Sometime last night the beer-sodden shell of a thing then inhabiting my mortal frame posted a question on Twitter, and the question was this: what is the UK equivalent of “Born In The USA”? I dimly remember having a conversation about how every time I am put on hold by American Express I hear BITU and I can’t even begin to fathom the layers of irony or post-irony or whatever going on there.
Or maybe Amex just think it’s a rockin’ good song. Which it is! A few people answered my question by saying “Tom, what do you mean by ‘equivalent’?” I wish I knew! Was I talking about the song as a stadium rock anthem or was I talking about the song as a classic of lyrical misinterpretation, or was I talking about it as an angry indictment of the treatment of working class war veterans? Or all of the above? And of course there doesn’t have to be an ‘equivalent’ -but I was delighted by the range of interesting answers I got. Here are some of them:
“London Calling”: Has the rabble-rousing quality, and I guess it’s about something different from what you might think it’s about. Though I’m never totally sure what either of those ‘abouts’ are.
“Shipbuilding”: This got the most mentions of anything, I assume because it’s a) a terrific song and b) specifically about the experiences of working class communities involved in a pointless post-Imperial war. A “British equivalent” to Born In The USA is always likely to be smaller-scale and more domestic musically, and this is. So the only box it’s not ticking is lyrical misunderstanding.
“Live Forever”: I dunno, is there any ‘side’ to “Live Forever” which people don’t get? If so I don’t get it either, though after many years’ distrust I’ve reluctantly come to accept it’s a really good record.
“Born In The UK”: Badly Drawn Boy did a song called this! A commenter kindly linked it on YouTube so I can go listen, and I did, and I have to say it’s more of a British “We Didn’t Start The Fire”.
“Good Morning Britain”: Ramalama stuff from Aztec Camera and Big Audio Dynamite’s Mick Jones. Is aiming, I think, for a similar ironic title/savage lyrics juxtaposition, but isn’t as strong a song, and in BITU the power comes from the singer’s life story forced up against the rhetoric he still wants to believe – here it’s a bunch of slogans partying with a bunch of other slogans.
“Between The Wars”: A couple of people mentioned this Billy Bragg song, which I love. It’s a lot more broad-brush than Born In The USA, and the anger in it isn’t in it, if you get what I mean – it comes out of a knowledge of the context it was written and recorded in. So not an equivalent, but very good.
“Penny Lane”: Don’t see this at all! Sorry!
“God Save The Queen”: Wasn’t stated whether they meant the Pistols one or the actual National Anthem. Both are, er, anthemic, both also set out their stall pretty openly (so we’re still stumbling on the whole misunderstanding thing). “Anarchy In The UK” also mentioned a few times, I think there’s a playfulness in that one which BITU lacks, but perhaps a British equivalent ought to be playful. Hence…
“Parklife”: The first song which fits the double-edged anthem bill, in that it was probably meant as ironic and it was probably taken as celebratory… but these are big, baggy uncertain “probablies”: like Springsteen, Albarn is obviously in love with the music he’s using and very aware of its potency. For all that, there’s a cruelty in some of Blur’s records which is completely absent in Springsteen’s.
“Three Lions”: It caught a mood and then set a mood: as an anti-anthem written by genuine fans it became part of a mass performance of fandom, so I can see the parallel here. But it’s too much about football to be the best parallel.
“Jerusalem”: And here’s a left-field, but rather good, candidate: a radical song left unchanged but adopted to the point where it’s seriously talked up as an alternative national anthem. Obviously it’s not a rock song – though it’s as stirring – and it’s a lot older than Born In The USA, but we’re an older country and we rock less well.