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Dancing In The Dark by Bruce Springsteen

Album: Born In The U.S.A.Released: 1984Charted:
  • 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.)
  • This was the last song written for the Born In The U.S.A.. Springsteen wrote it after his manager, Jon Landau, demanded a hit single for the album. After a brief altercation, he complied and wrote it that same night - a classic case of a manager or record executive getting an artist so fired up that the energy channels into a hit, giving them exactly what they were looking for.

    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.
  • Directed by Brian DePalma, the video was filmed during Springsteen's concert at the St. Paul Civic Center in Minnesota on June 29, 1984. Courteney 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.

    Springsteen did "Dancing In The Dark" midway through the show, so by that time he was good and sweaty 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.

    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 won Springsteen his first Grammy. In 1985, it got the award for Best Male Vocal.
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • 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.
  • In the 1985 Rolling Stone reader's poll, this was voted Single of the Year.
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Comments: 39

On February 26th 1985, Bruce Springsteen won the first of his twenty (so far) Grammy Awards (1985 - 2010)...
He won for 'Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male,' for "Dancing in the Dark"...
And Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen will become eligible for Medicare this coming September 23rd; for he turns 65 on that date.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Hello. Tony here in New Zealand. Can you please tell me the name of the Compilation tape(?) that Bruce Springsteen made that had songs like Fire; Big Muddy; Dancing in the Dark (with Courteney Cox) and several more. I had this tape but unfortunately it was lent out and never returned. And is this tape still available? Hopefully it has been re-recorded into a DVD?? Regards, Tony Lawson.Tony - One Tree Point, New Zealand
'This gun's for hire.' That line smacks of a gigolo.

Springsteen used to have a random young girl brought out of a concert audience to dance with him on the stage as he sang this song. I saw him do it once; the girl was maybe 12 and the look on her face was an 'I've died and gone to heaven' look. All perfectly innocent, of course, at least with someone that young.
Esskayess - Dallas, Tx
In my unhappy first marriage, I used to blast this song when alone. The lines resonated in my depressing situation: "can't start a fire without a spark," "ain't got nothing to say," etc. It was a cry for help and a plea for the return of romance into a life that had none. (Yes, I finally dumped him)Sandy - Enterprise, Fl
"Dancing in the dark" is a euphymism for sex. It was used in the early 80's by Springsteen, Peter Wolf("Lights out") and Air Supply("Every Woman in The World")Jack - Mesa, Az
The audience was live and Coutney Cox was planted. I was at the show and watched it being filmed. It was during the first concert of a two day concert event. On the 2nd night Springsteen just pulled a regular audience member up to dance. During the filming of the video at the end of the song he asked the audience what they did when they liked a song. People shouted different answers - all wrong. The Boss's answer was, "You play it again," as the film crew came in for close-ups.Jack - Minneapolis, Mn
The Song Was Sung By Kermit and Miss Piggy in Muppets Tonight With Andie MacDowell, Who
Attempted To Recreate Bruce Springsteen's Famous Music Video From 1984,
But Goes Awry Due To Miss Piggy's Fat Weight!
Cory Stoczynski - Lancaster, Ny
In 157 shows of the Born In The U.S.A. tour Dancing In The Dark was played 158 times. That is because in the first show (June 29, 1984 and not June 26, 1984) they played it twice to film the video clip.Stefanos - Thessaloniki, Greece
It is not a love song at ALL! It is a Tongue & Cheek song about him trying to write a hit for the new Album. "I get up in the evening
and I ain't got nothing to say." Meaning he's got nothing new for this album, no lyrics or hit yet. " This gun's for hire even if we're just dancing in the dark." He is in the Studio after dark trying to write this song. "Message keeps getting clearer...radio's on and I'm moving 'round the place.I check my look in the mirror.I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face." Bruce kinda changed his image for Born in the USA Album. Changed his look. "I'm sick of sitting 'round here trying to write this book." Can't get any simplier than that! His is trying to write this song. "You sit around getting older
there's a joke here somewhere and it's on me." Meaning, if he sits around getting older, the joke is on him if he doesn't get off his ass and write a hit sit...etc
Jim - Ottawa, On
Pete Yorn Also did a cover
of this but i can't remember what year
Kevin - Birmingham, United Kingdom
At the same time that this song came out, Peter Wolf, fresh from the breakup of the J. Geils Band, was launching his solo career. He was also preparing to release a single called, "Dancing in the Dark". However, when this song took off, Wolf was forced to change the title of his single to "Lights Out" to avoid any confusion. However, the song tanked anyway.Bob - Southfield, Mi
There is another video version on youtube and Bruce is wearing black pants a white T- Shirt, suspenders. It's rather....strange. With the released video version, the video was going to be longer, it was going to start with Cox and her 2 friends arriving at the concert, looking at concert T-Shirts etc, and when they enter the arena, they are told that the tickets are invalid. By chance, someone takes them inside, and that is why we see Bruce dancing with Cox at the end of the video.Mark - Ruapehu, New Zealand
I don't think this song is about casual sex really. I always thought this song was about a relationship that had once been awesome and "On Fire" as one of his other songs states, but that the spark had gone out. To me it sounds like Bruce is trying to re-ignite the flame, even if that means just "dancing in the dark."Katie - Evansville, In
This hit #1 on R&R's (Radio & Records) CHR/Pop chart in 1984. My favourite lyric is "You can't start a fire without a spark". All this time I thought that it was a love song. Wow...Eugene - Minneapolis, Mn
Springsteen tried to get a more edgy guitar lead feel to the song, but after several attempts, he decided to stick with the synth led sound of the first couple of takes.Mark - Worcester, Mi
...partly about being "invisible". As the character walks through the aisles of the grocery store, women look at him for an instant, then quickly look away...

