When Springsteen met Joey Ramone in Asbury Park, New Jersey, Ramone asked him to write a song for The Ramones. Springsteen composed “Hungry Heart” that night, but decided to keep it for himself on the advice of his producer and manager, Jon Landau. Previously, upbeat and catchy Springsteen songs such as “Blinded by the Light”, “Because the Night”, and “Fire” had been given away and become hits for others, and Landau preferred the trend not continue.
The title is drawn from a line in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous poem “Ulysses”: “For always roaming with a hungry heart”.
Springsteen’s voice was slightly sped up on the recording, producing a higher-pitched vocal. (Dire Straits had done the same thing on 1978’s “Setting Me Up”.) Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of The Turtles sang backup. The mix of songwriting and production techniques was successful, and “Hungry Heart” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1980 and was his biggest hit until “Dancing in the Dark” hit #2 in 1984. In the subsequent Rolling Stone Readers’ Poll, “Hungry Heart” was voted Best Single for the year.
“Hungry Heart” was used on several movie soundtracks over the years; including the obscure 1982 Israeli film Kvish L’Lo Motzah(a.k.a. Dead End Street, which was actually the very first motion picture ever to feature Springsteen music), the 1983 Tom Cruise hit movie Risky Business, the 1992 dramedy Peter’s Friends, and the 1998 Adam Sandlercomedy The Wedding Singer. In 2000 the song was used in the film The Perfect Storm as well as in 2013 in Warm Bodies.
The single was not a hit in the United Kingdom when first released, reaching only #44 on the UK Singles Chart. It did better in 1995 when it was reissued in conjunction with his Greatest Hits album; this time, it reached #28.
On the day of his murder in December 1980, John Lennon said he thought “Hungry Heart” was “a great record” and even compared it to his single “(Just Like) Starting Over”, which was actually released three days after “Hungry Heart”.
The “Everybody’s Got A Hungry Heart” episode of Japanese anime series Battle B-Daman is named after the lyric in the song. Weezermentions the song in their 2008 song “Heart Songs” on their album Weezer (“The Red Album”). A video was released in conjunction with this re-release (see below).
The aggregation of critics’ lists at acclaimedmusic.net rated this song as the #38 song of 1980, as well as #341 of the 1980s and #1870 all time. The song has also been listed as the #1 single of 1980 byDave Marsh and Kevin Stein and as one of the 7500 most important songs from 1944 through 2000 by Bruce Pollock. It was also listed as #625 on Marsh’s list of the 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made.