Despite its critical acclaim, Darkness never had the popular impact that some of Springsteen’s other albums did. Sales weren’t lacklustre, but paled in comparison to Born to Run and Born in the USA. The impact isn’t as openly obvious either: you’ll never hear it referenced by suburban mothers at posh dinner parties like Nebraska, and Tom Morello will never release covers of it like Tom Joad.

Unlike Born in the USA, none of the thumping melodies of Darkness ever became confusing election issues. Furthermore, no musicians started to actively copy Springsteen until his conversion to a true pop-rock hybrid with Dancing in the Dark. However, in retrospect, it deserves its critical credit as Marsh’s “threshold of a new era.”

On a primary level, Darkness has been subtly influential on rock and songwriting in general. Beyond the rapping style of Born to Run, the sparse lyrics of Darkness set the standard for how vocalisation and poetry could be used to convey stories and emotion in popular music. Its influence on Heartland Rock is immense (see the “Cougar” era Mellencamp albums like Uh-Huh or Scarecrow, although the musical style is very different).

“The sparse lyrics of Darkness set the standard for how vocalisation and poetry could be used to convey stories and emotion in popular music.”

However, Darkness’ influence is more interesting in terms of how it affected and developed Sprinsteen as an artist. For instance, his heartland politics, so obvious in Tom Joad, The Rising and Nebraska appear first in Darkness: Landau encouraged the subtly political undertone lacked in earlier albums. The thematic and musical innovations remain in the later ensemble albums: the styles change, but the “E Street Band” stick as a pack, and the lyrics retain the overall mature sparseness of the album.

Darkness also influenced the cult of Springsteen. The 1978 Darkness Tour, although not the ultra-long marathon show with massive audience participation that became a staple after the 1980’s The River Tour, laid the groundwork for this style. Still dressed in a suit (the earrings were yet to be added to the wardrobe), the music is often played at a breakneck speed with an unbelievably aggressive screech into the microphone and constant movement, or with long and complex solos interspersed in previously short pieces.

“This perfectly formed encapsulation of a philosophy of hope seems to touch Springsteen”

The (somehow) sober Springsteen howls while the solos become aggressive and the music is injected with an untameable energy. The tour not only encapsulated the album as well as the recordings themselves, but it is part of rock and roll history in laying the groundwork for the 4+ hour concerts that make Springsteen’s tours sell out wherever they go.

On a purely pragmatic level, Darkness cemented Springsteen’s place in the rock and roll world. Although it required the success of The River to solidly place him in the pantheon, Darkness gave Springsteen a position to be more experimental as an artist with the knowledge he could fall back on classic rock. As a consequence, Nebraska and Tom Joad exist due to the security that Darkness contributed to.

It also feels like Darkness is a personal favourite for the Boss. When the album turned 32, a boxset of rare outtakes, live footage and a documentary was made called The Promise. In 2009, Springsteen re-recorded the album at the Paramount Theatre: unique among Springsteen’s catalogue. This perfectly formed encapsulation of a philosophy of hope, forged in such difficult circumstances, seems to touch Springsteen in a way that some of the other albums really don’t.

The Promised Land 

On the 25th of August 2020, Born to Run turned 45, and perhaps it would be better to address that album now. Certainly, I could address it: last year I listened to 158 Hours of Springsteen comprising 1.8% of my total year, and that’s not including the consumption of performance videos. I breathe Springsteen, and I maintain that all of his music is worth analysis and examination. 


Mountain View

Springsteen’s finest hour: Darkness on the Edge of Town

But there’s a particular reason I chose Darkness, above and beyond its objective brilliance. Being introduced to The Promised Land and Badlands when I was mentally in a bad place, I found the philosophy immensely refreshing and inspiring. It tells one not to wallow in despair, and makes it clear that regardless of one’s position, no matter how awful, there’s always room not only for causal improvement, but for a perfect life. 

One may not always “live it every day” - we all make mistakes - and the point is that one must own those mistakes and storm past them regardless, until the “Badlands start treating us good.” It strikes a personal chord with me, and I adore it for that, which is why - on top of all other factors - Darkness is, certainly in retrospect, my favourite album of all time, as well as one of the finest ones ever constructed.