"...I ain't nothin but tired,
man, I'm just tired and bored with myself...

...I could use just a little help
You can't start a fire without a spark..."
This character turned out to be okay... He shows up again in "Girls in their Summer Clothes" = )
B-b-bob - Cleveland, Oh
I actually dance exactly like the people on stage do in the music video every time I hear this song.Ryan - Farmer City, Il
Fred Astaire had a hit with dancing in the dark. I kid ye not, 'dancing in the dark until the tune ends....' Seamus Heaney writes about the redress of poetry. Well, the redress of music is equally valid. Just takes a truth-teller like Springsteen to illuminate the sadness of life.Kenny - Clydebank, Scotland
this guy is working the gravyeard shift, sounds like 6 days a week...always envisioned him being a laborer, a coal miner perhaps, laying in his bed staring at the mirror and seeing the same thing night after night. he is ansty listening to his radio wondering why he is so lonely, and why no one seems to want to be with him (most likely sexually) there is nothhing more exciting than a "random" hookup, and it seems he seeks that more than an emotional connection..with his line it takes a spark to start a fire...he just wants sumthing, anything new, to bring s0ome sort of action to his life...by saying his "gun" is for hire, welp it seems to me he is putting himself out there to even "dance in the dark" i.e. having sex with a random person as a means to an end for sumthing new and exciting...the sax at the end seems to me like kind of a seuctive sounding chord, maybe to suggest near the end he is still lookinChimpy - Mendocino, Ca
This song brings back memories . Great SongMike - Hueytown , Al
Adam Sandler did a funny parody of this on SNL when Courtney Cox hosted.Tom - East Lyme, Ct
This is my favorite Bruce Springsteen song. It has a good rhythm and balance to it. I think it means that after working hard all day and all his life that anything will make him feel better(dancing in the dark).Anyway his drummer from the E street band just moved in a really big house down the road from me. Before he moved in he would drive around the neighborhood about 4 times a day. They were nice, they waved( at least to me he did). Bruce Springsteen's house is so nice down near the shore. Theirs a whole road that has famous people's house. Bruce Springsteen, Maury Povich and a bunch more.I think it was freehold I can't remember.Ray - Stockton, Nj
A few years ago in Atlantic city I was in the GA section with my parents ( at a concert) and I held up a pink sign that read- Tiny Courtney Cox-

What was cool is that when he played Dancing in the dark he actually pulled me on stage! it was sooo cool.

