350 Jersey Songs

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‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),’ Jon Bon Jovi

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Yesterday’s selection in the 350 Jersey Songs project was Whitney Houston’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” which she recorded for the 1987 A Very Special Christmas album, benefiting the Special Olympics. Also on that album was Bon Jovi’s “Back Door Santa,” and on A Very Special Christmas 2, the next year, Jon Bon Jovi was once again among the contributors, with “Please Come Home for Christmas.” He also appeared at a Whoopi Goldberg-hosted gala celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Special Olympics that year, and two songs he performed that night, “Please Come Home for Christmas” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” were included on the A Very Special Christmas Live album, in 1999. Check out his first-rate performance of the latter, below, where he is backed by a band that included Jersey rock luminaries such as Bobby Bandiera, on guitar, Ed Manion, on saxophone, and Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg, on trombone. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector, is perhaps the ultimate rock Christmas song, and was definitively recorded by Darlene Love on the classic Spector-produced 1963 album, A Christmas Gift for You From Philles Records. Continue Reading →

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‘Do You Hear What I Hear?,’ Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston appeared on “The Tonight Show” on Dec. 11, 1990 (Johnny Carson was still the official host, though Jay Leno was guest-hosting that night). It was about a month after the release of her I’m Your Baby Tonight album, and she performed the second single from that album, “All the Man That I Need.” But she also performed a sensational version of one of her favorite Christmas songs, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Check it out below. Continue Reading →

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‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,’ Bruce Springsteen and Friends

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The “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” grand finale to end all “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” grand finales, at least as far as the New Jersey rock scene is concerned, took place on Dec. 7, 2003, when the Bruce Springsteen was backed by the Max Weinberg 7 plus Jon Bon Jovi, Southside Johnny, Steven Van Zandt, Danny Federici, Nils Lofgren, Sam Moore, Jesse Malin, Willie Nile, Garland Jeffreys, Soozie Tyrell, Bobby Bandiera, Ed Manion, Lisa Lowell, JoBonanno, the Alliance Singers, the Victorious Gospel Choir, someone dressed up as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and others. Check out the end of the clip below to see a good shot of one very crowded stage. Springsteen, of course, has been performing a rocked-up version of the holiday standard since the ’70s, and released a live version as a single in 1985. If he’s got a show scheduled in late November or December, there’s always a good chance it will be on the setlist. Continue Reading →

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‘The Hallelujah Chorus,’ The Roches

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Holiday songs don’t get much more wondrous than “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, sung a cappella, in glorious, almost daring three-part harmony, by The Roches. Sisters Maggie, Terre and Suzzy Roche — originally from Park Ridge, or “deepest New Jersey,” as they described it in their autobiographical song, “We” — included “The Hallelujah Chorus” on their 1982 album Keep on Doing, though they had been performing it for years previously. (They also indulged their love of seasonal material on their 1990 Christmas album, We Three Kings). Check out a great performance of it — and Terre’s superhuman high notes, in particular — in the 1978 clip from the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, below. New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday from Sept. Continue Reading →

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‘Lies,’ The Knickerbockers

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Buddy Randell had the experience of being a one-hit wonder — twice. In 1958, Randell (then still known by his birth name, Billy Crandall) played sax for the Bergenfield-based Royal Teens on their novelty hit, “Short Shorts.” And in 1965, he sang lead on “Lies” by another Bergenfield-based group, The Knickerbockers, named for Bergen County’s Knickerbocker Road. “Short Shorts” may be slightly more well known, but “Lies” is famous, in its own right, as the song that probably represents the best attempt by an American band to sound just like The Beatles. Check out the link below, in which band members lip-sync to the single, if you don’t believe me. Continue Reading →

