Bruce Springsteen – Dancing In The Dark

This song kicked off Brucemania in 1984. Born in the USA along with Thriller and Purple Rain ruled in the 80s.

This one is not my favorite off the album but I did like it. Considering the times it was the best sounding song to lead off with.  All together Born In The USA had 7 top ten singles….I didn’t know what to think at first…I liked this and Cover me but it was when the title track was released…that is when I was sold when I heard Springsteen sing Born in the U.S.A..

This song peaked at #2 in the Billboard 100, #3 in Canada, #28 in the UK, and #2 in New Zealand.

This was the last song written and recorded for the Born In The U.S.A.. His manager Jon Landau didn’t hear a lead off single from the album at the time and asked him to write something that could be that song. Bruce was not in the mood for hearing this…he said “Look, I’ve written 70 songs (he had written 70 songs for the album). You want another one, you write it.” After giving it a while he sat in his hotel room and wrote about himself at that time…about the isolation that fame had given him since The River.

The next day Landau had the song he was looking for…so  for the first time Bruce set out to make a video. It was directed by Brian DePalma, the video was filmed during Springsteen’s concert at the St. Paul Civic Center in Minnesota on June 29, 1984. Courtney Cox, who was planted in the audience, got the role of the adoring fan in the front row who gets to dance on stage with Bruce. Many Springsteen fans were upset that he didn’t get a true fan from the audience.

Springsteen did “Dancing In The Dark” midway through the show, so by that time he was warmed up and the crowd was worked into a frenzy. To get the shots, Springsteen did the song twice, with DePalma repositioning his cameras after the first take.

This song won Springsteen his first Grammy. In 1985, it got the award for Best Male Vocal… also in Rolling Stone reader’s poll, this was voted Single of the Year in 1985.

From Songfacts

Springsteen wrote this about his difficulty writing a hit single and his frustration trying to write songs that will please people. His struggles pour out in the lyric, where he feels like a hired gun dying for some action. He even addresses an industry trope, which he surely heard many times before:

They say you gotta stay hungry
hey baby I’m just about starving tonight

Ironically, the song was a hit single – the biggest of his career in terms of US chart position. (Although Manfred Mann’s cover of Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” made #1.)

Springsteen was doing just fine, with six successful albums in his discography and an unparalleled concert reputation. He had over 70 songs written for Born In The U.S.A., but Landau wanted a guaranteed hit to ensure superstar status for Springsteen. “Dancing In The Dark” provided just that spark; released as the first single (the only one issued ahead of the album), it started the fire that was Born In The U.S.A. Springsteen’s songs were soon all over the radio, and he found a whole new audience. Unlike many rock artists who are accused of selling out when they hit it huge, Springsteen’s star turn was welcomed (for the most part) by his faithful, who had spent many years spreading his gospel.

The video was Springsteen’s first to get heavy airplay on MTV, and it introduced him to a new, mostly younger audience. As for Cox, a few years later she landed a role on the sitcom Family Ties, and went on to star in the wildly popular TV series Friends.

The lyric is rather bleak, as Springsteen sings lines like, “Man I ain’t getting nowhere, I’m just living in a dump like this.” It doesn’t have a happy ending, but by the end of the song, he seems intent on taking some action, looking for just a tiny bit of inspiration to set him on his path – after all, you can’t start a fire without a spark.

By the last verse, there’s a touch of existentialism, as he puts things in perspective: “You can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart.”

The deep, philosophical message was lost on most listeners who were entranced by the catchy beat (the video didn’t exactly push a deeper meaning either). Springsteen got a similar reaction to his song “Born In The U.S.A.,” where the message was lost in the music. That one bothered him, as the song is about the plight of a Vietnam veteran returning home to hostilities and disregard.

This song sent the Born In the U.S.A. album on a Thriller-like run of chart success, with the next six singles all reaching the US Top 10. The tally, in order of release:

“Cover Me” (#7)
“Born In The U.S.A.” (#9)
“I’m On Fire” (#6)
“Glory Days” (#5)
“I’m Goin’ Down” (#9)
“My Hometown” (#6)

The original concept for the music video was to have Springsteen literally dancing in the dark – shot against against a black background. Jeff Stein was the director, and Daniel Pearl, famous for his cinematography on “Every Breath You Take,” was the director of photography. Pearl and Springsteen got in a kerfuffle over how he should be shot, with Springsteen wanting a filter and Pearl insisting on hard lighting. Bruce walked out after a few takes, and ended up shooting the video with Brian DePalma. A few years later, despite his efforts to avoid Springsteen, Pearl found himself working on the “Human Touch” video. Pearl says that Springsteen apologized for the “Dancing In The Dark” debacle and asked to work with him again, as he realized Pearl was right about the lighting.

