Bruce Springsteen – Johnny Bye Bye

This is one B side that I have listened to more than the A-side.

I was playing in a band at a Summer Festival in the 90s. This song was on the setlist combined with Bruce’s Cadillac Ranch went over well. The subject matter is dark but truthful.

The song is credited to Chuck Berry and Bruce because Bruce rewrote the Berry song Bye Bye Johnny to fit his story. Chuck’s song follows the same character heard in Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” Johnny is now a grown man who boards a bus to start his life.

Bruce’s version is about Elvis Presley who died a little earlier. Bruce was a big fan of Elvis but saw what fame and isolation did to him.  After the glory had left…the lifestyle caught up with Elvis with tragic results. The song was released as a B side to “I’m On Fire” in 1985. I’m On Fire was the 4th single released from Born In The USA. Johnny Bye Bye  It was recorded in April 1982 during the “Electric Nebraska” sessions. That was when the band tried to recreate the Nebraska acoustic demos but they could not capture what Bruce wanted.

Springsteen performed this several times live during the River and Born in the USA tours. It is a haunting song to listen to. The keywords are the last lines of the song…”You didn’t have to die, You didn’t have to die.”

Bruce Springsteen: “The type of fame Elvis had . . . the pressure of it, the isolation that it seems to require, has gotta be really painful”

Chuck Berry’s original

“Johnny Bye-Bye”

Well she drew out all her money from the Southern Trust
And put her little boy on the Greyhound Bus
Leaving Memphis with a guitar in his hand
With a one-way ticket to the promised land
Hey little girl with the red dress on
There’s a party tonight down in Memphis town
I’ll be going down there if you need a ride
The man on the radio says Elvis Presley’s died We drove to Memphis, the sky was hard and black
Up over the ridge came a white Cadillac
They’d drawn out all his money and they laid him in the back
A woman cried from the roadside “Ah he’s gone, he’s gone”
They found him slumped up against the drain
With a whole lot of trouble running through his veins
Bye-bye Johnny
Johnny bye-bye
You didn’t have to die
You didn’t have to die


Author: Badfinger (Max)

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

21 thoughts on “Bruce Springsteen – Johnny Bye Bye”

  1. Interesting. Little concise, sparse song … definitely sounded like something from ‘Nebraska’. I don’t think I’ve heard that before… I had the ‘Dancing in the Dark’ single but then I think I heard enough to figure that I should buy the whole album and I didn’t get any of the other singles from it. Sure are a lot of songs written about Elvis and his death.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I too like both. Chuck had an all but perfect economy with his lyrics, Bruce comes close with this one.
    Maybe it’s the death of an icon plus the Caddy reference but it puts me in mind of Roseanne Cash’s ‘Black Cadillac.’

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow never seen this 45 before. Brent Jensen will be talking about Springsteen tonight on his YouTube channel which should be great. He’s under Brentjensenmusic check it out sometime and give him an YouTube follow…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, never had heard this Bruce tune before – not that I could claim to have heard all of his other songs – far from it. “Born in the U.S.A.” brought Bruce on my radar screen, and I got the album on vinyl at the time. I never was much into buying singles and only had a few.

    I also agree Chuck Berry had great lyrics.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have the condensed one-disc version of Tracks but should probably track down the rest sometime. So many great songs from that era – I find his 1980s albums a little disappointing after his great 1970s, but his songwriting was still great.

    Liked by 1 person

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