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‘Roadrunner,’ Yo La Tengo

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The Hoboken rock club Maxwell’s returned this year, under new ownership and with a different booking policy, after closing last year. It will not, however, be hosting the Chanukah shows by Hoboken band Yo La Tengo that had become a nearly annual event in the original club. The custom was for the band to play charity shows — which usually sold out pretty quickly —on all eight nights of Chanukah, with different guests on each night opening the shows and, often, jamming with the band. Below is a clip from one of the 2010 Chanukah shows: Yo La Tengo covers the Modern Lovers’ garage-rock classic “Roadrunner” — a love song, in a way, with the medium of radio being the object of the singer’s affection. Bill Million and Glenn Mercer of The Feelies (a Jersey band that had a huge influence on Yo La Tengo) join the group on guitar. Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo adds some lyrics of his own, and everyone looks like they’re having a great time. Continue Reading →

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‘The Ballad of the Skeletons,’ Allen Ginsberg and Paul McCartney

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The new Bob Dylan and the Band boxed set, The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete, has a playful song on it titled “See You Later Allen Ginsberg” (adapted from “See You Later Alligator”). But this isn’t the Newark-born, Paterson-raised poet’s first brush with rock royalty. He appeared in the 1965 Dylan film “Don’t Look Back” (in the famous “Subterranean Homesick Blues” segment, in which Dylan holds up a succession of cue cards). And his 1996 recording of “The Ballad of the Skeletons” featured musical backing by Paul McCartney, among others. Continue Reading →

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‘Dedication,’ Gary U.S. Bonds

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Gary U.S. Bonds’ roots are in Florida and Virginia, and he’s a longtime Long Island resident, but he also became an honorary New Jerseyan in 1981. A singer-songwriter specializing in raucous party songs, he had had some hits in the early ’60s (“Quarter to Three,” “New Orleans,” “School Is Out”), but the rock world had largely forgotten about him by the early ’80s. But Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt remembered, and co-produced his ’81 comeback album, Dedication. They also wrote some of the material, and they and other E Street Band members backed Bonds on it. Bonds got back on the charts (and back on the radio, with hits “This Little Girl” and the Springsteen duet “Jole Blon) and has retained a strong bond (no pun intended) with Jersey rock fans ever since. Continue Reading →

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‘Hallelujah,’ Ernie White and Richie Sambora

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Ernie White is one of the pillars of the Trenton rock scene and has, for the last 15 years, hosted annual holiday benefit concerts in or near the city. Over the years, the shows have raised more than $100,000 for various charities. The singer-songwriter-guitarist’s credits include major label albums with the bands Aviator and Sam the Band, as well as songwriting on Richie Sambora’s 1998 solo album, Undiscovered Soul. And at White’s 2013 holiday concert, Sambora was among the surprise guests, performing on several songs, including a soulful cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Check out the video below. Continue Reading →

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‘Walk Through the Bottomland,’ Lyle Lovett and Emmylou Harris

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A “New Jersey lady” falls in love with a cowboy in Lyle Lovett’s “Walk Through the Bottomland.” You just know that’s not going to end well. Lovett refers to her that way throughout the song, using that same three-word phrase in five of the song’s six verses, as if to underscore that a Northeaster and a cowboy is not a good match. “The rodeo life was the life that he knew/He had to keep drifting along,” he sings on this track from his 1987 album, Pontiac. It’s one of Lovett’s greatest compositions, a sad love song full of great beauty and tenderness, and also a bit of mystery. What exactly does it mean to “walk through the bottomland without no shoes”? Continue Reading →

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‘Jersey Bounce,’ Ella Fitzgerald

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Any shortlist of the most iconic Jersey songs of all time would have to include “Jersey Bounce,” which makes a promise that any fan of New Jersey music has to love: “If you don’t feel so hot/Go out to some Jersey spot/And whether you’re hep or not/The Jersey Bounce’ll make you swing.” The version below is by Ella Fitzgerald, who first recorded it for her 1961 album, Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! But there are other versions, too, some instrumental and some with words, by Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Ella Mae Morse, The King Sisters and others. Goodman really deserves most of the credit for popularizing it, as he had a No. 1 hit with it in 1942. Continue Reading →

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