The Original, Much Darker Version of “Born in the USA”

Bruce Springsteen recorded this demo of “Born in the USA” in 1982 during a group of sessions that would lead to his Nebraska album. This version is all in minor chords and it really emphasizes the irony in the lyrics. All told, it sounds more like an old blues/folk song than the upbeat final release I grew up listening to.

“Born in the USA” has always been about the impact of the Vietnam War on America and the country’s mistreatment of veterans upon their return. But the song, originally released in 1984, has largely been used as generic patriotic fodder because who pays attention to lyrics anyway? Here they are if you’ve never actually given the song a close listen:

Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
End up like a dog that’s been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up
Born in the U.S.A., I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A., born in the U.S.A.
Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man
Born in the U.S.A., I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A., born in the U.S.A.
Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man said “son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “son, don’t you understand”
I had a brother at Khe Sahn
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
Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go
Born in the U.S.A., I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A., I’m a long gone daddy in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A., born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A., I’m a cool rocking daddy in the U.S.A.
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