Allee Willis, who wrote Earth, Wind & Fire's hits "September" and "Boogie Wonderland," wrote the lyrics for this song. Willis sums up the song, saying: "That's basically: if your life isn't working, get up off your ass and change it. Because it's really up to you."
This was featured in the Eddie Murphy movie Beverly Hills Cop, but it was not written for the movie. Willis explains: "It was written for a movie called Streets of Fire. This was a movie that came and went. And we were told that there was a scene on a bus that was leaving town after there had been this nuclear holocaust, and that a '50s doo-wop black group was going to be at the back of the bus that the lead couple was escaping on. And so Danny Sembello and I just met that day, he was the younger brother of Michael Sembello who had a hit at that time called 'Maniac.' I was very disinterested in songwriting at that point, and I'm writing with this kid who's never had a record before, and I just wanted to get him in and out. He was a phenomenal keyboard player, and I just said, 'Play the most common sounding old fashioned '50s black music bass line that you can think of.' And he just started doing the (sings rhythm for 'Neutron Dance'). And I'm someone who could write a melody to a spoon falling on the table. So I literally sang that melody down. First time down, he just kind of followed and went to the right places. And then I said, 'Let's just write this quick lyric.' Because I knew everyone in town was competing to be in this movie, so I didn't really have a lot of confidence we would get it. And it was a very autobiographical lyric for what was going on with me at the time. I was very dissatisfied with songwriting, really feeling like I wasn't able to fully express myself through it, because I'm writing for other people, ultimately you're saying what they want to say. And I was always so visual, so just doing the music, and worse yet in many cases just doing the lyric, it was very frustrating for me, who kind of saw ideas in multi layers and colors and shapes and stuff like that. So I really wanted to get through this fast. I said, 'Look, we're taking a half an hour on the lyric, and this thing's gonna get done.' And it was all this stuff going on in my life: 'I don't want to take it anymore, I'll just stay here locked behind the door. Just no time to stop and get away, because I work so hard to make it every day.' Really a lyric about all these things falling apart in your life, and you know what, just get it together and change your life. You know, this is a personal decision here. I used to have a little pink 1962 Corvair, and as we were writing this song, I look out the window, and there's someone out in front of my house trying to jimmy open the door of the Corvair. So I race out of the studio, and as I'm running out – and I tape everything – everything – so I have this, and I'm 'Hey!' You hear me racing out of the room and screaming back at him, 'Someone stole my brand new Chevrolet!' and that was that line. And when I saw that movie - I went to a pre-screening of it - it was mind boggling to me for many, many reasons, but the first one of which, 'Neutron Dance,' which is the song that opens the movie, on that line, 'someone stole my brand new Chevrolet,' this cigarette truck that Eddie Murphy is locked up in the back of, screaming through the streets of Detroit, slams into this Chevrolet. And 'I'm just burning, doing the Neutron Dance,' which to me meant someone could push the button tomorrow and we could all go up in smoke, so make your change now. On that line, a car explodes. I mean, I couldn't have written a better song for a movie scene if my life depended on it. But where to me the whole Beverly Hills Cop thing and 'Neutron Dance' – and I did have one other song in there, 'Stir It Up' by Patti LaBelle – gets really good, is that throughout the movie Eddie Murphy wears this T-shirt that says 'Mumford' on it. And that was my high school in Detroit."
This song was released at the high of the Cold War when there was a great deal of tension between the United States and Russia, as both had nuclear missiles aimed at each other. Says Willis: "The Russian government named me as one of the most dangerous people living in the United States, because they mis-translated it as 'Neutron Bomb.' The first verse they translated as 'A powerful nuclear explosion is approaching, it will annihilate everyone; who cares if you have no car, no job, no money, just dance, dance, dance.' And this was a huge article in Pravda, and I was supposed to be going to Russia with BMI, and I wasn't let in the country. I mean, it was nuts." (Read more in the Allee Willis interview, and at her website: alleewillis.com.)
The video features scenes from Beverly Hills Cop with bits of dialogue mixed in. It got a lot of airplay on MTV.