New Jersey has one of the most unique and distinct cultures in the US. From boardwalks to beautiful hiking trails and major cities to rural farmlands, there are plenty of things about the state that have inspired the many artists who have come from there over the years. With some major names in the music industry coming from New Jersey, nailing down a list of the best tracks about The Garden State is a tall task. But we’re up for the challenge, so here is our list of the 31 best songs about New Jersey.
1. Jersey Girl – Tom Waits
The best songs are often inspired by strong emotions like love. Tom Waits wrote Jersey Girl for his then-future wife Kathleen Brennan who lived in the state at the time. It first appeared on his 1980 album Heartattack And Vine, but it would later appear on his compilation albums as well.
Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band eventually covered the track and released it as the B-side of Cover Me. This version had some small rewrites, taking out words like “whore” and adding some small tidbits here and there. The song is pure New Jersey, discussing things like going down to the boardwalk and going to carnivals.
2. Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi
Livin’ On A Prayer is a song that many people loved, but few truly understood what it was trying to say. A New Jersey man himself, Jon Bon Jovi wrote the track loosely based on events that had happened in his life during the 1970s.
It went on to become one of the biggest hits of his career, becoming his first number-one single on the Rock chart and second consecutive number-one on the Hot 100. For the band, it turned into a signature song, recharting decades later in 2013 thanks to a viral video that sparked the track on another top-25 Hot 100 run.
3. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) – Bruce Springsteen
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) was released in 1973 on Bruce Springsteen’s album The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle. It tells the story of the titular Rosita and her forbidden lover. Despite never being released as a single in the US, it began to get radio airplay after his Born To Run got advanced shipped to stations across the country.
Today, you’ll still hear it on classic rock radio, and it often appears on lists of the best songs of all time. Another New Jersey native, he often captured the life of everyday Americans, relying on his experiences in the state and giving us snapshots of the perspective of people who lived there.
4. Jersey Bounce – Ella Fitzgerald
Jersey Bounce first became a hit single in 1942 as an instrumental song by Benny Goodman And His Orchestra, holding the number-one chart spot for four weeks that year. Two other versions of the track charted that same year from Jimmy Dorsey and Shep Fields, and many other artists took a turn with it over the years.
Notably, Ella Fitzgerald’s cover of the song became a major dancehall staple. The track was a popular nickname for aircraft during World War II, though looking at records you can’t say it was a particularly lucky one. The first few uses were decommissioned, but two out of three later planes were destroyed mid-air.
5. I’m From New Jersey – John Gorka
John Gorka released I’m From New Jersey in 1991 and few songs capture the state as impeccably as he was able to. The track mainly describes the unique culture of The Garden State, reflecting on common experiences shared by Jersey natives.
From allusions to the mob to women with big hair, he uses his real-life experiences to relate to fellow natives as he references numerous landmarks across the state. And one of the most important parts of the way that the state shaped him has to be the unmatched resilience of the people residing in New Jersey.
6. Suburban Dogs – Real Estate
New Jersey may be mostly known for its urban landscapes, but its rural areas are plenty deserving of love too. Real Estate captures a lot of that in their song Suburban Dogs. It uses dogs as a metaphor for people, describing the ones who live in cities and suburbs as more timid, transient, and unsteady than those out in the fields.
The singer then says they want to go back to sweet Jersey, to the fields of yellow and green where their lover awaits them. It’s easy to see this track as being about being disillusioned by city life and wanting to return to simpler things, with the rural New Jersey landscape serving as the perfect background for those feelings.
7. Tweeter and the Monkey Man – Traveling Wilburys
Tweeter And The Monkey Man is a song that playfully pokes fun at Bruce Springsteen and his early career title of being the next Bob Dylan. Set in New Jersey, the track references several of Springsteen’s song titles, making sure to pointedly enunciate them so the references aren’t missed. After a little gender bending and some detailed storytelling that you would expect from a songwriter on the level of Bob Dylan, the song ends up being a fun little tune set in The Garden State.
8. Atlantic City – The Band
Atlantic City is another song written and performed by Bruce Springsteen, this time coming from his 1982 album Nebraska. It depicts a young couple taking a trip to Atlantic City in the middle of some troubled times. On top of the famous gambling scene of the city, the narrator is wrestling with their decision to enter the world of organized crime to pay for his many debts and the way it has begun to affect his family.
The Band eventually released their hit version of it in 1993, with theirs leaning more into the frustrated emotion of the song that makes the narrator seem like he feels he’s always on the losing side of his gambles.
