be the last time in which songs would be written and then worked up and arranged with the band until 2020’s Letter To You. It’s also the point at which Springsteen’s prolific period of song writing began to slow and the security around the vault would tighten.
From May through June of ’83, though, Bruce and the band worked on more songs to add to the pile as Springsteen searched for the right sound and feel to make it an album. In fact, it looked like this was it and recording went straight into mixing in July and a possible track listing was born:
Born In The USA
None But The Brave
Drop On Down And Cover Me
Shut Out The Light
Johnny Bye Bye
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Follow That Dream
Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart
This album doesn’t ring as cohesive as ‘Murder Incorporated’ ever did. Some of the songs come from the earliest sessions, some from Springsteen’s LA recordings and FIVE new songs from the May-June sessions all of which, as they were mastered, would either go on to serve as b-sides or appear on Tracks. However, songs like ‘Cynthia’ and ‘Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart’ (she still needed a shooter) aren’t his strongest from this period – Janey the better of the two – and their inclusion here, to me, is indicative that he was doubting the more direct, ‘pop’ leaning of the other material as they harken back more to his work of the previous decade than anything else from this period.\
The lack of cohesion was apparent to all and this version of the album was shelved. The mix and feel of Springsteen’s LA cuts jarring too much with the rest of the cuts. It was back to the studio, again, for another period of writing and recording from the end of ’83 into early ’84. However, it was at this point that ‘brain freeze’ kicked in and work ground to a halt.
Thanks to the increasing security on sessions and the vault the fruit of these last periods of writing and recording are harder to identify. But Springsteen suggests, in ‘Born To Run’ again, that these would have included ‘Bobby Jean’ and ‘No Surrender’ and, er, ‘Refrigerator Blues’, ‘Swoop Man’ and ‘Ida Rose (No One Knows) were also written write before then end of the album’s writing and recording period.
Recognising that Springsteen was at an impasse with his album – and, presumably, with the record label chomping away at his ear – Jon Landau stepped in. He did two things. First, he compiled what he thought were the best of the songs recorded into an eleven-song track list:
Born In The USA
I’m Goin’ Down
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Follow That Dream
Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart
I’m On Fire
I don’t dig this track list anymore than that created in July of ’83. The songs here are still missing something but it seemed to do the job of giving his charge a charge, if you will. For Springsteen, armed with his newly- recorded songs, then “circled back to my original group of songs. There I found a naturalism and aliveness that couldn’t be argued with. They weren’t exactly what I’d been looking for, but they were what I had.”
They weren’t exactly what I was looking for…. but they were what he had. To me, this suggests a sense of weariness perhaps. Realisation, maybe, that whatever it was he was looking for wasn’t going to be found and he needed to get something, anything, out? Even if it meant it wasn’t as realised to him as, say, Darkness On The Edge of Town was? It’s a sensation that’s gotten across in the album’s first single:
‘Dancing in the Dark’ came from a now-famous moment when Springsteen was told the album needed a ‘hit’ single to get it on fire on the radio. Tired and weary after what was three years plus of writing and recording for the album and having already stockpiled more songs for Disc Three of Tracks to be one of the strongest, Bruce told Landau that if he wanted it so much, he should it himself. Springsteen refers to the song as being “about my own alienation, fatigue and desire to get from inside the studio, my room, my record, my head…” It was the last song recorded for the album in February 1984.
Born In The USA changed Springsteen’s career. It pushed him from arenas to stadiums, muscle-bound and posing for the big screen projections to the cheap seats with hit after hit released from it. I’ve covered the album itself in more detail as part of my ‘Least To Most’ Springsteen series so won’t reiterate that which I’ve already covered. It may well have been his biggest but it’s far from my favourite and, with hindsight, Springsteen himself has certainly cooled toward it – it’s grab bag feel still apparent. But it did the job.