The single was released on May 3, 1984 and reached its US chart peak of #2 on June 30, which was before the video hit MTV. That week, “The Reflex” by Duran Duran held it out of the top spot; with MTV support, “Dancing In The Dark” looked like a sure bet for #1, but then Prince and his crying doves showed up, ruling MTV and the airwaves, and keeping Springsteen’s song at #2 for the next three weeks.

In 1985, Tina Turner performed this on her Private Dancer tour. Her version appears on the album Tina Turner – Live in Tokyo.

A rather intriguing cover of this song was by the group Big Daddy, who hit #21 UK with their version. The concept behind Big Daddy is that a band crash landed on an island while out on tour in the late ’50s or early ’60s, and when they were rescued in the early ’80s, tried to revive their career. Music had changed drastically by then, so they started covering ’80s music in the only style they knew how to play. The result is a kind of modern Pat Boone sound.

According to Rolling Stone, this is is the only Springsteen song that Bob Dylan ever covered, and he only did it once: at the club Toad’s Place in New Haven, Connecticut, on the night of January 12th, 1990. Dylan flubbed most of the words and the performance was so rough that most people in the audience didn’t seem to realize what song it was until the band hit the chorus.

Dancing In The Dark

I get up in the evening
and I ain’t got nothing to say
I come home in the morning
I go to bed feeling the same way
I ain’t nothing but tired
Man I’m just tired and bored with myself
Hey there baby, I could use just a little help

You can’t start a fire
You can’t start a fire without a spark
This gun’s for hire
even if we’re just dancing in the dark

Message keeps getting clearer
radio’s on and I’m moving ’round the place
I check my look in the mirror
I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face
Man I ain’t getting nowhere
I’m just living in a dump like this
There’s something happening somewhere
baby I just know that there is

You can’t start a fire
you can’t start a fire without a spark
This gun’s for hire
even if we’re just dancing in the dark

You sit around getting older
there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me
I’ll shake this world off my shoulders
come on baby this laugh’s on me

Stay on the streets of this town
and they’ll be carving you up alright
They say you gotta stay hungry
hey baby I’m just about starving tonight
I’m dying for some action
I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book
I need a love reaction
come on now baby gimme just one look

You can’t start a fire sitting ’round crying over a broken heart
This gun’s for hire
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark
You can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart
This gun’s for hire
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark
Hey baby

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

61 thoughts on “Bruce Springsteen – Dancing In The Dark”

  1. Huge Huge Huge. This album was everywhere and I even go into it as well and purchased it on cassette tape.
    A few years ago I scooped it up on vinyl used for a cheap price and its a great to own Max. ‘Downbound Train” is my fav off of this album.
    Great post dude..

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I became a Bruce fan in 1978 with Darkness On The Edge Of Town– Bruce was big- I never saw this coming- of course a lot of new fans from Born In The USA era- didn’t stick around long.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Not that I ever disliked the song, but it’s never been a Bruce fave of mine. However, seeing it used in the “Blinded By the Light” movie seemed to make its message more special now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I grew up in New jersey and there were a lot of Bruce fans there and at first I didn’t like him, because I couldn’t understand what he was singing. This album changed that for me, maybe I was finally getting used to his voice, or he started pronouncing his lyrics better, or a combination of both.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It seems they have a different kind of relationship with each other.
      My favorite cover that Bob did was Something…you could tell it was heartfelt for George.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They have a few…mostly fan recording…you would be better hearing just the recording at one…here is one filmed by a fan.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I had the single, and months later bought the LP. It wasn’t the best song on the album, but certainly it was the one to put out there. I knew a lot of people who either didn’t know his name at all or didn’t like him that suddenly became huge Bruce fans with it on radio.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m glad its “okay” to like Born in the USA now. Yes, it sold bazillion albums and everybody loved it–except for the “rockers” and the hardcore Bruce fans. For them it was too commercial. Well, this very commercial, very successful album has stood the test of time–and it measures up. Dancing in the Dark is a fantastic part of the whole.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That song won him all kinds of fans because it fit in with the times….that and Cover Me. I knew some Bruce snobs who turned their heads from this album…only later on realizing what they missed.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Dancing in the dark to loud music is an overwhelming physical experience. Clapping and stamping, tripping and turning, swinging and crouching, deregulates the senses.

