The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: Song #436…Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #436: Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen.

With a painter’s eye for detail and composition, Bruce Springsteen has been telling the stories of his fellow Americans for almost half a century now. As a performer, he is legendary for the length of his shows and for the energy he puts into delivering his songs for his audience. He is called, “The Boss” for a reason. He has brought his vision of being a bandleader, musician and songwriter to the forefront of the music world and has done so on his terms; lending his voice to important causes, as well as, lending his presence to peers such as Roy Orbison, Melissa Etheridge, Elvis Costello, Bono and Patti Smith in the form of rockin’ collaborations. Even my girls will admit that his rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” helps to make Christmas come alive at our home each season. Over the course of his career, he has sold over 150 million albums (!!!). He has already been inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame twice (once as a performer and once as a songwriter). He has won 20 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, a Tony Award and was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. His song list includes true classics such as, “Born To Run”, “Rosalita”, “Thunder Road”, “Hungry Heart”, “Born in the USA”, “Dancing in the Dark”, “Glory Days”, “The River”, “Streets of Philadelphia” and many more. Today, we are honouring, “Atlantic City”.

In the late 1960/early 70s, Atlantic City, New Jersey, was suffering from an economic downturn and was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. As a means of revitalizing the downtown core, developers started building casinos and large hotels; the thought being, of turning Atlantic City into a seaside gambling paradise. Unfortunately, two things happened that torpedoed that vision; first of all, because the glitz and glamour was set aside for the high rollers who came to town, not much of an economic boost was felt by the working class citizens of Atlantic City, who continued to struggle to put food on their table. In addition, gambling, and the money that tends to come with it, often attracts unsavoury characters. Even as the hotels and casinos were just being built, Organized Crime was integrating itself into all aspects of this new “paradise”. Violence started becoming a very real problem for law enforcement officials. The original vision for Atlantic City of being a glittering jewel by the sea quickly became tarnished.

Bruce Springsteen grew up on “the Jersey Shore” and knew, all too well, about how real life was playing out in Atlantic City. His song manages to capture both aspects of the story. It begins with a news headline: “They blew up The Chicken Man in Philly last night. They blew up his house, too”. These lines refer to a real-life Mob hit on Philiadelphia Mob Boss, Phil “The Chicken Man” Testa (He was seeking to take control of the gambling scene in Atlantic City…which is very close to Philadelphia. Testa was killed by a bomb which was placed under his front porch and detonated when he went to leave his house one day.) The song, “Atlantic City” continues on from the viewpoint of a young man who cannot find work and is slowly sinking into debt. In desperation, he agrees to work for the Mob. As an audience, we are left to predict the course of his life (and that of his girlfriend/wife) once he has decided to take this formal step into a life of crime.

“Atlantic City” was the only single released from Springsteen’s album called, “Nebraska”. In the song, he performs alone, for the most part; one singer voicing the inner thoughts of one character as he struggles to balance his principles and the reality of poverty and economic ruin that is staring him in the face. “Atlantic City” is a portrait of The American Dream gone wrong. It is a cautionary tale about putting a price on one’s principles. It remains one of Springsteen’s most popular songs, in terms of sales and, in terms of audience reaction when performed live in concert. Without further delay, here is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with a live version of a great song, “Atlantic City”.

The link to the music video for Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band can be found here.

A link to the website for Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for helping promote important songs such as Atlantic City. A link to their terrific website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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