The Late Movies: Dancing in the Dark

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"Dancing in the Dark" was a huge hit for Bruce Springsteen in 1984. Its music video, directed by Brian DePalma, featured a young Courteney Cox -- in a live performances of the song, the video showed Springsteen inviting Cox onstage for a quick dance. This pattern repeated in virtually all future performances of the song, with female fans being brought onstage during the sax solo (and yeah, you know the "Dancing in the Dark" dance -- don't pretend you don't). Twenty-five years after the iconic video premiered, Springsteen brought his mom onstage for the dance, and we can presume she's his biggest fan.

Although most people assume "Dancing in the Dark" is a simple love song (based on its uptempo performance and famous video), the song was actually borne out of frustration over the business of writing an album. Springsteen's manager/producer Jon Landau felt that the Born in the USA album was incomplete, because it didn't include a clear hit song. Indeed, although "Born in the USA," "Glory Days," and "I'm on Fire" ended up being successful songs, "Dancing in the Dark" was a major chart success and won Springsteen a Grammy. Anyway, Landau and Springsteen argued over the issue, and Springsteen relented, writing "Dancing in the Dark" as the final song for the album. Here are some sample lyrics, apparently describing Springsteen's mood as he penned Landau's requested "hit":

I get up in the evening, and I ain't got nothing to say.
I come home in the morning, I go to bed feeling the same way.
I ain't nothing but tired, man I'm just tired and bored with myself.
Hey there baby, I could use just a little help ...

Messages keep gettin' clearer, radio's on and I'm moving 'round the place.
I check my look in the mirror: wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face!
Man I ain't gettin' nowhere, just livin' in a dump like this.
There's something happening somewhere. Baby, I just know that there is...

You sit around getting older; there's a joke here somewhere and it's on me.
I'll shake this world off my shoulders; come on baby, the laugh's on me.
Stay on the streets of this town and they'll be carving you up all right.
They say you gotta stay hungry? Hey baby, I'm just about starving tonight!
I'm dying for some action. I'm sick of sitting around here trying to write
this book.
I need a love reaction. Come on baby, gimme just one look.

Sounds like a classic frustrated writer to me. "Sitting around here trying to write this book" indeed! Below, I've collected some of my favorite versions of this classic song. Enjoy, and post your favorites in the comments.

Amy MacDonald (2009)

If you haven't heard of Amy MacDonald, you're missing out. In this version, she has changed at least her hair, if not her clothes and face. (Incidentally, here's Springsteen performing at the same concert, though the video quality is awful. "Dancing in the Dark" starts around 1:57.)

Tegan and Sara (2005)

This is a nice acoustic version; also worth checking out: this version with Matt Sharp of Weezer (including extensive intro) and this rockin' live version.

Ted Leo (2007)

Live, solo, at Bumbershoot in Seattle. Hardcore. See also: this slightly muffled version.

The Shadows (1986)

Now this is the 80's I remember.

Big Daddy (1985)

Complete with "Moody River" piano, this is effectively a 50's ballad style rewrite of the song.

Mat Kearney (2008?)

See also this live version, a bit more uptempo.

Naked Brothers Band (2000-something)

It gets surprisingly rocky, though they're not entirely credible singing about aging just yet.

Uni (2008)

Live in Finland.

Arcade Fire (Date Unknown)

Incomplete video, sort of a half-medley with "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Wow.

Bruce Springsteen (1984), Original Video

Compare this to the following live performance video.

Bruce Springsteen (1984)

Live in Toronto. Awesome.

Post Your Favorites

Got a favorite "Dancing in the Dark" or other Springsteen cover? Post a link in the comments! See also, yesterday's Late Movies: The Late Movies: Happy Birthday, Clarence Clemons! (Clemons is the sax player in The E Street Band.) Apparently it's turning into Springsteen Week here.

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January 12, 2011 - 5:00pm
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