Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City

I bought the Nebraska album when it was released when I saw the video for this song. Bruce recorded this album on a Tascam 4 track machine as a demo for the band. He tried to do the songs with the E-Street band but they just didn’t sound as good as the demo.

After carrying the cassette around in his pocket for weeks they mastered the cassette and made the Nebraska album…it was the demo. Here is more of the complete story by sound engineer Toby Scott.,%2Dtime%20recording%2Fmix%20engineer.

The album was only Bruce with an acoustic guitar with overdubs by him. It’s one of my favorite all-time favorite songs and albums by Bruce.

The Band covered this song in 1993, years after Robbie Robertson left. I like this version just as well as Bruce’s original. Levon Helm does a great job on the vocals.

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, number two man in the Philadelphia Mob under Angelo Bruno.

After Bruno was murdered in his car, Testa was blown up by a bomb placed under his front porch. These hits were orchestrated by Nicky Scarfo, who took over the Philly boys so he could control the new Atlantic City gambling rackets. He made such a mess of things that he and most of his crew were either murdered or in jail within a few years.

The Nebraska album peaked at #3 in the Billboard 100, #3 in the UK, Canada, and New Zealand in 1982.

From Songfacts

Atlantic City is a very poor city in New Jersey where gambling is legal. When casinos were built there in the early ’80s, it was supposed to revitalize the city. The casinos made it a popular tourist destination, but 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.
Atlantic City is also a haven for organized crime, and it’s implied that the narrator, who struggles with his finances and ruminates on the inevitability of death, as taken a job as a hit man.

This was the first Springsteen song to be made into a video (unless you count live performance clips), but Bruce does not appear in it. Springsteen had no interest in making concept videos, but an executive at his label, Columbia Records, named Arnold Levine knew that Bruce could benefit from exposure on MTV and put together the clip using footage of Atlantic City. MTV was based in New York and run by radio veterans who were big fans of Springsteen, so the video got some airplay on the network, which was trying to stick to a rock format in 1982.

This is the only track from Nebraska included on Springsteen’s Greatest Hits album.

The title and many of the images are shared with a 1981 Louis Malle movie starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon.

Springsteen recorded this as a demo on a 4-track tape recorder in his house. After trying it with the band, he decided this and the other songs that would make up Nebraska sounded best as he originally recorded them.

The version on the album is acoustic, but the plugged-in live version is a concert favorite.

Other songs Springsteen wrote about his home state of New Jersey towns include “Freehold” and “Fourth Of July, Asbury Park.” He is wildly popular there.

This was released as a single in Europe, but not the US.

Springsteen recorded three takes, each with slightly different lyrics, on the tape he gave his manager which became Nebraska.

Since Springsteen did not tour for Nebraska, the first time this was played in concert was on the Born In The U.S.A. tour two years later.

When Bruce Springsteen toured with The Seeger Sessions Band in 2006, they played a drastically different arrangement of this song with multiple outros. This can be heard on the 2007 album Live in Dublin

Atlantic City

Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last
Night now they blew up his house too
Down on the boardwalk they’re gettin’ ready
For a fight gonna see what them racket boys can do

Now there’s trouble busin’ in from outta state
And the D.A. can’t get no relief
Gonna be a rumble out on the promenade and
The gamblin’ commission’s hangin’ on by the skin of its teeth

Everything dies baby that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on fix your hair up pretty and
Meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Well I got a job and tried to put my money away
But I got in too deep and I could not pay
So I drew what I had from the Central Trust
And I bough us two tickets on that Coast City bus


Now our luck may have died and out love may
Be cold but with you forever I’ll stay
We’re goin’ out where the sand’s turnin’ to gold
So put on your stockin’s ’cause the night’s getting’ cold and maybe everything dies
That’s a fact but maybe everything that dies
Someday comes back

Now I been lookin’ for a job but it’s hard to find
Down here it’s just winners and losers and
Don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line
Well I’m tired of comin’ out on the losin’ end
So honey last night I met this guy and I’m
Gonna do a little favor for him
Well I guess everything dies baby that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday
Comes back
Put your makeup on fix your hair up pretty and
Meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

52 thoughts on “Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City”

  1. One of my favorite Bruce songs- and The Band- the Robbie Robertson-less version with Levon singing is I think even better than Bruce’s original.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The Band did such a good job on this song.
      Off Topic….you did read Bruce’s new bio right? I’m reading it now…it’s as descriptive as his songs.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes I agree Bruce did a great job on his bio…. new Dylan coming out later this month and it is getting great reviews.. double album. I am sure you have heard.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I can’t wait for Bob’s album and Neil Young’s retro album…how great is that? Both released the same day with Neil’s on the shelf for years.

