Atlantic City, a beautiful seaside resort and one of the top locations in the world for passionate gamblers, has been the subject of multiple popular songs over the years. Once referred to as “America’s favourite playground”, Atlantic City became a powerful combination of resort venues for rich people and casino gambling venues for everyone too far away from Sin City. Despite its uniqueness and historic value, many see Atlantic City as the East Coast’s answer to Las Vegas. How do famous musicians see it?
Let’s find out by reviewing some of the most remarkable songs inspired by AC landmarks, luxury sites and opposing run-down neighbourhoods, as well as the city’s rich history.
Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City
The American singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen is well-known for his Jersey Shore roots. He would often go back to them and make references to them in his songs, both in solo performances and band engagements. Atlantic City first appeared on Springsteen’s 1982 solo album Nebraska which he recorded in his bedroom and provided the vocals, guitar, harmonica, tambourine, organ, and synthesizer for. The song tells a story of a young couple escaping to Atlantic City and touches on the subject or mafia, early gambling operations in the city and the inevitability of death.
The version on the album is acoustic, but the plugged-in live version of the song is a concert favourite. Springsteen played it many, many times and included it on his 1995 Greatest Hits album and on the 2003 compilation The Essential Bruce Springsteen. Atlantic City was the first Springsteen song to be made into a music video and he did not appear it the video at all. Instead, the video features bleak, black-and-white images of Atlantic City. Many of the images shown in the video match the ones used in a 1981 Louis Malle movie starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon, also named Atlantic City.
Dick Haymes – On the Boardwalk (in Atlantic City)
On the Boardwalk (In Atlantic City) by Dick Haymes harks back to a simpler, more innocent time. The song aims not to evoke thoughts of crime and gambling palaces, but of vacation and relaxation. The song was featured in a 1946 musical called Three Little Girls in Blue, which was all about taking a trip to Atlantic City, spending money and enjoying the hedonism. The Argentina-born Haymes is perhaps an unknown artist today, but he was one of the most diligent pop entertainers of his era.
“On the Boardwalk in Atlantic City,
We will walk in a dream,
On the Boardwalk in Atlantic City
Life will be peaches and cream.”
Dick Haymes sings about a kinder, more lightweight city with “rolling chairs” and “saltwater air”. It all sounds so very inviting. Families often went on vacation in the ’60s and early ’70s to Atlantic City and experienced the atmosphere captured in this particular song.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Atlantic City
The American singer-songwriter and guitarist Jason Isbell is primarily known as a solo artist, but his work done with the band 400 Unit didn’t go unnoticed either. The four-time Grammy winner teamed up with musicians from the Muscle Shoals area in Alabama and released three studio albums so far. They’ve also done a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Atlantic City and play it often in their shows. The song is featured on their Live from Welcome to 1979 album which was recorded directly to lacquer at Welcome to 1979 Studios in Nashville. This was the assembly’s attempt to impress the audience by giving them the opportunity to hear just how skilled they are at playing other musicians’ material, and in only one unaltered take.
The current King of Americana Music and his dedicated band interpreted the song in their own recognizable rocky fashion and put it on the vinyl which was exclusively released for Record Store Day in 2017. Springsteen’s song was also covered by multiple other artists, most recently by Ed Sheeran in 2014. He shared his experience with Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones in an interview when he first heard Springsteen, and then went back to the hotel and played ‘Atlantic City’.
The Band – Atlantic City
The Canadian-American rock group The Band also grew fond of the Springsteen tune and decided to release their own take on it in 1993. The Band actually broke up in 1977 and did a farewell tour. Seventeen years later they released their eighth studio album Jericho which contains their soulful cover of Bruce Springsteen. When they got back together, it was obvious that they will not reach the heights of their original songwriting, but that did not stop them in showcasing that they are still amazing performers.
“Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies some day comes back
Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City”
These famous lyrics which constitute the song’s chorus came out of the mouth of Rick Danko and Levon Helm on Jericho, and were accompanied by Stan Szelest on electric piano, Eric Bazilian on mandolin and Rob Hyman on keyboards, among other band members. The version grew so popular that it almost matches the original song, and many welcome it as a statement about the band’s glorious return (“[…] maybe everything that dies some day comes back”).
What do you make of our list of hit songs about Atlantic City? Which version of Springsteen’s Atlantic City do you like best? Let’s not let them be buried in the sands of time – have a listen and try to resist the nostalgia that draws you towards “America’s favourite playground”.