Bruce Springsteen thought he’d finished Born In The USA before writing ‘Dancing In The Dark’, and it would have been complete if it wasn’t for an argument with his manager. After a traumatic anger-fuelled night, The Boss poured the anguish into his pen and created the track his album was crying out for.
Springsteen had been on a glittering run with his albums over the preceding decade, solidifying himself as one of the most vital artists in America. The stakes were high for his next release after sharing the conceptual effort Nebraska, and Bruce’s next step needed to be inch-perfect in the wake of his recent riches.
He’d already begun work on Born In The USA before the release of Nebraska, and Springsteen carefully crafted the record over the space of 26 months. In total, he wrote over 80 songs throughout this time and eventually managed to whittle it down to just 12.
During this era, the New Jersey singer was working at a prolific rate and was frustrated with his manager, Jon Landau, who believed the album still lacked a killer single. “Jon [Landau] had been bothering me to write a single, which is something he rarely does,” Springsteen explained in 1987. “But he did that day. And he wanted something direct. That seemed to be what he was hitting on me for at the time. I was angry. I had written a lot of songs and was kind of fed up with the whole thing. We’d been making the record for a long time and I was bored with the whole situation.”
He continued: “That particular night I came home and sat on the edge of my bed and the thing I remember thinking first was that we had a record, but it wasn’t necessarily finished; I could change the whole thing right now if I wanted to. That’s all I remember thinking: if I wanted to I could do something right now that would change the whole thing.”
Although he was initially furious by Landau’s assessment of his songs, Springsteen soon managed to calm down and take the criticism on board. Later that evening, he retreated to his hotel room and somehow managed to mine ‘Dancing In The Dark’ from a corner of his mind.
Landau’s forthright approach wasn’t what Springsteen wanted to hear at that time, but it’s what he needed. ‘Dancing In The Dark’ added an extra sprinkling of magic dust to Born In The USA and was chosen as the lead single from the record. The song remains the highest-charting single of his career and spent four weeks in second on the Billboard Hot 100. Additionally, it also won the Grammy Award for ‘Best Male Rock Vocal Performance’, which was Bruce’s first Grammy.
The two men then got into an argument after Springsteen refused to compromise his morals in search of commercial success. The Boss then decamped to his home and felt disillusioned with life as an artist but dealt with his anguish in the only way he knew how — channelling his emotions through songwriting.
Once you know the thoughts that were swimming around the mind of Springsteen when he wrote ‘Dancing In The Dark’, the lyrics suddenly grow in impetus, and it’s impossible not to feel every word he sings during the isolated version.
‘Dancing In The Dark’ was written out of pure desperation on Springsteen’s behalf. He’d poured blood, sweat, and tears into Born In The USA for over two years, yet his best efforts still weren’t enough. While Landau’s intervention felt unjust, the psychological warfare worked, and as a result, Bruce penned the most successful song of his career.