        If Bob’s is anything like the songs he released I’ll love it.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Decent song most people have forgotten about. I didn’t know the Band ever did it, that’s sort of neat… would fit into their repetoire well. Seems like in some ways ‘Nebraska’ was when Springsteen REALLY arrived on the big-time scene… now bear with me on this. He was known, The River was a big hit for instance, before this, but when this came out there was such an uproar – so many people so pissed off that it sounded different – it seemed like when he really became elevated to superstar. Because an album many saw as a flop from an insignificant artist wouldn’t have been a big deal.
    I liked the LP for what it’s worth.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes I see where you went. Behind the scenes everyone told Bruce…release it as a double album with rock songs (parts of Born in the USA was already in the can) on one album and this on the other…Bruce wisely said no…he said people will just listen to the rock stuff.
      He was right. He said he didn’t care how many people bought it but he wanted people to give it a shot.
      It did elevate him up and then the next album blew the doors off.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I always liked it because…yea this sounds odd but because of the darkness of it. I can’t be in a happy mood and turn it up lol…but a lot of great lyrics in it.
      This song I really like…plus the Band does a great job of it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I will say this about Led Zeppelin…I like them I really do but as far as their first two albums…I like their 3rd and later a little better. I like the more acoustic mixed with hard more than Zeppelin one and two.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. While The Beatles are and I suspect will always remain my favorite band of all time, if could only choose one rock song, I would go with “Stairway to Heaven.” Of course, I really The Beatles were mainly pop.

        Stairway has everything: A beautiful accoustic part, a great build, and a killer hard rock section.

        And what Bonzo did on the drums is just amazing. If I ever learn how to play the drums, which is something I still haven’t given up on entirely, I would want to learn how to play the drums part for Stairway.

        I know it’s sort of like saying if I ever learn how to play guitar, I wanna play like Stevie Ray Vaughan! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. The Beatles are mine also because they covered so much ground….Pop/rock/hard rock/ eastern/folk/country/rockabilly…
        I mean they had to me…one of the hardest rawest songs ever recorded…Helter Skelter. Motley Crue’s version sounds weak as water beside the rawness of the Beatle version.

        Yea Stairway is what their career was working up to…with Over The Hills and Far Away, Tangerine and songs like that. That was their peak.

        My favorite two songs by Zeppelin are Tangerine and Hey Hey What Can I Do.

        Yea I usually have a set of drums left by our drummer in the garage…you have the problem I do…we set our sights really high!!! I want to be Keith Moon…it doesn’t work!

        Yea Vaughan is a great one to emulate! Since you know guitar …you could cop some licks!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Trump was a big part of the Atlantic City corruption owning three casinos there. He put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to the casinos and collected millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and eventually turned the city into a ghost town.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great opening line by Bruce. Man, that just grabs you as a listener and hooks you in. This is one of my favourite songs of his.
    Speaking of the Band I watched that doc last weekend ‘When We Were Brothers”
    Man those dudes were messed up lol.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Imagine that conversation around the breakfast table.
        ‘What did you do last night?’
        ‘Shot up some smack and crashed a car,again!”
        While your at it pass the milk please. lol

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Bailey has bugged me to death to watch it and I want to…also the Rolling Thunder Review…
        He is a huge Band/ Levon Helm fan.

        If you ever get really bored and want to watch a bio on a band…the same film company that did the Band bio did a bio on Big Star…give it a try…I dont’ think you know much about them but it’s interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That sounds good! He was just drawn to Levon…not only his voice but his drumming.
        You will learn a lot about Alex Chilton… I think you will like it.

        Thanks Lisa!

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve never listened to anything from The Band post Robertson/Manuel before. I find it a little weird without them – Manuel was kind of the soul and Robertson the main writer. Some nice fiddle though.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I first heard this back in the 80s and loved it. When I heard the Bands version I loved that also. They did a great job on it.
      To me this is one of the best songs they did after Robbie.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That was a studio version…it is better than the live I found.
      Yea you are not going to get that quality…neither could Bruce again…
      I’m in 1970 right now in the Bruce book


      1. I really like it. It reads like one of his songs…very descriptive… “tan long legs fall out of their summer shorts”…I’m just paraphrasing but you get what I’m saying.

        Liked by 2 people

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