It’s been a big year for rock singer, songwriter and guitarist Bruce Springsteen: “The Boss,” as his fans call him, just turned 65 years old. And a few months before, his album "Born In The USA" turned 30 years old. Released in June, 1984, "Born In The USA" was hugely popular, spawning an amazing seven top-10 hit songs in America. It has also been called Springsteen’s most misunderstood album.
Now, a new recording, "Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born In The U.S.A.," aims to peel back the layers on Springsteen’s original tracks.
On the surface, Springsteen’s “Born In The U.S.A.” sounds like just another upbeat pop song.
The title led a lot of people to think the song was a patriotic anthem. President Ronald Reagan declared that Springsteen’s song had a “message of hope.” But strip away the keyboards and snare-drum back-beat, and listen carefully to the words, a different story comes out. And that’s what co-producer Logan Rogers wanted to spotlight on the tribute album "Dead Man’s Town."
“If you pay attention to the song and the lyrics, you’re going to see that this is a protest song without any sort of compromise," he said. "And it kind of speaks to the times, like how massive this song was. It also speaks to how many people misinterpreted what this songs says.“
Husband and wife duo Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires re-imagine in their version of “Born In The U.S.A” by putting the darkness back in the story of a Vietnam veteran trying to get his life back on track after returning home from the war.
"Dead Man’s Town" puts the emphasis on the lyrics of the songs that make up Springsteen’s "Born In The U.S.A," the album that made him a worldwide superstar. But despite Springsteen’s breakout success 30 years ago, not everyone involved in the new project had been a huge fan of the original record. One of them, says Rogers, was Dave Cobb, who produced three cuts, including the title track.
“He just couldn’t get past the ‘80s-ness of some of the originals. But once Jason and Amanda came in, he really paid attention to the craft of the song and what the song is really saying and then he really came around," Rogers said.
Austin singer Joe Pug says that "Born In The USA" has influenced a generation of musicians, even those who didn’t consider themselves fans of the album.
“Strangely enough, for me, it was kind of ‘just there,’' he said. "I’ve obviously listened to it before, you can’t really play singer-songwriter music in America these days without being familiar with that record.”
His contribution is a piano-based version of “Downbound Train,” a song that Pug describes as a very intimate portrait of a life going bad.
“It’s kind of going off the rails, going in a direction they didn’t expect and didn’t want,” he said.
Pug hopes that after hearing “Dead Man’s Road,” listeners will come away with a new appreciation for "Born in the USA" and for Bruce Springsteen as a songwriter.
“A lot of the tunes on this tribute CD have been slowed down to a certain degree and it’s almost like getting to watch a deconstruction of a really finely built building," he said. "I think Bruce’s work comes into focus when it’s able to be brought down like this and I guarantee you that there’s a bunch of albums that will remain nameless, not his, but other people’s over the years, that couldn’t be deconstructed like this because there’s nothing below the production.”
The biggest hit single to come from the original Springsteen album was “Dancing in the Dark.”
Rogers, producer of the new recording, found Nicole Atkin’s new version of the song particularly surprising.
“It was kind of a shocker. I wasn’t sure what to expect and they put a groove into it that wasn’t there before," he said. "And it’s a little bit darker. But it definitely has a dancey-groove that I was surprised by. I really expected her to do a version that was more similar to the original.”