1985: Chrysler Corporation had brought itself back from the brink of failure. The emergency loans it had received with federal guarantees had been fully repaid, with interest, many years earlier than scheduled. The company was now solidly profitable, and featured a (mostly) modern lineup of K-derived FWD cars with V6s and turbo 4s. Chairman and CEO Lee Iacocca had become a celebrity, his autobiography was the best selling nonfiction book in the country, and he was being talked about seriously as a potential Presidential candidate. Chrysler was being hailed as the great American comeback story, and their TV spots were filled with plenty of patriotic imagery and a healthy dose of anti-foreign jingoism.
At the time, Chrysler was preparing a new ad campaign for its low priced Plymouth brand, and Iacocca wanted something recognizable and patriotic. After hearing, then wildly misinterpreting, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born the the USA”, he approached Springsteen with an offer of $12 million to use the song, and also requested that Springsteen himself make a brief appearance in the first commercial.
Iacocca wasn’t the first, and certainly not the last, to mistake “Born in the USA” for a rousing, pro-America anthem, rather than a commentary on the hardships faced by returning Vietnam veterans. Like most Springsteen songs, an upbeat, happy chorus is juxtaposed with more somber versus, but the chorus is all anybody really hears.
Undeterred, Iacocca reasoned that if he couldn’t have the song he wanted, he would simply make his own. Chrysler hired Kenny Rogers and Nickie Ryder, and “The Pride is Back (Born in America, Again)” was the result. The chorus and alternate title bore obvious resemblance to “Born in the USA”, and the musical arrangement was consciously modeled on Springsteen’s style, with a kind of “bouncing” effect. The actual verses are pretty much nonsense words, some stuff about “teaching my children what my daddy taught me” (as if that’s some magical thing that can only happen in America, and not something that, you know, pretty much all parents do, everywhere); but that doesn’t matter, because Iacocca was only interested in the chorus anyway, everything else was filler material.
The song itself was released as a single in 1985, and did surprisingly well for an advertising jingle masquerading as heartland rock, reaching #30 on the Adult Contemporary chart, #46 on the Country chart, and #35 on the Canadian Country chart. Chrysler went on to use it in a number of Plymouth TV ads through about 1989, including local/regional dealer group spots.
Lee Iacocca must have had a thing for the music biz, since this was Chrysler’s second foray into it in a short time frame. The first had been the full-length Plymouth Duster music video broadcast during the first MTV Video Music Awards in ’84.