One of my favorite albums from last month was Benny Sings’ EP Santa Barbara and my favorite track on the album is a cover of Dancing in the dark, the famous single from Bruce Springsteen’s epic Born in the USA. I’ve heard the song many times before but something about hearing it now really made it the song of the moment for me. I love the cover (one of many great ones out there) and I got curious about the backstory, so I went down a little rabbit hole.
“Can’t start a fire,” he sings, “worryin’ ’bout your little world falling apart,”
The genesis of the song as explained via Wikipedia states the following:
Springsteen wrote “Dancing In the Dark” overnight, after Jon Landau convinced him that the album needed a single. According to journalist Dave Marsh in the book Glory Days,
Springsteen was not impressed with Landau’s approach. “Look”, he snarled, “I’ve written seventy songs. You want another one, you write it.” Despite this reaction, Springsteen sat in his hotel room and wrote the song in a single night. It sums up his state of mind, his feeling of isolation after the success of his album The River, and his frustrations of trying to write a hit single.
Based on all accounts, Springsteen had already recorded six albums at this point and had seventy (!) songs recorded already for Born in the USA. What was one more I guess?
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.
Despite how obviously good the song is now, it sounds like Bruce wasn’t all that comfortable with the nature of the song and it took quite a bit of coaxing and multiple attempts to get the video right.
The despair is masked by the euphoria of the song — Roy Bittan’s swelling synth line is like riding a motorboat on calm waters – and the joy of the video. Quite how important the video is becomes apparent when one trawls YouTube and finds early drafts of it: Springsteen rehearsing with Clarence Clemons in his home; the original version, which was just Springsteen dancing against a black background. He looks desperately uncomfortable, like the man in the song. Evidently it took staging the video around a real gig — the opening night of the Born in the USA tour, in St Paul, Minnesota — to get Springsteen to relax just enough.
Such a good track and somewhat of an anthem for me right now. Play it LOUD!
“They say you gotta stay hungry
hey baby I’m just about starving tonight.”