Gaga wrote this song about her grandfather while he was dying. In her 2011 Thanksgiving special, she revealed that it was a specific moment shared between her grandparents that provided the inspiration for the song. Said Gaga: "They had been married for 60 years, and my grandma used to tell me about my grandpa sleeping in a car on the street just so he could be near her - they were Italian and very strict so there was no way grandpa was going to be sleeping over at grandma's house when she was a kid. When I saw her say goodbye to him, I realized that in that moment, they both acknowledged that they had won at life because they had won at love with each other."
Recalling the loss of her grandfather in 2010 during a Google Goes Gaga interview, the singer revealed that she wrote this song at an emotional moment at the piano with her father. "My dad and I were going to say goodbye to him at the hospice, and I got out a big thing of agave tequila and my dad sat next to me at the piano and we started doing shots back and forth, and I wrote 'The Edge of Glory' on the piano and my dad and I cried."
Gaga explained the song's meaning during an interview with E! News: "The song is about, how when I watch my grandpa die, I believe that he looks my grandmother and I realize that he was a champion in the life and that's when he's able to go to the edge of glory that represents being on the edge of that glorious moment."
Co-producer DJ White Shadow, who worked on the track with Gaga and Fernando Garibay, shared with MTV News the story of the song: "We had just all got back to Europe, after Lady Gaga had taken a break to spend time with her grandfather who was in the hospital, before he passed away. She explained to us that she had written a song about it. As she often would, she came in with the melody and lyrics. She told us about what an impact the event had on her."
White Shadow added that he felt really moved by Gaga's track. "We worked on it backstage, changing little things with the melody and lyrics; I don't remember what city to be honest. But I remember crying when I heard her sing it the first time," he recalled. "I also remember them throwing us out of the venue because we were there so late listening to it."
The song is a power ballad with heavy club beats and features Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band wailing on his saxophone. Before Clemons started work on the song, Gaga explained the lyrics to him. "It made so much sense," he recalled to Rolling Stone. "It's a story about growing up." Clemons added that he was allowed free rein to do his own thing. "She said 'we'll put the tape on and you just play,'" Clemons said. "She said to me, 'Play from your heart. Play what you feel.' It was all very pure."
After just a few takes, they were done. "I play sax through the whole song and I have a solo," he recalled. "I'm surprised I'm getting paid for this. I would have done it for free. I can never believe something that feels so good earns me money."
Garibay discussed Clarence Clemons' sax section in an interview with MTV News; "It's a bold move on her part to put this out there the way it is, where the full version is intact [on the radio]. When was the last time you heard a musical solo sax break in the middle of a song on the radio? It was innovative as a song and it was totally guided by the emotions and the heart. That's what we did here. She wanted to put sax on it ... Her references were E Street Band and Bruce Springsteen, so the isolation of what the sax represents in the music dichotomy, what it represents in the whole spectrum of music. And that's how we captured that feeling. It's like that moment of acceptance and letting go. ... She said, 'Dude, there's no boundary, go all the way.' Her soft side is just as intense and as emotional as her intense, hands-in-the-air side you see onstage."
Gaga revealed to MTV UK that in addition to being penned for her late grandfather, the song was also inspired by Sylvester Stallone's hit movie Rocky. "That song is about looking life in the eye and when you die saying 'I won, I'm a champion' like Rocky sprinting to the top of the staircase," she explained. "Rocky is my favourite movie – I love Rocky 3 because he gets his ass kicked in the first round and comes back."
The music video was shot May 28-29, 2011. Originally Joseph Kahn, who'd previously worked with Lady Gaga on "LoveGame" and "Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)" was hired to direct the clip, but after rumors of an argument between Gaga and Kahn, the New York songstress took over. The video is a tribute to Gaga's free-spirited youth in New York's East Village and sees her dancing and singing solo on a fire escape and a deserted street. Aside from the singer herself, Clarence Clemons is the only other person to appear in the visual.
Gaga's wardrobe primarily consists of a black, studded-leather bondage style outfit, which was designed by Versace.
With the song peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, it equaled the highest charting title to sport a Clarence Clemons sax solo. Aretha Franklin's "Freeway of Love" also reached #3 in 1985.
Gaga discussed this song in an interview with Howard Stern. She explained it is not only about losing her grandfather but additionally concerns enjoying life whilst we have it. She said: "It's about also knowing in your heart that you may never reach that glorious moment until you die, so live life on the edge — halfway between heaven and hell — and let's all dance in the middle in purgatory."
This was one of six Gaga tunes blacklisted by China's Ministry of Culture for their "vulgar" content and encouraging "youthful independence." All Chinese music streaming websites were ordered to remove the songs by September 15, 2011. Want to know what her other five banned tunes were? They were: "Americano," "Bloody Mary," "Hair," "Judas" and "Marry The Night." We note the Chinese censors weren't so concerned about Gaga swearing in German."