350 Jersey Songs

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‘Back to Jersey,’ Billy Hector

On any given night, there’s a good chance that Billy Hector is performing at some New Jersey nightclub. And if that is so, there is an even better chance that he’s doing something dazzling. The singer-songwriter-guitarist — originally from Orange but based on the Shore for most of his career — has been a mainstay of the state’s blues-rock scene since the ’70s, developing a devoted following with his fiery playing, earthy singing and simply eloquent songwriting. Below is his heartfelt home-state anthem, “Back to Jersey,” from his 2002 album, Busy Man. 

“New York is great, man, I gotta unwind/Get back home, get some peace of mind,” he sings in one verse, “Subway’s crazy, the whole world’s in such a hurry/I took the PATH train south, went back home to Jersey.” New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday from Sept. Continue Reading →

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‘Hackensack,’ Katy Perry

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In 2009, an unlikely candidate for MTV’s “Unplugged” series, Katy Perry, appeared on it, and performed an unlikely song among reworked versions of her hits: “Hackensack,” an understated ballad from Fountains of Wayne’s 2003 album, Welcome Interstate Managers. In the song, the singer remembers being infatuated with someone back in school (“I used to know you when we were young/You were in all my dreams/We sat together in period one/Fridays at 8:15”). Now that person is a celebrity, but the singer, who is stuck back home in a dead-end job (“I used to work in a record store/Now I work for my dad/Scraping the paint off of the hardwood floors/The hours are pretty bad”), vows “I will wait for you/As long as I need to/And if you ever get back to Hackensack/I’ll be here for you.” It’s kind of sweet, but also a bit pathetic, given that the singer doesn’t seem to have known the other person all that well in the first place. Perry, backed by a band plus a small string section, turns in a solid, straightforward performance. Continue Reading →

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‘Trapped Again,’ Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes at the Capitol Theatre

As most Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes fans know, the tradition of the group playing a New Year’s Eve concert in New Jersey goes back a long way. And once upon a time, those shows were held at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic. Check out, below, a great black-and-white clip of the band playing a pulse-pounding version of “Trapped Again” at the Capitol on the last night of 1978, with keyboardist and backing vocalist Kevin Kavanaugh really making his presence felt towards the end, trading anguish pleas with Southside. Written by Southside, along with Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt, “Trapped Again” was a highlight of the 1978 Jukes album, Hearts of Stone, which many Jukes fans consider their favorite. New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday from Sept. Continue Reading →

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‘Green Suede Shoes,’ Black 47

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In May 1993, the New York-based Irish-rock band Black 47 was hired to headline a free, outdoor “Spring Festival” that took place at Eric Lackawanna Plaza in Hoboken. Apparently the popularity of the band — and the rowdiness of its fans — was underestimated. So many people turned out that the band was asked to stop playing — Black 47 leader Larry Kirwan refused, thinking that some in the crowd might turn violent — and the bars in town were ordered to close early. Or, as described in the defiant Black 47 song, “Green Suede Shoes” (see the video below):

Man on the phone says, “I ain’t jokin’
Would youse ever come and play for us out in Hoboken?” So we hop in the van and we drive overnight
Goin’ to sweet New Jersey, startin’ to feel alright
But the word is out, the boys are back in town
30,000 paddies start gettin’ on down

When we hit the stage, police chief goes nuts
“What the hell am I gonna do with 30,000 drunks?” Continue Reading →

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‘Who’s Sorry Now?,’ Connie Francis

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This is the 100th post in the 350 Jersey Songs series — only 250 to go! — and to mark the occasion, we’re featuring a singer who isn’t always mentioned in discussions of New Jersey’s most important musical icons, but really should be. Connie Francis, who grew up in Newark and Belleville, was a constant presence on the pop charts from 1957 to 1964, specializing in elegant ballads that often expressed heartbreak but also resiliency. Her big voice was a marvel, and though she could sing rock — listen to her hit version of Neil Sedaka’s “Stupid Cupid” if you doubt it — she usually stayed focused on the ballads, and ethnic music that made her a star in many other countries besides the United States. Below is her first big hit and one of her signature songs, “Who’s Sorry Now?” Continue Reading →

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‘The Devil Glitch,’ Chris Butler