Even though I am only 12 I love Bruce Springsteen


Alex - Bayville, Nj
There's nothing more motivating than the prospect of new love and in some respects I think this song pays tribute to that, whether it be in the means of a one night stand or possibly the idea that dancing in the dark means doing what you feel, blindly until the meaning of it all comes to light.
This song falls in line of one of Bruce's "themes" that there is something more, better, different and ultimately enormous out there waiting for all of us if we just seek it out.
Scott - Columbus, Oh
I thought I was a music fan until this song came out. I was mesmerized. I was in love. This was the first album where I loved every single song on it. In retrospect, however, the best thing about this song was that it lead me to the album Born to Run which is quite simply the greatest Rock and Roll album ever.Curtis - Cornwall On Hudson , Ny
I always just thought of this as being about a depressed guy who's willing to settle for a one-nighter because he can't find love, assuming that the girl is in a similar situation.
"Can't start a fire sittin' around cryin' 'bout a broken heart..." Now that I hear the story of why he wrote it, I think it's about feeling like a whore. 'Gun for hire' and 'dancing in the dark' combine to imply that. That actually gives the song more power than ever for me. It's a nice additional irony really. Ordered to write a hit song, Springsteen goes home and writes a song about how he can't write a hit song, but it turns out to be a hit song. And while he's saying he feels like he's whoring himself out, artistically, he's actually expressing himself artistically, and beautifully.
Dennis - Anchorage, Ak
Courteney Cox stated: That there were three girls in the front row that could be pulled up to dance and Bruce picked her. Check her surprise on the video because she had a 1:3 chance to be picked. I wonder what happened to the other two.Bob - Shadow Hills, Ca
besides having to be ordered to write for his manager, i always thought of it as springsteen feeling restless/useless--"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"
and how he cant write without inspiration--
"you cant start a fire without a spark"
Victoria - Gaithersburg, Md
That's interesting, Ken. I personally thought it was a guy who had girl problems, and, "coincidentally", I really identify with it. This is one of my fav Springsteen songs.Johnny - Los Angeles, Ca
This was definitely the biggest hit of Bruce Springsteen's career. It would have been his first No. 1 song if Prince didn't hold down the top spot with "When Doves Cry."Howard - St. Louis Park, Mn
"This gun's for hire" is a reference to Springsteen being, essentially, ORDERED to write and record a hit single by his manager and record company. He felt like a hired "hitman" (get it?) and not an "artist" who used inspiration.Ken - Louisville, Ky
Springsteen was dancing so stiff in this video because he had a motor-accident when he was a teenager.Elias - Oost-souburg, Netherlands
Mary Chapin Carpenter did a folky, very low-key version of this song. She descibed it in a live performance in Madison, WI as "a bummer song by someone else."Kathryn - Salem, Ma
adam sandler did a hilarious cover of this song when courtney cox hosted snl.Reed - Hagerstown, In
im not really sure... but to me it always seemed like the song was about having sex even if there's nothing between them... like the line "this guns for hire even if we're just dancing in the dark" means... to me... that even if they don't have feelings for eachother they can still... have sex... basically. i don't know though... that's just how it always seemed to meKat - Chesterfield, Mo
i think the acoustic live version is much better. you can really understand his frustration.Jon - Wilton, Ct
As a guitar player, I know the panic that sets in trying to be on stage without six strings across my belt. This is the look I see on Bruce's face in the video (which seems to be more memorable than this song). Not only did they take his axe away, but they also made him dance. Watch sometime when you have a chance and just look at him trying to find something to do with his hands!Paul - Greenwood, Sc
I thought it was about a casual encounter with a girl and a condom....Deana - Indianapolis, In
RE: the Courtney Cox/Family Ties thing... was she on Family Ties before or after that stint on the short lived series Misfits of Science?Katt - Evansville, In
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