Happy birthday, Steven Van Zandt! The Disciples of Soul leader, E Street Band member, Asbury Jukes co-founder, Underground Garage impresario and disc jockey, social-justice activist, “Sopranos” and “Lilyhammer” actor, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, New Jersey Hall of Famer, educational visionary, record company head, Broadway producer, feisty presence on social media and all-around musical and acting renaissance man turns 70 today.
In his honor, I decided to put together a post with 20 songs he wrote or co-wrote. I’m not necessarily declaring these are the “best,” but just sharing them as a way to celebrate someone who has accomplished so much over the years (and who may not be appreciated as much as a songwriter as he should be because he’s so good at so many other things).
Here are the songs, in chronological order (by release date for studio tracks, performance date for concert clips):
“This Time It’s for Real,” the title track of The Jukes’ 1977 album, also made for an arresting, heart-pounding opening track.
This Time It’s for Real also featured the masterful Springsteen/Van Zandt co-write, “Love on the Wrong Side of Town.”
Many consider 1978’s Hearts of Stone to be the high point of the Van Zandt and the Jukes’ work together. Here’s “Trapped Again,” co-written by Van Zandt, Southside and Springsteen.
“Until the Good Is Gone” was one of the highlights of Van Zandt’s first Disciples of Soul album, Men Without Women (1982).
Van Zandt released his anthem “Solidarity” on his 1984 Voice of America album, and the reggae group Black Uhuru covered it the same year.
Arguably Van Zandt’s greatest songwriting accomplishment is “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” the title track of Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes’ 1976 debut album and a much loved staple of their repertoire. Here, Van Zandt performs the song with The Jukes at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic in 1985.
Van Zandt was the writer and producer of the all-star 1985 anti-apartheid anthem “Sun City,” whose incredible cast of contributors included Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Bono, Miles Davis, Run-DMC, George Clinton, Ringo Starr and countless others.
Van Zandt co-produced Lone Justice’s second album, in 1986 and co-wrote three of its songs, including the title track, “Shelter.”
With the E Street Band reuniting and “The Sopranos” debuting in 1999, that year’s Born Again Savage — which featured Van Zandt in a power trio format with bassist Adam Clayton (of U2) and drummer Jason Bonham — got lost in the shuffle. But it found him in good, snarling form, on “Camouflage of Righteousness” and other tracks.
“It’s Been a Long Time,” from the 1991 Southside Johnny album Better Days, is a soaring anthem inspired by the enduring friendship featuring Southside, Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen.
Evoking the wall of sound production on the classic A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector album, 1992’s “All Alone on Christmas” featured most of the E Street Band, with lead vocals by one of the singers on that album, Darlene Love. It was included on “Home Alone 2” soundtrack album and marked Love’s first appearance on the U.S. Top 100 since the ’60s.
A Van Zandt track from the 1995 “Nine Months” soundtrack album: “The Time of Your Life.”
Nancy Sinatra sang the Van Zandt-written “Baby Please Don’t Go” on her self-titled 2004 album.
Van Zandt has championed the Norwegian garage-rock band Cocktail Slippers on his Underground Garage radio show and released their 2009 album on his Wicked Cool label. He wrote the title track, “Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.”
Van Zandt re-teamed with Darlene Love in 2015, producing her Introducing Darlene Love album and writing three of its songs, including the fiery “Among the Believers.”
Van Zandt’s first single as a solo artist, “Forever,” was a minor hit in 1982 and has sounded great on his recent Disciples of Soul tours. Here’s a live version from 2016.
The Disciples of Soul returned to recording, after 18 years, in 2017, with leadoff track “Soulfire” setting the perfect tone for the entire album of that name.
Van Zandt co-produced Gary U.S. Bonds’ 1981 comeback album Dedication and also wrote the powerful ballad “Daddy’s Come Home.” Here is Bonds performing it in Asbury Park in 2017.
Jackson Browne covered Van Zandt’s “I Am a Patriot” on his 1989 World in Motion album. Here they are performing it together at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel in 2017.
Van Zandt’s 2019 album with the Disciples of Soul, Summer of Sorcery, was both stylistically adventurous and rooted in the garage-rock style he has come to be associated with. Here is “Superfly Terraplane”:
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $20, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.