Album: Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978)
Charted: 42


  • Badlands is a US national park in South Dakota famous for striking scenery and expansive prairie land, but the title of this song came from a 1973 movie called Badlands starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Springsteen hadn't seen the film when he wrote the song, but he knew about it because he saw the poster in a movie theater lobby.

    The film is based on Charles Starkweather, a 19-year-old from Nebraska who in 1958 went on a murderous rampage with with girlfriend. After seeing the film, Springsteen wrote the song "Nebraska," the title track to his 1982 album.
  • Springsteen's song "Born To Run" from three years earlier finds him taking his girl and making a run for it, but in "Badlands," he and his girl stay put, determined to turn the badlands good. There's hope, but it's more prosaic; they're going to have to work for it if they want to turn things around.

    Much of Darkness On The Edge Of Town reflects the characters of the Born To Run getting older and more pessimistic.
  • "Badlands" was the first track and the second single from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album, following "Prove It All Night." Neither song did much damage on the charts but they both had staying power and remained in Springsteen's setlists for decades to come.

    After releasing Born To Run in 1975, Springsteen became a superstar, but also got in a legal tussle with his first manager, Mike Appel, which kept him from recording for the last six months of 1976 and the first six months of 1977. When he returned to the studio (the Record Plant in New York City) with the E Street Band and his producer of choice, Jon Landau, he had a lot of songs ready, and he also had a thematic concept: people at the margins trying to survive. Out of about 40 songs, 10 made the cut; 22 more were released on an expanded edition of the album in 2010.
  • "Badlands" was considered for the name of the album. Around this time, Springsteen would come up with titles and try to come up with deserving songs for them. He told Rolling Stone in 2010: "Badlands, that's a great title, but It would be easy to blow it. But I kept writing and I kept writing and I kept writing and writing until I had a song that I felt deserved that title."
  • The version on Springsteen's compilation Live 1975-1985 was recorded at a show in Tempe, Arizona on November 5, 1980, the night after Ronald Reagan was elected president. Bruce introduced the song by saying: "I don't know what you guys thought of what happened last night, but I thought it was pretty terrifying." Reagan would later misinterpret "Born In The U.S.A." in a 1984 campaign speech.
  • Bill Murray and Paul Shaffer opened the 25th Anniversary Show of Saturday Night Live in 1999 with this song, as sung by Murray's character of Nick the Lounge Singer. According to the book Live From New York, they chose the song because Murray and Shaffer felt it had lyrics that best described their experience growing up in show business on Saturday Night Live in the '70s. Murray was quoted as saying performing the harmony with Paul was one of the high points of his entire career. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Joshua - Fort Worth, TX

Comments: 21

  • Ken from Philadelphia, PaAs someone pointed out below, the intro is very similar to The Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". Bruce, to his credit, makes no bones about it: He loved The Animals as a kid and he totally stole that riff.
  • Simon from AustraliaI just had a revelation about the meaning of this song..basically it distills down to this: Don't give up on love. The 'Badlands' are the ruins of romantic life, which you have to rise above and try again. The broken hearts are the price you gotta pay to find requited love.
  • Elmo from Se Missouri UsaThe first song from my all-time favorite album. I was 13-15 during its heyday, need I say more?
  • Looey from HowellHey Barry, I remember controversy regarding Bill Chinnock's Badlands album coming out at the same time...
  • Barry from Sauquoit, Ny*** 'I wanna spit in the face of these badlands' ***
    On June 2nd 1978, Columbia Records released Bruce's fourth studio album 'Darkness On The Edge of Town'...
    It peaked at #5 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart...
    Two tracks were released as singles; "Prove It All Night" (it peaked at #33 on July 16th, 1978) and "Badlands" (reached #42 on September 17th, 1978)...
    (Never sign a contract on the hood of a car)!!!
  • Justin from Kirksville, MoI've always thought this song was about the rise of the working class man, too. I love it. However, could this song also be offhandedly about Native Americans, specifically the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1890? I mean, geographically the Badlands border the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where the event took place. Also mentions things such as "trouble in the heartland" and "caught in a crossfire." The Sioux Black Elk, in the novel "Black Elk Speaks," later talked about a dream about Wounded Knee in which he was "raised above" the Badlands. Lastly, the king's not being satisfied till he rules everything you could claim is a reference to the United States's manifest destiny policy toward Native Americans.

