The Meaning Behind “Sunglasses at Night” by Corey Hart and How a Pair of Wayfarers Inspired the Track

Sunglasses played a part in many iconic ’80s songs. Don Henley talked about seeing his ex with hers on in “The Boys of Summer.” Timbuk 3 explained “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” Most iconic of all, however, was Corey Hart telling us that he wore his “Sunglasses at Night,” which launched him into the Top 10 in 1984.

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What is the song about? And how did Hart go about creating it? Let’s find out about the making of “Sunglasses at Night” and what the song means.

Hart Attack

Corey Hart was a bit of an anomaly when he burst onto the scene in America with “Sunglasses at Night.” He was just 21 years old at the time, but he seemed much more like a veteran in terms of his clear vision for how he wanted to sound and his already-sharp songwriting.

Success followed along with that artistic confidence, as he churned out seven Top 30 hits in the U.S. in a span of just three years, with “Sunglasses at Night” leading the pack as the first single off his 1983 album First Offense. (The song became a hit in ’84.) Hart’s immediate hot streak was a byproduct of a performance career in his native Canada that stretched back almost a decade before all that success.

Maybe that experience was what gave him the confidence to insist that he be given full artistic control over his music, even on his debut. He recorded most of the album in London in late 1982 and early 1983. In fact, it looked like the album was complete, until a stroke of inspiration convinced Hart to ask to include one more song. That song turned out to be “Sunglasses at Night.”

A Fortuitous Purchase

As mentioned above, Hart was pretty much finished with First Offense, but he was always writing and demoing new material even in the waning stages of the process. One of those demos was based on the phrase “My Cigarette is Wet,” a phrase whose usefulness came mostly in terms of the melody that it inspired.

While in England recording the album, Hart had purchased a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, the classic brand that had become iconic again in the ’80s. But the sun hadn’t shined much in England to give him an opportunity to show them off. When he got back to Canada, he started wearing them more, and that’s when the phrase I wear my sunglasses at night came to him. He headed back into the studio and attached it to the “My Cigarette Is Wet” demo, and a hit was born.

Yes, Hart immediately knew it was a smash, as he told this author for the book Playing Back the ’80s: A Decade of Unstoppable Hits:

“I intuitively thought that the song was going to be a hit and I wholeheartedly believed. I was also very young, naive, and idealistic. I suppose this part of the formula actually played in my favor because I never factored in failure as a viable option.”

What is the Meaning of “Sunglasses at Night”?

It’s impressive in listening to “Sunglasses at Night” to hear just how confident Corey Hart was as a songwriter in including dark themes and striking lyrics that evoke so much without spelling everything out. The basic gist of the song is the narrator is telling his girl that her deceptive practices aren’t unnoticed, as the shades are just a symbol of his powers of insight and intuition.

Hart’s vocals are also right on point with the themes of the lyrics, all mysterious and insinuating in the verses, and then potent and defiant in the choruses, especially on the immortal line: Don’t switch the blade on the guy in shades, oh no. Her storylines are well-known to him, as deceptive as she thinks she might be: And I wear my sunglasses at night / So I can, so I can / See the light that’s right before my eyes.

“Sunglasses at Night” was so distinctive and forceful it seemed as if Corey Hart bypassed the teen idol phase of his career (legions of female fans notwithstanding) and stepped onto the scene as an artist of decisiveness and import. Good thing he didn’t base his London purchase on utility rather than style. “Umbrellas at Night” just isn’t quite as catchy.

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