Following it would never be easy especially when you take into account the album’s arduous gestation period. Tunnel of Love, a far superior album, was a much more subdued affair and it would be another decade or two before Springsteen was comfortable finding his ‘rock’ voice again. The hesitancy and labouring over songs would also be borne out on the much-maligned Human Touch and his second-guessing over releasing albums would permeate through the next decade as there’s another rumoured album that sits abandoned in his vaults.
Perhaps it, like the wealth of songs recorded during Born In The USA‘s sessions, will see light on the in-the-works Tracks 2 project. Of those songs recorded and cut from the album we know of ‘Murder Incorporated’, ‘Pink Cadillac’, ‘Shut Out The Light’, ‘Johnny Bye-Bye’, ‘Stand On It’, ‘Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart’, ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find (Pittsburgh)’, My Love Will Not Let You Down’, the brilliant ‘Wages of Sin’, ‘This Hard Land’, ‘Frankie’, ‘Cynthia’, ‘Lion’s Den’, ‘Car Wash’, ‘TV Movie’, ‘Brothers Under The Bridges (’83)’, Man At The Top’, Rockaway the Days’, ‘County Fair’ and ‘None But The Brave’. That’s 20 songs, for those who are counting.
But… those that haven’t been officially released?
Here’s the list, just as indication that there’s a HUGE amount still in the vault. Each of these, in some way, went into the making of the final album and it shows just how much Springsteen put into the sessions even if he never found what he was looking for:
LITTLE GIRL (LIKE YOU)
FOLLOW THAT DREAM
DON’T BACK DOWN
JAMES LINCOLN DEAR
YOUR LOVE IS ALL AROUND ME
STOP THE WAR
BABY I’M SO COLD
BELLS OF SAN SALVADOR
ON THE PROWL
NEBRASKA – E STREET BAND VERSION
ATLANTIC CITY – E STREET BAND VERSION
MANSION ON THE HILL – E STREET BAND VERSION
JOHNNY 99 – E STREET BAND VERSION
HIGHWAY PATROLMAN – E STREET BAND VERSION
USED CARS – E STREET BAND VERSION
OPEN ALL NIGHT – E STREET BAND VERSION
REASON TO BELIEVE – E STREET BAND VERSION
FADE TO BLACK
GUN IN EVERY HOME
COMMON GROUND (STAY HUNGRY)
TRUE LOVE IS HARD TO COME BY
I DON’T CARE
THE MONEY WE DIDN’T MAKE
JOHNNY GO DOWN
BODY AND SOUL
OUT OF WORK
LOVE’S ON THE LINE
CLUB SOUL CITY
HOLD ON (TO WHAT YOU GOT)
WORKIN’ ON IT
GONE, GONE, GONE / SEEDS
JUST AROUND THE CORNER TO THE LIGHT OF DAY
INVITATION TO YOUR PARTY
GLORY OF LOVE
100 MILES FROM JACKSON
ROLL AWAY THE STONE
UNDER THE BIG SKY
IDA ROSE (NO ONE KNOWS)
NOW AND FOREVER / SUMMER ON SIGNAL HILL
That’s an additional 58 songs in varying forms of completion, mastering and circulation. With those already released and the 12 that made up Born In The USA‘s final track list and that gives us…. 90 songs. With the suggestion – that kicked off this series – from Max Weinberg that nearly 80 were recorded with the band… it’s likely that a few of these were either not recorded or never went beyond Bruce, a guitar and a basic recording.
With less songs written for Tunnel of Love – only an additional eleven on top of the album – and subsequent albums, Born In The USA was the end of Springsteen’s most prolific period of song writing, it even looks to have knackered him out for writing for some time to come. It – along with the missing album from the 90’s – represents one of the few remaining rich seams of work that have yet to tapped. Those efforts that didn’t make his later-career albums were cherry-picked for the hotchpotch High Hopes and they weren’t anything like as strong as those that made up The Promise or The Ties That Bind collections. So, here’s hoping we get to hear from both these periods soon because there are some fucking BELTERS awaiting mastering and release in this treasure trove:
14 thoughts on “Messages keeps gettin’ clearer, radio’s on and I’m movin’ ’round my place: the ‘other’ Born In The USAs – Part 3”
Bruce and the band were on our Saturday Night Live the other night sounding fine. New songs as near as I can tell. It’s up on YouTube but it’s not clear that you can see them in Old Blighty.
