Dancing In The Dark

Album: Born In The U.S.A. (1984)
Charted: 4 2
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  • 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. (Despite the song title, the dancing took place in good light.)

    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.
  • 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.

Comments: 42

  • Greg from AlbuquerqueWhen Jon put the pressure on Bruce for just one last hit, and Bruce possibly looking for ideas, could he have gotten a spark from the Cars "It's Not The Night"? He had to of at least heard the song.

    Bear with me... Remember, the Cars were super hot after 3 kickass records and their new album was getting a lot of attention with Mutt Lang on board this time. Heartbeat's album peaked at #3 and spawned 6 singles. Many of the album's other songs received airplay as well. "It's Not The Night" hit #31 without even being released as a single. Then there's the line, "I get the feeling you're the spark, That's dancing in the dark".

    Hey, many, many artists get inspirations from all kinds of different avenues including other writers. I'm not saying it's wrong. Dancin' is one of his best. I just think the timing and the pressure were both there. Heartbeat City was released on 3/13/84 and Born In The USA on 6/4/84. The timing sure is spot on.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day in 1984 {July 14th} Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark" peaked at #1 on the Top 10 Countdown chart on the Dick Clark ABC-TV Saturday-afternoon program, 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was in it's third of four weeks at #2 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, that would also be it's peak position on the Top 100 and the Boss' highest charting record...
    The first week it was at #2, the #1 record for that week was "The Reflex" by Duran Duran, and for it's 2nd, 3rd, & 4th week, "When Doves Cry" by Prince was in the top spot...
    Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen will celebrate his 70th birthday in two months on September 23rd, 2019...
  • Romanong Kurong from NagaClassic.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn 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.
  • Tony from One Tree Point, New ZealandHello. 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.
  • Esskayess from Dallas, Tx'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.
  • Sandy from Enterprise, FlIn 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)
  • Jack from Mesa, Az"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 from Minneapolis, MnThe 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.
  • Cory Stoczynski from Lancaster, NyThe 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!
  • Stefanos from Thessaloniki, GreeceIn 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.
  • Jim from Ottawa, OnIt 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

  • Kevin from Birmingham, United KingdomPete Yorn Also did a cover
    of this but i can't remember what year
  • Bob from Southfield, MiAt 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.
  • Mark from Ruapehu, New ZealandThere 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.
  • Katie from Evansville, InI 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."
  • Eugene from Minneapolis, MnThis 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...
  • Mark from Worcester, MiSpringsteen 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.
  • B-b-bob from Cleveland, Oh...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" = )
  • Ryan from Farmer City, IlI actually dance exactly like the people on stage do in the music video every time I hear this song.
  • Kenny from Clydebank, ScotlandFred 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.
  • Chimpy from Mendocino, Cathis 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 lookin
  • Mike from Hueytown , AlThis song brings back memories . Great Song
  • Tom from East Lyme, CtAdam Sandler did a funny parody of this on SNL when Courtney Cox hosted.
  • Ray from Stockton, NjThis 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.
  • Alex from Bayville, NjA 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


  • Scott from Columbus, OhThere'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.
  • Curtis from Cornwall On Hudson , NyI 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.
  • Dennis from Anchorage, AkI 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.
  • Bob from Shadow Hills, CaCourteney 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.
  • Victoria from Gaithersburg, Mdbesides 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"
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaThat'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.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnThis 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."
  • Ken from Louisville, Ky"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.
  • Elias from Oost-souburg, NetherlandsSpringsteen was dancing so stiff in this video because he had a motor-accident when he was a teenager.
  • Kathryn from Salem, MaMary 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."
  • Reed from Hagerstown, Inadam sandler did a hilarious cover of this song when courtney cox hosted snl.
  • Kat from Chesterfield, Moim 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 me
  • Jon from Wilton, Cti think the acoustic live version is much better. you can really understand his frustration.
  • Paul from Greenwood, ScAs 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!
  • Deana from Indianapolis, InI thought it was about a casual encounter with a girl and a condom....
  • Katt from Evansville, InRE: the Courtney Cox/Family Ties thing... was she on Family Ties before or after that stint on the short lived series Misfits of Science?
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