For this blogpost my intention was to write about Springsteen songs in which real locations are mentioned. When I put together the list there were so many songs I realised I maybe had taken on more than I could chew. I definitely needed to break it up in different categories.
This entry, which is the longest blogpost I have ever written (bear with me) will consequently focus on songs where real locations are mentioned in the title of Springsteen songs. There are also a bunch of songs where real locations are mentioned in the lyrics but they don’t fit in this blogpost. I certainly don’t claim this to be a complete list. I’m sure songs are left out and missed. Feel free to add songs either in the comment section below or on Facebook or Twitter.
Springsteen songs with real locations mentioned in the title:
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)– Asbury Park is a resort town in New Jersey, which historic shore town features one of the best beaches in the state and a vibrant culture scene. USA Today recently picked Asbury Park as one of the top ten places to listen to music. The legendary Stone Pony where Bruce Springsteen has made numerous appearances, is one of the world’s most famous music “scenes”. Asbury Park is a place where Springsteen hung out and played his music when he was young, developing into the musician he is today and the famous Jersey Shore Sound was created.
Did you hear the cops finally busted Madam Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do
The song, which was released on The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973), is about summer romance and the image of the boardwalk. The protagonist is looking back on his former playground. Clearly he knows it well but it seems like he is leaving, he has out grown this place. There are feelings of regret, and of admiration for those that remain; the switchblade lovers, the pinball wizards and the boys in the casino. He knows them well they have been part of his landscape. The fortune teller Madam Marie who is mentioned in the lyrics was a real fortune teller on the boardwalk in Asbury Park.
The town also provided the name for Springsteen’s first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)
Atlantic City – Atlantic City is a resort city in New Jersey known for its casinos, boardwalk, and beaches. It is a poor city where gambling is legal. When casinos were built there in the early ’80s, it was supposed to revitalise the city. The casinos made it a popular tourist destination and to this day one of Atlantic City’s greatest draws is its casinos. The city itself continues to be very run-down. There is a stark contrast between the glamorous casinos on the boardwalk and the city itself, with its history of organised crime. [Fun Fact: Atlantic City inspired the U.S. version of the board game Monopoly]
Everything dies baby thats a fact, well maybe everything that dies some day comes back
This song is about a guy trying to get him and his girlfriend a new, better life. Their relationship isn’t good anymore and they are on the verge of poverty (he has debts that no honest man can pay) but he’s going to try and make it work. They go to Atlantic City in hopes of a new beginning and the protagonist ends up on the wrong side of the law, probably getting involved in the mob. The hopes for a better life is then dead.
The first line: They blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night was taken from a newspaper article about a mob hit in Atlantic City. The “Chicken Man” was Phil Testa, in the Philadelphia mob, who was blown up by a bomb placed under his front porch. Atlantic City was released on the album Nebraska (1982)
Balboa Park – Balboa Park is an urban cultural park in San Diego, California. Located just blocks from downtown San Diego hotels, the park has a rich history reflected through stunning architecture, art installations, and cultural events but in a leafy corner of Balboa Park a whole other life is going on, a life of which the song Balboa Park is about. It is about the real-life of homeless illegal immigrants, young boys, who hustle the downtown streets of San Diego City earning a living by prostituting themselves and/or selling drugs.
In the liner notes of The Ghost Of Tom Joad album, Sebastian Rotella’s article from the 03 Apr 1993 issue of the Los Angeles Times “Children Of The Border” is cited and allegedly the inspiration for this song.
Born in the U.S.A. – Title of Springsteen’s seventh studio album (1984) and also the titel track of that album. The song is about the problems Vietnam veterans encountered when they returned to America. The Vietnam war was the first war the US didn’t win, so instead of receiving a hero’s welcome the veterans were pretty much ignored.
When the song first came out it was widely misinterpreted. Most people thought it was a patriotic song about American pride instead of Vietnam shame. (read more about Born in the USA)
The United States of America (USA) commonly known as the United States or America is the world’s fourth largest countries by total area (slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe) and the third most populous country. It is one of the world’s most ethnic mixed and multicultural nations, due to large-scale immigration. The United States do not have an official language, but English is the most commonly spoken language (80%). Besides English, the most commonly spoken languages in the U.S. are Spanish and Chinese.
Cadillac Ranch – The Cadillac Ranch is a collection of 10 Cadillacs buried hood-first (see featured image) in a cow pasture along interstate 40 near Amarillo, Texas. It is a public art installation that was created in 1974 by by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm.
Cadillac Ranch is a playful rocker with rockabilly influences and an infectious beat. It is a fun song, however, the theme of the song is more serious. The Cadillac Ranch is a metaphor for the inevitability of death. The little girlie in the blue jeans so tight is the singer’s last chance at love but she dies before the singer does, crashing somewhere, alone, in the Wisconsin night. The song was released on The River (1980) [fun fact: Springsteen’s first car was a ’57 Chevy with orange flames painted on the hood].
Darlington County – A song about two friends from New York City heading out looking for work in Darlington County, meeting girls along the way. Though they’ve left NYC they’re trying to use their time in the big city to their advantage to impress naive young girls. They don’t find work but they do find trouble, as one of them ends up getting arrested. The song was released on the album Born in the USA.
The actual Darlington County is in South Carolina.
Does this bus stop at 82nd Street? – The song is loosely based on a bus ride Springsteen once took to visit a girlfriend in uptown Manhattan. It is on people and places Springsteen met in his early years as a songwriter. 82nd Street is a street in Queens, NYC. The song was released on Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.
Senorita, Spanish rose
Wipes her eyes and blows her nose
Uptown in Harlem she throws a rose
To some lucky young matador
The E Street Shuffle – The name E Street was taken from the name of a road in Belmar, New Jersey, where piano player David Sancious’ mother lived. That’s where the band rehearsed at the time and the band was later named after the street (The E Street Band).