Yeah I caught up on those. Both songs from Letter To You sounded good though I couldn’t shake the feeling they seemed a little awkward. But, then, it’s been a while
Yeah, I wasn’t blown away by their performance either. But it just felt damn good to see them all together again. Also, SNL has been on TV since 1975. Back in the day they used to have ALL the rock acts on. In the past few years it’s been mostly all rap. But they had Jack White on a little while ago as a fill-in. The reaction online was so strong that they’ve since had Foo Fighters, Bruce, The Strokes. I’m all for having current stuff whether it’s to my taste or not. But I’m damn happy to see some rock and roll on there again.
yeah, SVZ especially seemed like he was out of his comfort zone. My guess it’s more down to the format – smallish stage, very tight requirements for the performance time and no room for deviation? Either way, it’s nice to get a bit of the ‘normal’ again. The new album is bloody strong and I think that when it comes to proper live performances they’ll loosen up and let blast.
Yeah, no room to move. Frankly, I’ve always wondered why they needed four guitars up there. Makes no sense musically at all. I was kinda hoping Bruce would do his “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”
Ha ha.. well I think it was a case that he wanted Nils and Stevie and Patti’s vocals now come with a (apparently very low in the mix) acoustic guitar. The three electric guitar mix certainly gave the reunion tour some extra oomph and I guess it takes some of the work off him
On another note… good to see the Supreme Court (what’s with all this SCOTUS stuff? Are people too lazy to type the whole thing?) actually threw out Texas’ BS. I was wondering just how strong that prick’s grip on the judges he appointed was. Good to see Biden won, again and again
SCOTUS is just easy. Yeah, I’m spending a fair amount of time (can’t help myself) deflecting stupid Trumpsters (redundant) online comments about how it’s “not over” and the “communists” have taken over. What a bunch of fucking assholes.
I remind them that Orange Mussolini has now lost 50 times in lower courts plus twice at the Supreme Court, completely dismissed almost without comment, certaily without dissent. I wasn’t too worred about judges – even Trump-appointed ones – doing the right thing. Trump’s moves were so blatant and stupid that a judge would really have to stretch it to honor any of the nutbag crap he and Guiliani (a sad case) were coming up with. We stress tested our country and the Constitution won. Hey, Old Blighty survived Maggie, eh?
Yeah… just. It’s beyond me why but I saw a discussion amongst some people on the continent that suggested she was our greatest PM. I guess if you’re not aware or lived under her twattery you wouldn’t know anything except the presses take. I’m now hoping a civil case from New York sends that fat bell-end to jail
Well, we have that same problem here with idiiot. 74 million people voted for him. The thing I most remember about Thatcher, culture-wise, is Elvis Costelll’s “Tramp the Dirt Down” and the fact that “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” went to number one in Merry Olde England when she died. Now that is harsh! You people have a lot to answer for!
Really thorough treatment, Tony. Nice work. I recently read both ‘Born to Run’ and the 33 ⅓ book on ‘Born in the USA’. Enjoyed both very much.
Thanks man. I’m curious about those, I’ve seen the Wings for Wheels doc that came with the BTR 30th box but that’s very much an ‘official’ version of events. Will add them to the Christmas list and see if the fat guy in the suit leaves em under the tree
Good luck! (I’m sure you’ve been a very good boy). 🙂
Really good stuff Tony. I ate up ‘Tracks’ and look forward to the new batch of old. My ear caught the two older songs off ‘Letter’. Something about that vibe gets me.