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  8. Not my favorite Bruce song but you’re right was the gateway to him becoming the megastar he became – and now I would argue an American icon. And how many artists can be told go home and write a hit single and come up with this – not many! I had not heard the backstory on the video so learned something new Bruce wise which doesn’t happen often. 😀. Personally I was fine with Courtney Cox being pulled up for the video – it’s a video – you need someone who knows what to do and isn’t going to freak out by being pulled up on stage by Bruce – they only had a limited number of times to do it for the shoot

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yea…I had Bruce fans as friends that turned their back on him because of this album…I thought that was going too far. They didn’t want to share him with everyone else.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah agree that’s crazy. Getting back to the video I wonder if part of the issue at first was Bruce’s reluctance to want to be in videos. After all his first video for Atlantic City didn’t have him in it at all. Clearly though that wasn’t an option in the BUSA campaign to make him a bigger star. So perhaps a concert setting was the compromise. The funny thing is once he bought into it he showed he could do it well – the video for I’m on Fire is one example.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Once he got past this one…he didn’t mind as much. He was a dip your toe into the water guy…probably still is…same with playing on tv…I think he played on Letterman to my surprise and he was everywhere after that.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yeah I still remember when he first did SNL with the 92-93 band – I was out and purposely came home early to watch. But it was amazing to me that he took so long to be on it!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. He was so careful…he made one media step at a time. I wish he would have been on SNL when the original cast was on there. Either Born to Run or Darkness.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m not a huge fan of any of the Born in the USA stuff – we’ve probably had this discussion before! Seems a bit like Bruce-lite. There are lots of good songs on Tracks from those sessions though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do like the outtakes…The song that I like the most is the title track…that one I really like….and the two down songs. Yea he was at his most commercial for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I don’t care what anyone else says or thinks, I LOVE this song! I was a big fan of all things pop back in the 80s, so this beautiful, catchy tune was right up my alley. I think it’s magnificent, and Clarence Clemons’ sax provides the icing on the cake. My favorite Springsteen song by a mile, and I love many of his songs. I bought this album too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It does have a driving beat…I liked it after a while…it was love at first listen with the song Born in the USA….his vocals were barbaric like Lennon’s in Twist and Shout…I loved that.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Dancing In The Dark is a great single, and my fave of the Born In The USA releases barring I’m On Fire. It broke Brooce in the UK bigtime, he was more of a niche act prior to that, no big hit singles and albums did that did quite well. It was a minor hit in 1984, then hit big 2nd time round in 1985 as he upped into the superstar level. Where he’s stayed, still great, always great, and great before Born In The USA. I hopped on with the awesome Born To Run, one of the great recordings of all-time, in 1975, and was already impressed with his songs (more than his later actual recordings, apart from the odd goodie like Hungry Heart): Blinded By The Light. Because The Night with Patti Smith. Pointer Sisters Fire. So, yay for Born In The USA, even if a lot of people missed the point…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew a lot of serious Bruce fans who turned their back on him when Born in The USA came out because it was commercial…that was crazy to me. It was a great album.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is probably the most pop-oriented Springsteen tune that comes to my mind – also sounds very much like the ’80s.

    That being said, I dug it at the time it came out. The same is true for the entire “Born in the U.S.A.” album, which was the record that brought Springsteen on my radar screen. Looking at it today, I think “Dancing in the Dark” doesn’t hold up as well as the other tunes from the album.

    BTW, coincidentally, I included the filming of the video, which coincided with the kickoff of Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” tour in the last (June 29) installment of my music history feature. The video was captured on June 29, 1984.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea I don’t think it holds up as well because it is so 80s…its the most 80s track he ever did probably…nothing wrong with that but it is dated from that time.

      Cool man! Yea that was my first view of Cox lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I remember when this video was released. All the chatter at the time wasn’t really about Cox being pulled on stage…it was about Bruce, himself. He had been working out and it showed. He had bulked up a bit and the girls were just crazy. He’d cut his hair (which also shows up on the Nebraska album since they were worked on at the same time). His writing still reflected his activism but, it was in a more polished package. I love the album, though this is not my favorite song on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea he was big…if you look at him on the River tour his is skinny as a rail…his fans didn’t like Cox (an planned actress) doing it at the time. I know Springsteen fans who turned their heads away from him with that album.

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      1. Julianne was good looking…. Oh that reminds me…I never watched it much then…but it didn’t get much more 80s than Family Ties…I’m watching some of that now. All that period blends in with each other…Bruce, Alf, and Family Ties

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