In his book Songs Springsteen wrote about the song: “/…/ I wanted to describe a neighborhood, a way of life, and I wanted to invent a dance with no exact steps. It was just the dance you did every day and every night to get by.”. The song was released on The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973).
Galveston Bay – Galveston Bay is an estuary along the upper coast of Texas, USA.
The narrative in the song Galveston Bay is of a Vietnamese soldier coming to America. Although he is a character who is driven to do the wrong thing he decides not to add to brutality and violence. That night he finds the strength and grace to save himself and the part of the world he touches. The song was released on the 1995 album The Ghost of Tom Joad.
Highway 29 – In Highway 29, which is a north-south United States Highway that runs from Maryland to Florida, there is a story about a shoe salesman who turned a murderous bank robber. He and a woman rob a small-town bank before a car crash that ends in tragedy (a road full of broken glass and gasoline). It was released on The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995)
Incident on 57th Street – Is one of my favourite songs, so I won’t go into detail of the lyrics as I most likely will write a separate blogpost on this song in the future. The story is set in New York City (where also the actual 57th Street is situated) and tells the story of “Spanish Johnny” and “Puerto Rican Jane”. It’s a romantic story set against a New York street fight which was released on The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle
Johnny whispered, goodnight, it’s all tight, Jane
I’ll meet you tomorrow night on lover’s lane
We may find it out on the street tonight, now, baby
Or we may walk until the daylight, maybe
/In/ Freehold – A humorous song about Springsteen’s childhood in Freehold Borough, NJ, which can be found on some bootleg live recordings. Springsteen always performed the song solo on acoustic guitar.
Matamoros Banks – This song is about difficulty of illegal immigrants who cross the Mexican border each day. Matamoros is a city in Mexico bordering Texas. The song was released on Devils and Dust (2005).
In the album’s booklet, an epigraph of the song’s lyrics reads: “Each year many die crossing the deserts, mountains, and rivers of our southern border in search of a better life. Here I follow the journey backwards, from the body at the river bottom, to the man walking across the desert towards the banks of the Rio Grande.”
Nebraska – The title track of Bruce Springsteen’s sixth studio album. Nebraska is a first person narrative written from the perspective of 19 years old Charles Starkweather. In 1959, Starkweather killed the parents of his 14 year old girlfriend, Carol Fugate in Lincoln, Nebraska. He and Fugate then went on a killing spree through Nebraska leaving 11 people dead. Nebraska is a state in the middle of the USA.
New York City Serenade – Is a tale of life in New York City. This and many of Springsteen’s early songs contain images and characters from visits to NYC that later showed up in his lyrics. Here you find Billy in his Cadillac, the Fish Lady and the Junk Man. New York City is the most populous city in the United States.
Randolph Street (a.k.a. Master Of Electricity)- Randolph Street is an actual street in Freehold, NJ where Springsteen’s grandparents’ lived (87 Randolph St). The song is an unreleased autobiographical piece about Bruce’s grandfather Frederick Springsteen.
Reno – Reno, “The Biggest Little City in the World”, is a city in the state of Nevada. It is known for its hotels and casinos. The song is about a man who finds himself having sex with a prostitute in a Reno hotel room. Though, he is daydreaming, drifting away to thoughts and memories of another woman (Maria), possibly a wife or longterm partner. The protagonist clearly does not have his heart and mind in the hotel room. The sex is a cold, clinical physical act and at the end of it, he is left with an empty, hollow feeling of loss, regret and void. The song Reno was released on Devils & Dust.
Sinaloa Cowboys – The song is about the young men who cross the border from northern Mexico to make methamphetamine in a tin-shack on the edge of a ravine. In the liner notes of The Ghost Of Tom Joad album, Bruce Springsteen cites several sources, including Mark Arax and Tom Gordon’s “California’s Illicit Farm Belt Export” article from the 13 Mar 1995 issue of the Los Angeles Times as the inspiration for the song.
Sinaloa is a Mexican state which is located in Northwestern Mexico. Sinaloa is also an international drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized crime syndicate established during the mid-1980s.
Streets Of Philadelphia – a song written for the 1993 movie Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks as a lawyer dying of AIDS. It was first released on the film’s soundtrack album in 1994.
Philadelphia, often called Philly, is a city in Pennsylvania, USA.
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out – Many believe that Tenth Avenue is the 10th Avenue that runs through E Street in Belmar, NJ, which is the street where the band (The E Street Band) got their name from. However, there is also a tenth avenue in NYC which is a truck route that runs down the west side of Manhattan and through Hell’s Kitchen. Immediately below that is the West Village where Springsteen used to play in small clubs before he became famous.
The lyrics of song Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out are the immortalised, mythical story of how Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons met and of the formation of the E Street Band.
Youngstown – This song is trubute to the family line of steel workers in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Ohio. The book Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass (Dale Maharidge) on unemployed and dispossessed workers in the early 80’s in the US, allegedly, is what inspired Springsteen to write this song, which was released on Ghost of Tom Joad.
[fun fact: “Jenny” in the song is the nickname given to the Blast Furnace at Youngstown steelworks – The Jeanette Blast Furnace]
You have now reached the end of this blogpost and if you have come this far I thank you for reading and applaud your stamina! I’m pretty worn out myself and I think it’ll take some time (if ever) before I continue with my list of songs that mention real locations in the lyrics.
What I have learned is this:
- Springsteen has a lot of songs that allude to real places
- I need to listen some more on the album The Ghost of Tom Joad, which is an album I almost forgot about (apart from the title track) that has lots of great songs, for example Highway 29
- The song Randolph Street is a gem.
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