Top 5 Songs About New Jersey
When I first decided to create this list of the top songs about the Armpit of America, I thought it would be pretty easy. However, as I began assembling the list, it became more difficult. There are plenty of songs that mention New Jersey, but I didn’t think that a mere shout-out was enough to put a song on this list. Instead, I wanted to include songs that represent the true spirit of living in this state. I could have included a couple Bruce Springsteen songs, but that would have been too easy. (Though you can look forward to a future Top 5 list of Bruce’s best songs about New Jersey.)
Anyway, I did manage to create a list. I’m sure there are plenty of songs I’ve overlooked. I’m sure people will disagree with the ones I did list. Agree or not, these are the songs I came up with:
1. “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi
Poor Jon Bon Jovi. As big as he and his conceitedly named band were, are, or will be, he’ll never grow out of his status as New Jersey’s second favorite son. But don’t feel too bad for him, his song goes first on my list! Though the lyrics don’t mention New Jersey by name, it is clear that his story about Tommy and Gina takes place right here. With references to the docks at Bayonne and the ubiquitous Jersey diner, the story can’t take place anywhere else.
Our protagonists might not have much, and it apparently doesn’t make a difference if they make it or not. However, they have each other, you see, and that’s a lot for love. So they decide to give it a shot. Though things may be rough for Tommy and Gina, they show the true grit and toughness New Jerseyans are known for. On top of that, this song is pretty much the unofficial anthem of New Jersey. You can’t go to any bar or club in the Garden State without hearing it. At least that’s one thing Bon Jovi can wave in Bruce’s face.
2. “You Can’t Catch Me” by Chuck Berry
In between robbing stores and videotaping women in the bathroom, Chuck Berry was known to write a few songs here and there. Often credited as the founder of rock and roll, he also pioneered the role of the rebellious musician. This is perfectly demonstrated in “You Can’t Catch Me” as well as the aforementioned offenses. As the narrator is driving down the Turnpike, a state trooper drives up to him. Rather than slowing down, our hero just speeds up and gets the hell off the Turnpike.
Which of us Jersey natives hasn’t wished that they could just give a big “FUCK YOU” to the state troopers who make our lives miserable by pulling us over and giving us those stupid tickets? As Chuck Berry sings, “So I let out my wings and then I blew my horn/Bye bye New Jersey, I’ve become airborne.” I’m sure none of us will ever have the balls to actually do this. However, at least we have this song to help us imagine what it would be like!
3. “I Like Jersey Best” by J. Cosgriff and T. Bernardi
This folksy little tune was composed with the intention of being New Jersey’s state song. Despite many people’s contention that our state song is “Born to Run,” we simply don’t have one. But, if we did, it should certainly be “I Like Jersey Best.” The song namedrops a whole bunch of New Jersey towns and describes many characteristics of the Armpit of America, with each verse jamming as much in as possible. For example, check out this verse:
Lots of dineries, oil refineries, our highways make you cough
But Spring Lake Heights and Belmar are places to get off
Drinking spots and used car lots make the place just grand
If you want to pay a visit, Newark Airport’s where you land
Although the song pokes fun at the state, as you can clearly see above, it also offers plenty of praise. How more exemplary of life in New Jersey could that be? While we New Jerseyans have plenty of things to hate about our state, we also know there are plenty of things to love. This song captures that juxtaposition perfectly.
4. “Jersey Girl” by Tom Waits
Bruce Springsteen may have made the song popular, but “Jersey Girl” was written and recorded by Tom Waits. This sweet little tune is the quintessential Jersey Shore song. With hints of “Under the Boardwalk,” this song conjures up images of romantic interludes on the beach. You can’t help but get taken away to the boardwalk on a warm summer night when you listen to this song.
Most importantly, Waits doesn’t show even the slightest hint of irony or sarcasm in the song. What I mean is, the term “Jersey girl” can have all sorts of negative connotations, so a song about them could very easily go in a mocking direction. Instead, the song is about a real Jersey girl, and not the stereotype of a Jersey girl. And, yes, there really are nice, normal Jersey girls. I know because I found one.
5. “Woke Up This Morning” by Alabama 3
I’m gonna sound like a complete hypocrite for including this song after that whole spiel about “Jersey Girl” going against the bad stereotypes. But I had to include “Woke Up This Morning,” better known as the theme song to the Sopranos. Let me explain. This song is synonymous with the opening credits of “The Sopranos.” Now, what is shown during those credits? Nothing but scenes of New Jersey…and James Gandolfini sucking on a cigar. As anyone can attest, fat Italian guys are a dime a dozen in this state.
Anyway, the opening theme is like a vignette of New Jersey. We watch as Tony Soprano drives out of the tunnel from New York and enters the Turnpike. We’re along for the ride as he passes the factories, oil refineries, and swamps that line and define the Turnpike, before he ends up at his suburban home. Of course, the New Jersey mafia don is yet another symbol of our state. Yes, all these stereotypes give our state a negative image. At the same time, there is definitely some truth to them. Though “Woke Up This Morning” isn’t necessarily about New Jersey, its connection to The Sopranos and everything that show represents undoubtedly connect it to our state.
And so ends my Top 5 songs about New Jersey. Leave me a comment if you want to discuss the subject some more…