When Born in the U.S.A. was first released, it was met with positive reviews and massive commercial success. It produced seven top-10 hit singles and was promoted with a worldwide concert tour by Springsteen. Born in the U.S.A. became his most commercially successful album and one of the highest-selling records ever, having sold 30 million copies by 2012. It has also been cited by critics as one of the greatest albums of all time. The album received a nomination for Album of the Year at the 1985 Grammy Awards.
Born in the U.S.A. showed Springsteen embracing a livelier mainstream sound than on his previous records but continued to express progressive themes and values in his lyrics. According to Roger Scott, it was a "defiantly rock 'n' roll" album, while Rolling Stone's Debby Bull said Springsteen incorporated "electronic textures" with music he "kept as its heart all of the American rock & roll from the early Sixties". Although Springsteen's previous record Nebraska had darker songs, he said Born in the U.S.A. was not entirely different: "If you look at the material, particularly on the first side, it's actually written very much like Nebraska – the characters and the stories, the style of writing – except it's just in the rock-band setting." Springsteen considered leaving "No Surrender" off the album, explaining that "you don't hold out and triumph all the time in life. ... You compromise, you suffer defeat; you slip into life's gray areas." E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt convinced Springsteen otherwise: "He argued that the portrait of friendship and the song's expression of the inspirational power of rock music was an important part of the picture."
The title track of the album inspired the Annie Leibovitz photo of Springsteen's backside against the backdrop of an American flag, which was used as the album cover. Springsteen commented on the origin of the concept: "We had the flag on the cover because the first song was called "Born in the U.S.A.", and the theme of the record kind of follows from the themes I've been writing about for at least the last six or seven years. But the flag is a powerful image, and when you set that stuff loose, you don't know what's gonna be done with it." Some people thought that the cover depicted Springsteen urinating on the flag. He denied it: "That was unintentional. We took a lot of different types of pictures, and in the end, the picture of my ass looked better than the picture of my face, that's what went on the cover. I didn't have any secret message. I don't do that very much." According to political writer Peter Dreier, the music's "pop-oriented" sound and the marketing of Springsteen as "a heavily muscled rocker with an album cover featuring a giant US flag, may have overshadowed the album's radical politics."
Born in the U.S.A. became the first compact disc manufactured in the United States for commercial release when CBS and Sony opened its CD manufacturing plant in Terre Haute, Indiana in September 1984. Columbia Records' CDs previously had been imported from Japan. Although Springsteen had been a well-known star for almost 10 years before the album was released, Larry Rodgers from the Arizona Republic wrote "it was not until he hit the gym to get buffed up and showed off his rear end in Annie Leibovitz's famous cover photo for Born in the U.S.A. that he became an American pop icon", touching off a wave of "Bossmania", as author Chris Smith called it. According to Bryan K. Garman, in his book A Race of Singers – Whitman's Working-Class Hero From Guthrie to Springsteen, this new image helped Springsteen popularize his persona on a new scale, but also brought him a decisive attachment to political and sociocultural issues, in the times when Ronald Reagan was reviving a patriotic pride by reaffirming the values of prosperity, expansion, and world domination of the United States "within a decidedly masculine framework."
Born in the U.S.A. was the best-selling album of 1985 and proved to be the best-selling record of Springsteen's career. It was promoted with a worldwide concert tour and seven singles that became top-10 hits: "Dancing in the Dark", "Cover Me", "Born in the U.S.A.", I'm on Fire", "Glory Days", "I'm Goin' Down", and "My Hometown". The album debuted at number nine on the Billboard 200 during the week of June 23, 1984, and after two weeks, it reached the top of the chart on July 7, staying at number one for seven weeks; it remained on the chart for one hundred forty three weeks. It was also a commercial success in Europe and Oceania; in the United Kingdom the album entered at number two on June 16, and after thirty four weeks, on February 16, 1985, it reached number one and topped the chart for five non consecutive weeks; it was present on the chart for one hundred thirty five weeks. It also topped the album charts in Australia, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.