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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 190
Thurs. July 19, 2012

“Dancing in the Dark”
Bruce Springsteen

1984

“♫ They say
you gotta stay
hungry/ hey baby
I’m just about
starving tonight
♫”

One of my first and finest gifts I received from my parents was my very own vintage record player. I would sit in my bedroom for hours like any teenage rock n’ roll dreamer and pretend I was Bruce Springsteen in his classic video, famously directed by Brian De Palma, and sing along as I was literally “Dancing in the Dark.” It was one of my favorite pastimes, dancing and rocking alone to the beat of my favorite songs and this cut from Born in the U.S.A. was no different.

Until today, I never knew the full story on how Bruce came to pen his bestselling single from Born in the U.S.A. According to rock ‘n roll lore and specifically in Dave Marsh’s most excellent Bruce Springsteen tome Glory Days, Bruce’s manager Jon Landau told The Boss that his new album needed a sure-fire hit single. Springsteen responded. “Look, I’ve written 70 songs. You want another one, you write it.”

After the success of Born in the U.S.A., Bruce claimed to not be fan of his biggest selling album when he said describing Born in the U.S.A. as— “It’s a grab bag, containing a group of songs about which I’ve always had some ambivalence.” I like to think that ambivalence is directly tied to the argument Springsteen had with Landau. But what if Bruce hadn’t written “Dancing in the Dark?” Despite Bruce’s doubts, it makes me think would Born in the U.S.A. have been the blockbuster without, “Dark?”

Bruce once said, when talking about his songwriting: “You’re mining, but not always around the rich veins; sometimes a lot of time goes by before you hit on one that works.” When it came to “Dancing in the Dark” luckily Springsteen dug deep inside and quickly found some lyrical inspiration when he explained— “It was just like my heart spoke straight through my mouth, without even having to pass through my brain. The chorus just poured out of me.”

When discussing the impact of “Dancing in the Dark” had on Bruce’s career, Dave Marsh said it best, when he wrote— “By sunup Landau had what he’d asked for: a song that summed up Bruce Springsteen’s life in that moment. It was exactly what the album needed But it was more — the most directly personal excavation Springsteen had extracted from himself since ‘Born to Run.’”

Trying to emulate the commercial success of Born to Run, The Boss got Toby Scott, the lead engineer at L.A.’s Clover Studios to put the finishing mastering touches of his legendary album Born in the U.S.A. Scott described the tough job of trying to mixing Bruce’s vocals when he said—“As far as I’m concerned, the words are the song, so I want to hear them. Bruce is the most eloquent guy that I know, but his enunciation isn’t always the greatest, so I try to do everything I can to make it really easy to hear his words clearly.”

Speaking of Bruce’s trademark murmur like enunciation, my favorite part of “Dancing in the Dark” ironically enough is when Springsteen mumbles the line—“♫ there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me ♫” It actually sounds like “There’s a door kissing wine and it’s on me.” The funny thing is that I still hear it, such a vibrant yet misheard lyrical image, at first sounds like a mistake but to my ears, turns “Dancing in the Dark” into legendary status. Bruce’s immortal mumble, proves my theory, sometimes you don’t need a perfect take; it’s the imperfection which makes “Dancing in the Dark” my favorite single from Born in the U.S.A.

When you’re putting yourself into shoes you haven’t worn you have to be very thoughtful; you call on your craft, and you search for it, and hopefully what makes people listen is that over the years you’ve been serious and honest.” Springsteen once said when talking about his songwriting process. As a writer, I’ve always connected with “Dancing in the Dark” because Bruce wrote about a dreamer who hungers for the spark of life. There’s something about a song that reaches inside and connects with you with such a universal voice, no matter what sex, face, color or creed that’s the power magic of Springsteen’s songwriting when he explained: “I’ve always felt I write well about those elements are where the blood and the grit of real life mix with people’s spiritual aspirations and their search for just, decent lives.”

As a teenager, and even now as I write this as a graying forty-year-old, the unbridled enthusiasm of “Dancing in the Dark” still flows through me. I remember feeling the joy as I stood in front of my record player, watching the vinyl spin Born in the U.S.A., feeling Springsteen’s empowering reflection through mine so memorable. Thank you Bruce Springsteen, for this cut one of my most beloved from yesteryear. I’m still singing and “Dancing in the Dark” just a little louder and prouder than ever before.

In tribute to The Big Man’s immortal sax solo; today we honor you, Clarence Clemons with this eternal song. Gone but never forgotten! R.I.P., my brother, We Miss you!

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