Freight Finds: Stanley Clarke

Stanley Clarke, “Born in the USA”

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan attempted to use Bruce Springsteen’s megahit “Born in the USA” to rally support for his re-election. The Boss disallowed the use of the song, and later also put a stop to unlicensed usages by candidates Pat Buchanan and Bob Dole.

Commonly received by casual listeners as a jingoistic anthem, “Born in the USA” was one of the decade’s most misunderstood hits. The American flag on the album cover, Bruce’s bandana-n-biceps fashion stylings, and general 80s cluelessness likely contributed to that distorted perception but the overall sound of the song may have also played a part. Built on a keyboard riff which keyboardist Roy Bittan later said was an attempt to evoke an Asian-style melodic motif, the song, powered by the mammoth momentum of the E Street Band, is strong. Only a close listen reveals the defeated spirit lurking beneath that show of strength.

Legendary jazz artist Stanley Clarke, who will appear at the Freight & Salvage on June 13th, obviously heard what was indiscernible to many. In 1985, he released a cover of “Born in the USA” featuring a funk/hip-hop musical backdrop, with a rapper on lead vocals. When you hear the lyrics rapped, there is no question that the song is a critique, a lament, a blues. It was a genius cover choice in many ways; a radical re-contextualization which illuminated the song’s emotional heft through an unexpected musical setting. It’s no surprise that Springsteen himself now often chooses to render the song live as a solo, slide-guitar driven blues piece.

Stanley Clarke’s diverse career includes crafting R&B hits with George Duke, virtually inventing jazz fusion bass with Return to Forever, helping to popularize “slap bass” techniques, and influencing countless jazz and rock bassists over many decades. Today’s Freight Find is that moment in 1985 when he located the desperation and dread in a high-flying pop song and illuminated its message in a completely new way.

– PC Muñoz, Director of Education & Community Engagement