    Sure, it's a stretch, but nonetheless a valid claim to make. Of course, Springsteen sings about working in the fields, and other stuff that has nothing to do with Native Americans.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NySeems I read somewhere that the album was to be called 'Badlands' but another New Jersey artist release an album with that name, so Bruce change it to 'Darkness' Does anyone know the name of the NJ artist???
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaI'll never forget when I first heard this song on KMET in LA in '78. I was 14 and i got it. "Darkness...." changed my young life forever, in a great way!!
  • Gilbert from Houston, TxThe intro sounds very similar to The Animals "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
  • Sam from Thompsons, TxI love this song, when he performed this at the concert it was electrifying, its such a catchy song.
  • Nathan from Defiance, OhNot as glamorous or popular as some of Bruce's later work, but as powerful as anything he ever wrote. This is a great American song.
  • Joe from Perth, Australiaappears in val kilmers film "thunderheart"
  • Bess from San Diego, CaI also agree with you, Paul. Those lines always get stuck in my head. I like the verison Bruce performed on "Live 1975-1985." I heard an older version on a radio station, and I thought Bruce didn't put as much feeling into as he did in his later version. That's just what I think . . . Anyway, one of the best songs of all time, no competition.
  • Dave from Redditch Worcs, EnglandBadlands has got great lyrics,and a great guitar riff,Bruces voice is at it,s best on this album.He could,nt have started Darkness with a better song.
  • Ace from Kingston , CanadaBruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are honestly the best band of all time... I dont think anyone can touch them, maybe the Beatles I guess.
  • Steve from Fenton, MoI agree with Paul from SC about the great lyric "Poor man want to be rich...". It describes ambition, which is a good thing. It moves the species forward. It's also why it's important to have a Constitution that protects us from any one person getting too much power.
  • Ricky from Los Angeles, CaThis song contains some of the best lyrics of all time, period.
  • Justin from Hong Kong, Hong KongThe Badlands film was based on mass murderers Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend Caril Fugate in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1958. Springsteen became fascinated with the Starkweather case and in the process of writing Nebraska had several long phone conversations with a retired Lincoln crime reporter who'd covered it and written a book about Starkweather and Fugate.
  • Mike from Blackpool, EnglandBadlands is a song in my opinion about the working class man who because of his day to day life has more knowledge about life as a whole than the man surrounded by material goods. Badlands is about the power of love and the overated pressures of money on people. Badlands is for every man/women who comes home see's there family and thinks we may not have it all but were happy.
  • Paul from Greenwood, ScOne of the greatest lines in all songs..."Poor man want to be rich, rich man want to be king, king ain't satisfied 'til he rules everything." Portrait of american society indeed.
  • Meredith from Grand Forks, NdThe Badlands are not just in South Dakota. They start in North Dakota and move south into South Dakota.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Ralph Casale  - Session Pro

Ralph Casale - Session ProSongwriter Interviews

A top New York studio musician, Ralph played guitar on many '60s hits, including "Lightnin' Strikes," "A Lover's Concerto" and "I Am A Rock."

Songs in Famous Movie Scenes: '80s Edition

Songs in Famous Movie Scenes: '80s EditionMusic Quiz

You know the scenes - Tom Cruise in his own pants-off dance off, Molly Ringwald celebrating her birthday - but do you remember what song is playing?

Thomas Dolby

Thomas DolbySongwriter Interviews

He wrote "She Blinded Me With Science" so he could direct a video about a home for deranged scientists.

Superman in Song

Superman in SongSong Writing

Not everyone can be a superhero, but that hasn't stopped generations of musicians from trying to be Superman.

Lori McKenna

Lori McKennaSongwriter Interviews

Lori's songs have been recorded by Faith Hill and Sara Evans. She's performed on the CMAs and on Oprah. She also has five kids.

Mike Love of The Beach Boys

Mike Love of The Beach BoysSongwriter Interviews

The lead singer/lyricist of The Beach Boys talks about coming up with the words for "Good Vibrations," "Fun, Fun, Fun," "Kokomo" and other classic songs.