Jersey Shore Sound

Greetings from Asbury Park

The Stone Pony

The Jersey Shore sound is a genre of rock and roll popularized at New Jersey beach towns that evolved from the mixing of pre-Beatles rock and roll, rhythm and blues, doo-wop, and the urban culture of the Mid-Atlantic states, especially Pennsylvania (more specifically Philadelphia), Maryland, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and, of course, New Jersey.

The form has a strong Italian-American influence, in as much as many of the form’s key precursors and artists, from Frankie Valli through Bruce Springsteen, are of Italian ancestry and urban background.

Jersey Shore music shares two thematic elements with its contemporary (and in many respects related) genres of heartland rock and roots rock: a focus on the daily lives of people (in this case, those living in the stereotypically industrial society of Northern and Central Jersey), and a sense of being the underdog (a theme in the genre from The Four Seasons’ ‘Rag Doll,’ ‘Walk Like a Man,’ and ‘Big Man in Town’ and through Springsteen’s ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’).

The New Jersey sound has also been heavily influenced by Italian accordion music. In the example of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band there are three musicians who are accordion players: organist Danny Federici (now replaced by Charles Giordano), guitarist Nils Lofgren, and pianist Roy Bittan. All three practiced accordion in its classical form and played in their younger years. This music has carried onto the stage and became an integral part of the music that shaped the New Jersey sound.

Many piano and keyboard parts have a distinct sound of a call and answer reaction to the lyrics sung. Solidly thrumming guitar lines echo American V-8 engines so beloved by Jersey teenagers of the era. Piano, Hammond organ, and glockenspiel emphasize the melody lines. The glockenspiel sounds were provided by a Jenco Celestette, a unique compact version of the full sized celeste or celesta, that Danny Federici owned.

In the E Street Band the keyboard parts are arranged with the glockenspiel and Roy Bittan’s top notes on piano being played in unison. This combination is distinctly a New Jersey sound; Springsteen has said the keyboard parts are an extension of the calliope sounds heard on the carousels located on Jersey Shore boardwalks. Many New Jersey horn sections have used similar phrasing that the keyboards play. This is evident with the Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes sound. There has been influence from Van Morrison in terms of some song structure and with keyboard parts as well.

The Jersey Shore sound is also noted for being danceable, in contrast with Heartland rock. Jersey Shore music also tended to borrow more keyboard, brass, and horn-based arrangements from its R&B roots than did its related genres. Many bands incorporated horns as a part of the band (rather than sideman attachments), from Clarence Clemons’ saxophone in the E Street Band to the full brass and horns sections of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. The genre also exhibited a broad streak of romanticism, adding outsized emotion to relationships, personal struggles, and life in general.

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