“America” is not really a song about New Jersey. But it has, arguably, the most famous line ever written about the state: “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike/They’ve all gone to look for America.”
The song follows a pair of young lovers from Saginaw, Mich. to Pittsburgh, and ends in New Jersey. The two are on a mission “to look for America,” though they seem pretty aimless: “I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine/And the moon rose over an open field,” Paul Simon sings. At the end, the narrator admits he’s lost, but he doesn’t feel alone: He looks out at the Turnpike, and feels a kinship with all those other lost souls. When he gets to that famous Turnpike line, the music become triumphant.
“America” is not only great in its own right, but resonated with its times. A lot of people in the ’60s, of course, were feeling lost and confused, but they were also realizing that there were many other people who felt that way. And there was a certain excitement in that.
It is believed that Simon wrote the song in 1966 about an experience he had in 1964; he and Art Garfunkel recorded it for their classic 1968 album, Bookends.
Bookends produced four singles. “America,” though now considered one of Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest achievements, was not one of them. It was, however, released as a single in 1972, when it was included on Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, and didn’t do particularly well, peaking at No. 97.
Simon, incidentally, is technically a New Jersey native, having been born in Newark, but his parents moved to Queens, N.Y., when he was still very young, and he has no memory of living in the Garden State.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday last year. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we are marking the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, for almost a year — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. We started in September 2014, and will keep going until Sept. 8, 2015.
If you would like to suggest any songs to be included, please let me know in the comments section underneath the video. And if you want to see the entire list, either alphabetically or in the order the songs were selected, click here.