Badlands (Bruce Springsteen song)

Single by Bruce Springsteen
from the album Darkness on the Edge of Town
B-side "Streets of Fire" (US)
"Something in the Night" (Germany)
"Candy's Room" (France)
Released August 1978
Format 7" single
Recorded Fall 1977
Genre Rock
Length 4:01
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Bruce Springsteen
Producer(s) Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau
Bruce Springsteen singles chronology
"Prove It All Night"
"The Promised Land"
Darkness on the Edge of Town track listing
"Adam Raised a Cain"

"Badlands" is the leadoff track on Bruce Springsteen's fourth studio album Darkness on the Edge of Town, and its second single.


According to Springsteen, he came up with the title "Badlands" before he started writing the song.[1] He felt it was a "great title" but that it would be easy to blow it by not writing a worthy song for it.[1]

The riff is based on The Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."[1] According to the editors of Rolling Stone magazine, the song "tapped into the ferocity of the punk singles he'd been listening to at the time."[1]


The song tells the story of a man down on his luck and angry at the world, who wants a better lot in life.

Baby, I got my facts

Learned real good right now
You better get it straight girl
Poor man wanna be rich
Rich man wanna be king
And a king ain't satisfied
'Til he rules everything
I wanna go out tonight
I wanna find out what I got

These themes are similar to the motivations of Charles Starkweather who is the explicit protagonist of another Springsteen song "Nebraska", although there is no stated connection to Starkweather in this song.

On March 15, 2012, in a keynote speech to an audience at the South by Southwest music festival, Springsteen discussed the Animals' influence on his music at length, praising their harsh, propulsive sound and lyrical content. Saying that his album Darkness on the Edge of Town was "filled with Animals," Springsteen played the opening riffs to "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and his own "Badlands" back to back, then said, "Listen up, youngsters! This is how successful theft is accomplished!"[2]


The classic E Street Band sound is immediately presented on "Badlands", as a brief drum intro kicks in to a powerful piano-and-electric guitar riff. The song is taken fast but with a purpose, with Max Weinberg's most dynamic drumming on the album to the fore; indeed it contains his most famous beat, a one-two-three-four-five-six-(double time)one-two-three pattern underneath the verses. Late in the song a brief guitar break leads to a Clarence Clemons tenor saxophone part.

Chart performance and reception

"Badlands" was not a commercial Top 40 success, only reaching #42 on the Billboard Hot 100, even worse than the album's previous single "Prove It All Night". "Badlands" did achieve considerable progressive rock and album-oriented rock radio airplay at the time, and classic rock airplay since. Moreover, "Badlands" has remained quite popular with Springsteen fans and with Springsteen himself. The song has appeared on eight Springsteen releases: Darkness on the Edge of Town, Live/1975–85, the 1995 Greatest Hits, Live in New York City, Live in Barcelona, The Essential Bruce Springsteen, the Wal-Mart-only 2009 Greatest Hits, and Collection: 1973-2012.

Rolling Stone editors rated "Badlands" to be Springsteen's all time 2nd greatest song, behind only "Born to Run" and consider it to fit the definition of a rock anthem derived by The Who guitarist Pete Townshend, in that it is "praying onstage."[1] According to contemporary musician Jackson Browne, "Badlands" is "cool and thrilling. There's an economy of language that comes in here. He's building a persona, a lexicon of references."[1]

Live performance

Throwing white lights onto the floor audience during the rousing choruses is a typical production element of live performances of "Badlands". Magic Tour main set closer, TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, November 18, 2007.

As evidenced by its appearance on three live offerings, "Badlands" is a staple of Springsteen and E Street Band concert performances. It opened shows on the 1978 Darkness Tour before the album had even been released, a slot it held for much of that legendary tour (one such performance from Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum was filmed and released as a promotional video in the early 1980s). It was featured near or at the end of the first set during the 1980-1981 River Tour (one such performance from Arizona State University, famously introduced by Springsteen decrying the election of Ronald Reagan as president the night before, was included on Live/1975–85, less the intro), a spot it held for much of the 1984-1985 Born in the U.S.A. Tour until the stadium shows, when it was used to keep momentum going out of the opening "Born in the U.S.A.". "Badlands" was put on the shelf for most of the 1988 Tunnel of Love Express, a mark of how radically that tour sought to throw out stock show elements. Once the 1992-1993 "Other Band" Tour was underway, it was quickly added back in for some needed mid-first-set energy. Springsteen seemed to conclude it fit this role, as he kept it in the same "10 songs in" position during all of the 1999-2000 Reunion Tour and 2002-2003 Rising Tour shows, recapturing audience enthusiasm after less familiar material such as "Murder, Inc." or "Worlds Apart" were performed. On the 2007 Magic Tour, however, the shortened show time resulted in "Badlands" becoming even more prominent as the main set closer. For the 2009 Working on a Dream Tour, "Badlands" resumed its old role as the show opener; it stayed in that slot until the final two months of the tour - when Springsteen chose to play the Born to Run album in its entirety at a show, "Badlands" was usually shifted to be the final song of the main set, which the track "Born to Run" had previously held on the tour.

Performed live, "Badlands" features a number of band and audience customary practices. Danny Federici, while he was alive and touring, would play the electronic glockenspiel, which added to carry the opening keyboard riff, immediately announcing the song to the crowd and getting everyone to their feet. Fans clap hands in time to Weinberg's famous part, with newcomers watching and then following the double-time part at the end. During the chorus, when Springsteen shouts "Bad-lands!" fans pump their fists in the air twice, once for each syllable of the word. In the years when it slotted at the start of shows, this would be Clemons' first sax solo, which would bring him to center stage and elicit huge cheers from the crowd. The slow-down afterward that is often elongated, with the audience joining Springsteen for the long, wordless "oooh oooh"s part. One or more false endings is usually tacked on, to further prolong the experience.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "The 100 Greatest Songs". Bruce: His 100 Greatest Songs. Rolling Stone Magazine. 2013. p. 82.
  2. Springsteen, Bruce (2012-03-18). "Watch: Bruce Springsteen's 2012 SXSW Keynote Speech". NPR. Retrieved 2016-10-13.

External links

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