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It’s not so much a song as a listening experience: Chris Butler’s “The Devil Glitch” is a song that lasts 69 minutes. Be warned, though: Once you start listening, it’s hard to stop. Butler released the song as a CD in 1996 and, in 1997, Guinness World Records recognized it as the planet’s longest pop song. Most of it is a chorus with many, many variations on the line, “Something you can fix something by …” The pieces of advice range from serious to whimsical — and often contradict each other — though there’s probably a bit of wisdom, and usefulness, in all of them. Here’s a brief sampling:

“Sometimes you can fix something by being right-brained/And good at pattern recognition. Continue Reading →

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‘Anyone Who Had a Heart,’ Dionne Warwick

East Orange native Dionne Warwick had had hits before the fall of 1963, but reached the Top 10 for the first time then, with “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” a Burt Bacharach- and Hal David-written song whose tricky rhythmic shifts perfectly suited her precise but emotionally resonant vocal delivery. Check it out below, and marvel at all the different things expressed in a single song: Sweetness but also bitterness, regret but also defiance … Warwick has made it into the Top 10 quite a few more times — 11 more times, to be precise (and often with Bacharach and David doing the writing). And “Anyone Who Had a Heart” has been covered many times, by artists ranging from Björk to Luther Vandross. Warwick included the song as the title track of her 1964 album, which recycled some material from her 1963 debut, Presenting Dionne Warwick. Continue Reading →

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‘Christmas Bells,’ John Gorka

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Singer-songwriter John Gorka, who grew up in Colonia, wrote one of the all-time greatest (and funniest) New Jersey songs, “I’m From New Jersey,” and yes, it will be included in the 350 Jersey Songs series. But today, for obvious reasons, I’m featuring a different Gorka number: “Christmas Bells,” his adaptation of the poem of the same name that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in 1863 (significantly, during the dark days of the Civil War). Gorka leaves out some of the verses, but Longfellow’s message — that no matter how bad things can look for mankind, there is still hope — comes through loud and clear. In 1990, Gorka’s recording was included on the third volume of the A Winster’s Solstice compilation that used to be put together annually by the Windham Hill label. The version below is from a 2013 concert. Continue Reading →

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‘O Holy Night,’ Patti Smith

Patti Smith, who grew up in Deptford Township, helped create the genre of punk-rock, yet one of her most striking performances of recent years was her reverent, quietly intense version of “O Holy Night,” last year at the Vatican’s official Christmas concert. (She performed there again this year.) Check it out below. As many rock critics have pointed out when writing about these events, Smith famously sang “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” on her cover of the Van Morrison-written song “Gloria,” early in her career. She explained, though, to Rolling Stone last month, that this line “was a declaration of self, not so much about Jesus. He is the vehicle, but I was declaring my existence, my right to make my own mistakes, my right to make my own choices. Continue Reading →

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‘Christmas (I Remember),’ The Smithereens

The Smithereens’ didn’t sing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire or Santa Claus coming to town on their 2007 album Christmas With the Smithereens. For the most part, they avoided standard holiday fare and covered more obscure rock holiday songs — including The Ramones “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” and The Who’s “Christmas” — but also came up with a few originals, including the sweetly nostalgic “Christmas (I Remember).” Drummer Dennis Diken sings this song, looking back fondly on the Christmases of his youth — “I close my eyes and I recall, when my dreams were big and my world were small”) — and reconnecting with it as an adult. “Christmas, I still dig it,” he concludes. I know I probably shouldn’t have written “his youth” in the previous paragraph, since the song isn’t necessarily about Diken’s own youth. But it’s hard to resist thinking that when this Beach Boys and Beatles enthusiast sings about a time when “Every gift was good as gold/Like Shut Down, Volume 2 and Rubber Soul.” Continue Reading →

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‘Wonderful World,’ Southside Johnny and Brian Fallon

As a reminder that you’re capable of seeing all kinds of things in the Hope Concert series — which takes place regularly at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank — here’s an intergenerational duet from the 2011, with Southside Johnny and Brian Fallon (of The Gaslight Anthem) singing Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.” Just as you’d expect, the two singers’ similarly gritty voices make for a magical moment. Cooke wrote the song with Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, and had a hit with it in 1960. Subsequent versions by Herman’s Hermits and Art Garfunkel also made the charts. Over the years, the series, whose musical director is Bobby Bandiera (who also can be seen in this clip) has attracted guests, sometimes unannounced, such as Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Deborah Harry, Gary U.S. Bonds, John Cafferty, Gene Cornish, John Eddie and Marshall Crenshaw. Continue Reading →

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