Friday Fun: Boss Top Ten, #10--"Glory Days"

"Glory Days" (off of Born in the U.S.A. (1984))
Concert Footage:  Hyde Park, London (U.K.), 2013

Well, after a couple weeks off for the holidays, back to the Springsteen countdown.  We start our official top ten with a track off of the album that put Springsteen into the stratosphere, 1984's Born in the U.S.A.  I was listening to Born in the U.S.A. last night, and I was struck by how great it sounded.  With the exception of two tracks ("I'm on Fire," and "My Hometown"), every single one of the tracks is a high-energy, expansive rock song.  It's all very "big," and in that sense it is not surprising that it resonated with people in the mid-80s, a time when uncomplicated excess was seen as cool.  All of the songs are also very fun from a musical perspective--the experience of listening to them makes you smile and bop your head along to the beat and sing along (the well-known "Dancing in the Dark" and the less well known "Cover Me" are particularly good for that).

The other thing I noticed about Born in the U.S.A. is the way in which the lyrics are often counter to the sound of the song.  While you are getting the Big Rock Show sonically, you are getting some nuanced, and even depressing, messages from the lyrics.  The best example of this is the title track "Born in the U.S.A."  It was originally written as part of the songs that became 1982's Nebraska, and like the songs on that album, it was a moody, depressing acoustic number about the death of the American Dream.  For Born in the U.S.A., the lyrics were unchanged but the music became the soaring anthem that people know.  So, you end up with song that sounds like it is about how great it is to be "Born in the U.S.A.," but is actually about how much it sucks.

"Glory Days" is not nearly so negative; in fact, the subtle genius of the song is its refusal to take the obvious, cliched negative line.
It starts out with two characters--the high school baseball hero and the "girl that lives up the block." Both were the toast of their high schools, the most important people in their world.  Now, they are just like everyone else, with an acute awareness that they will never reclaim their former exalted status.  And so, all they have to fall back on is the stories of their "glory days."

Now, the obvious songwriting move here is to take a superior position toward our two characters, to see them as pathetic and/or to exalt in the fact that those that those who were once the gods of the school have been brought down low (an example of this move that comes to mind is the Toby Keith song "How Do You Like Me Now?")  But Springsteen doesn't do that.  He identifies and sympathizes with our two characters, as captured in best line in the song "And I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it/but I probably will."  "Sure, it might not be the best thing in the world to revel in your successes as a 16 year old, but we all do it to one degree or another, so cut these people some slack," Springsteen seems to be saying.  Springsteen's refusal to judge these people who are deep in their nostalgia-trip sets the song above the cliches about nostalgia, and makes what would otherwise be an insubstantial rock track into something that is pretty thought-provoking.

One last point.  Born in the U.S.A. is the most famous of Springsteen's albums to the casual fan, and yet this is the only song from it in my top 10.  If I were doing a top 20 or top 25, there would definitely be a few more songs from the album (I really like "Cover Me," "I'm on Fire," and "Dancing in the Dark").  But I think while Born in the U.S.A. is the second most consistent album from start to finish (trailing only Born to Run, which has only one remotely skippable track, "Night"), none of the songs really hit home with me the way some other Springsteen songs do.  For me, Born in the U.S.A. is a consistent series of A-/B+ songs, but doesn't really have a real A or A+ track.  It's consistency makes it great, but when you go song by song it doesn't reach the heights of some of Springsteen's other stuff.


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