Music is the soundtrack to our lives. And on Christmas Day 2012, four days after the world was supposed to end, GuysNation columnist Bryan Lienesch was given the book ‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’. As he flipped through it, an idea dawned on him right then and there: he would attempt to knock all 1,001 albums off his list. Not just before he dies, but as fast as life would allow.

This is the Bucket Beats List.

LIKE A BOSS: Bruce Springsteen doesn't just have soul, he IS soul. The AMERICAN soul. Photo courtesy Getty Images

LIKE A BOSS: Bruce Springsteen doesn’t just have soul, he IS soul. The AMERICAN soul. Photo courtesy Getty Images

The boss. I say those two words and everyone knows exactly who I’m talking about. I don’t even have to give you the category (which is music, obviously), you just know. That, perhaps better than anything else, defines what it means to be iconic.

And Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ is as iconic as he is.

It came in just as Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ was fading from its immediate fame. Some might say that was unfortunate timing, but that would be to assume ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ fails to step out of the shadow and make a name for itself.

Bruce Springsteen Born In The U.S.A.Spoiler alert: it does. It does that and then some.

Everyone is well aware of the brilliance of Springsteen as a songwriter. His work encompasses a dizzying spectrum of emotions and is perhaps the best examination done by a single artist into the soul of the human spirit yet. But what ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ brings to the table is the musical sagacity to match.

Listening to the record, you feel as though you’re walking down memory lane in an American history museum, not just merely stuck in the present day (1984, not 2013). There’s the production’s titular track, a condemnation of how veterans from a war fought nearly a decade before had been treated once they came home. In ‘Working On The Highway’, which serves as a perfect anthem for the hardnosed blue collar man, you get a generous dash of ’50’s style rock ‘n’ roll, so much so that you’re practically waiting for “The King” to join “The Boss” on stage. Then with ‘Glory Days’, you catch very notable hints of ’70’s glam rock. But if you’re wondering where in all this the decade the album was actually written in went, you need not look any further than ‘Dancing In The Dark’ whose pop bee bop is an ’80’s music staple.

And through all 12 tracks, just as the record’s title promises, Springsteen doesn’t go anywhere other than the heart of America. The album’s alternating sharp criticism and chest-raising patriotism captures the American spirit in the most honest of lights. Neither glorifying nor vilifying it, ‘Born In The U.S.A.’ paints the nation as the flawed hero that it is.

It’s chicken soup for the American soul is what it is. Springsteen’s industrial drawl has a way of soothing you even as he so colorfully points out the mistakes we’ve made along the way. His devotion to the nation brings about a sort of raw idealism in this 1984 record that practically demands that those red and white stripes be placed behind that denim buttocks on the cover.

Springsteen’s dynamic range in the recording isn’t limited to varying periods of American music, though. As I said, he hits so many emotional notes, the 47 minutes and change it takes you to listen to it all becomes a dizzying roller coaster. There’s the upbeat nationalism in ‘No Surrender’, the “it is what it is” attitude of ‘Working On The Highway’, the sorrowful nostalgia of ‘My Hometown’. And who can forget the panty-dropper ballad ‘I’m On Fire’?

Springsteen may have been from New Jersey, where he is something of a deity, but the hymns he hums in ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ speak to every human that has ever put his or her hand to their chest while looking at those stars and stripes. It’s not blind loyalty or hate-filled ignorance, it’s every bit of rational thought that lies between.

If someone wanted to know what it meant to be American, they need not look any further than these 12 songs.

Favorite tracks?
3. My Hometown
2. Cover Me
1. Downbound Train

Least favorite tracks?
3. Glory Days
2. Billie Jean
1. Darlington County

Do you really need to listen to this album before you die?
Unequivocally yes.

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When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure to give him a follow @bclienesch for social media shenanigans!