#6: Bruce Springsteen, ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ (1984) vs. Pearl Jam, ‘Ten’ (1991)

Pearl Jam’s Ten was one of those albums that pushed albums like Born in the U.S.A. to the back of the CD shelf for a while. It was the angsty early 90s; alternative was in, and classic was out. The rawness of grunge made a lot of the music of the 80s seem a little lame, including “heartland” rock from the likes of Bruce Springsteen. None of this was helped by the fact that the early 90s were not Bruce’s finest hour.

Ironic, as it turns out, considering 1) Pearl Jam and Springsteen, as crusaders against injustice and corruption, are birds of a feather; 2) Pearl Jam were influenced by Springsteen, particularly in their no-holds-barred, marathon live shows; and 3) Born in the U.S.A. is proving to stand the test of time better (helped, no doubt, by the resurgence of The Boss’ “cool” quotient in recent years).

Don’t get me wrong – Ten is a pretty great album, but this is not even particularly close.

In the spirit of the title of Pearl Jam’s debut, here are 10 reasons why Born in the U.S.A. must win this battle:

  1.  Born in the U.S.A. opens with “Born in the U.S.A.”, a song so indelible that if you’ve heard it once you remember it forever. That’s how you open an album – like we’re marching into war. Also, Max Weinberg’s drums on that song – wow.
  2. While we’re on it, “Born in the U.S.A.” has a long tradition of being misunderstood by idiot politicians and conservative columnists who can only process the most-repeated seven syllables of the song, so they think it’s an anthem, not an indictment. Bruce continues to try to educate the nitwits. Points for longevity and patience, Bruce.
  3. Born is twelve great songs that are all memorable in their own way. The tracks on Ten start to meld together a bit, especially on the weaker second half.
  4. “Alive” is an insanely great song, especially Mike McCready’s mad guitar solo at the end. OK, this is actually a vote for Ten so I guess the score is now 3-1.
  5.  Eddie’s lyrics are solid – a raw kind of poetry about every sad thing you can think of (suicide, mental illness, domestic abuse), but Bruce can tell entire novels in a handful of verses (e.g. “No Surrender” and “My Hometown”).
  6.  Springsteen inspired bands like Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam inspired bands like Creed. Not PJ’s fault, but damn…
  7. Bruce has a sense of playfulness on Born (e.g., “Darlington County”), even as he is making serious statements about the poor and disenfranchised. Ten is just sad, sad, sad. A little levity helps on repeat listens.
  8.  Born can speak to you at any age. Kids can feel the gotta-get-out desperation of “Dancing in the Dark” and the older folk can appreciate the teasing sting of “Glory Days”.  Ten is best digested by moody teens and early 20-somethings, and is more likely to be outgrown.
  9. Pearl Jam waged war against the evil empire that is Ticketmaster. OK, this is another voted for Pearl Jam – 7-2.
  10.  The best albums finish great, and Born ends with the triple punch of “Glory Days”, “Dancing in the Dark” and “My Hometown”. Does it get any better than that? Very rarely, and certainly not Ten‘s “Garden”, “Deep” and “Release”.

Let’s also note that both albums were monsters on the charts, but even on that front Born rules. It sold 30 million copies and generated seven – seven! – top 10 singles, while Ten sold a “mere” 13 million.

So now that Bruce has thumped poor Pearl Jam, just to show that everyone can still be friends, here is a video of Eddie Vedder and Springsteen singing “Highway to Hell” together.


WINNER: Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A. (5 points)


80s: 20

90s: 24

80s: 57
90s: 63

Next week’s post – #5: Paul Simon, ‘Graceland’ (1986) vs. Lauryn Hill, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ (1998)