Bruce Springsteen: Celebrating 40 Years of « Born in the U.S.A. » – Rolling Stone

In two new interviews, E Street Band legends Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan share their memories of creating this album with Bruce Springsteen.

Back in 1984, when Max Weinberg, the drummer of the E Street Band, saw a series of potential album covers for Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming album, he immediately noticed Annie Leibovitz’s photo showing the singer’s backside in jeans. « I said, jokingly, that I liked that one because that’s the view I’ve always had, » Weinberg recalls in the latest episode of our Rolling Stone Music Now podcast. « Everyone laughed, then they chose that shot. After that, it was a whirlwind. »

In this new episode, Weinberg and Roy Bittan, the E Street Band keyboardist, delve into the making of Bruce Springsteen’s greatest album, « Born in the U.S.A., » released on June 4, 1984, and the Brucemania that followed, including the filming of the « Dancing in the Dark » video with Courteney Cox. Click here to find your preferred podcast provider or simply hit « play. » Below are some excerpts from the interviews.

Both Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg have fond memories of the unreleased versions of the Nebraska songs during the Born in the U.S.A. recording sessions. « What I find interesting about the legend that has developed around this is that [the full-band versions] were not very good, » Weinberg says. « In fact, they were incredibly good! They just didn’t fit what Bruce wanted to do at all. I remember recording all those tracks, and it was very much in the style of the E Street Band, very similar to what we do today when we play those songs. It was great, and it was a rock record. »

Roy Bittan is proud of the simplicity of the album’s title track. « The song only has two chords. Sometimes, you don’t have to be afraid to be primitive, so to speak… Being able to delve into your gut and settle for two chords and a riff is elementary rock & roll. The fact that I used a synthesizer is almost irrelevant. I could have played it on the piano the same way. »

The acoustic rhythm parts by Steve Van Zandt are more crucial to the album than they appear. « I can’t stress enough the importance of Steve Van Zandt’s rhythm in the rhythmic thrust of the songs that ultimately prevailed, » Weinberg states. « His acoustic guitar, which I listened to a lot during the recording, provided a very similar framework to that of Keith Richards on, for example, ‘Street Fighting Man.' »

The band was convinced that the best unreleased songs for the album (like « My Love Will Not Let You Down ») were potential hits. « Bruce was writing in one direction, then something else came out, he wrote in that [other] direction, » Bittan explains. « And eventually, he found what he wanted to say, and the rest of the songs can go to hell, number one hit or not. »

Max Weinberg was the first person to hear « My Hometown. » « One of the times I stayed at his place, there were two rooms and mine was next to his. Late at night, I remember him writing, and I could literally hear through the door, he was writing ‘My Hometown’ on his acoustic guitar. I remember it very well. When he came to record it, he did it with a Linn drum, just with the beat that ended up on the recording. But he wanted me to re-record the drums. And I did an overdub on what he had prepared at home. »

It’s almost impossible to accurately recreate the keyboard sounds from the album due to the quirks of the analog Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that Roy Bittan used (though he opted for a digital synthesizer on « Dancing in the Dark »). « In a way, it was a rudimentary instrument, » Bittan explains, « because it had these toggle switches. I think there were four switches that opened and closed filters. That’s how you adjust or modify your sound. The fun part is that there were no marks. You would move the switch, and good luck putting it back where it was yesterday because there was no way to know. It’s actually a very fun thing they did. I will never understand how they could create such a sophisticated instrument but not figure out how to operate the controls. »

By Brian Hiatt