Last week I wrote about my five favorite albums from the year 1984, as part of my recurring Decades series. This week I’ll shift to five albums from that year that I know primarily through their singles. I can’t say I’m familiar enough with any of these albums to include them in my personal list of faves, but I know enough to separate them from the true unknowns to come.
It probably seems crazy that I’m including Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. among this group. After all, it’s by far his most popular album, 15X Platinum in the U.S. with sales north of 30 million worldwide.
At first blush, today’s Montauk Madness matchup has a student vs. master dynamic. Early in his career, John Cougar was viewed as a poor man’s Bruce Springsteen.
But John Mellencamp has carved out quite the career in the four decades since his debut. In fact, he’s released five more albums than Springsteen in three fewer years, and spanned a variety of styles along the way.
Two years after his bleakest, most low-key album, Bruce Springsteen released a great big shiny pop masterpiece. 1983’s Born in the U.S.A. was written and recorded with mass popularity in mind and that’s exactly what it achieved.
The album generated a record-tying seven top ten singles and ultimately went 15X Platinum. It turned Springsteen into a household name. And it did all of that without compromising his worldview, even if some of the songs were misunderstood (see Ronald Reagan’s use of the title track for an ironic example).
‘I’m On Fire,’ Bruce Springsteen’s classic, slow-burning track from the Born in the U.S.A. album, is a perfect example of effective metaphor in song. He’s not really on fire, you see!
Springsteen uses an even niftier metaphor late in the (way too short) song when he describes waking up with “a freight train running through the middle of [his] head.” Wonderful imagery. Between that and the 6-inch valley in the middle of his skull carved out with a dull knife, I’d venture to say this relationship could be harmful to his health.