9. I Like Jersey Best – John Pizzarelli
Like any other place you go, there are always people who love their home state. John Pizzarelli is no different, and his song I Like Jersey Best shows just how fond he is of his hometown.
Hailing from Paterson, New Jersey, he released this one in 1995. It shouts out plenty of local landmarks like the Turnpike and the many sports teams in the area, but it also covers some of the lesser-known establishments that any Jersey native knows are the tops. Comparing the city to Miami, he would rather be in the state than anywhere else in the world.
10. Palisades Park – Freddy Cannon
Palisades Park is a tribute to the New Jersey Palisades Amusement Park. Freddy Cannon had written a song about an amusement park already, but after looking across at the New Jersey Palisades and the park on top from Manhattan, he decided to name the track after that one.
It was a huge hit at the time it was recorded, and even after the namesake amusement park closed, it remained a great reminder of the park in the form of his biggest hit song. He would re-record the track in 1987 and retitle it as Kennywood Park, an amusement park that was still in operation, and reworked the song to be about that one in Pittsburgh instead.
11. Hackensack – Fountains of Wayne
Fountains Of Wayne released Hackensack in 2003. It is a smaller New Jersey town that’s known for its charms. The narrator of the song is watching a friend he grew up with in the town leave for more opportunities, likely to Los Angeles. In it, he tells the departing friend that he will be waiting for him in Hackensack if he ever returns. It’s a bit of an odd track, as it could be about a person the narrator has fallen in love with and has a fun and upbeat tempo but hides a bit of obsession within the catchy lyrics.
12. 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) – Bruce Springsteen
The track 4th Of July, Asbury Park is another great song from Bruce Springsteen’s The Wild, the Innocent & The E Street Shuffle album. Also known as just Sandy, the track is one of his best-known entries from his earlier works. Described by critics as the perfect depiction of New Jersey boardwalk culture, the song is a snapshot of the state and specifically Asbury Park.
It spends time describing several different types of locals, from “switchblade lovers” to “greasers” and everything in between. But it’s also a powerful love ballad that transcends the setting.
13. Raise Your Hands – Bon Jovi
Jon Bon Jovi isn’t shy about shouting out his native New Jersey in any of his songs. In 1986, he released Raise Your Hands, a track that became one of his most energetic and hype concert staples. Rather than describing the state’s natural beauty, it’s meant to get a crowd excited.
It’s a call to action, asking crowds to raise their hands, let their feelings go, and let the music wash over them. Several references to The Garden State appear throughout the track, notably ending with one talking about the small town of Salem, New Jersey.
14. Jersey Shore – The Promise Ring
Jersey Shore is another great song that captures the boardwalk culture in New Jersey. While this one is a pretty short track on this list, it’s just as powerful as the rest. The narrator finds themselves doing the normal things of walking around on the Jersey Shore—and no, it has nothing to do with the MTV show.
Down on their luck, they’re thinking about leaving but don’t really know where to go. They believe that by the time they’re 24, they won’t be around anymore, capturing a darker side of the Shore that shows many people’s struggles just to survive.
15. Big Casino – Jimmy Eat World
Jimmy Eat World released Big Casino on their 2007 album Chase This Light. The title was taken from a side project of their singer Jim Adkins. While it’s obviously a celebration of the big lights of Las Vegas, it can equally describe the casino scene in Atlantic City. While it’s in no way as big a hit or as powerful as their song The Middle, Big Casino still has some memorable guitar riffs and is just as energetic as its mainstream counterpart. It remains a staple of their live shows through today.
16. Jersey – Mayday Parade
New Jersey suffers through some brutal Northeastern winters, which make for the perfect metaphor for love gone cold. In Jersey, Mayday Parade likens the state getting colder to the love they just lost. It’s a heart-wrenching ballad of emotional trauma that comes off as a somber reflection. Despite being known for their loud and energetic songs, this track full of longing has become a fan favorite and a staple choice for couples going through a rough breakup.
17. You Can’t Catch Me – Chuck Berry
You Can’t Catch Me was written and recorded by the legendary Chuck Berry, eventually being released in 1956. The song is all about taking a fast-flying car down the New Jersey turnpike, eventually unfolding the wings of this super air-mobile and taking off. At the time, a flying vehicle called the Aerocar was nearing approval by the Civil Aviation Authority for mass production.
That never came to be—or at least didn’t catch on—so we’re still waiting for flying cars to become a real thing. But despite this, it inspired a rock and roll classic from one of the most important figures in early rock and gave us some great shoutouts for the state of New Jersey.
18. Woke Up This Morning – Alabama 3
Most people know Woke Up This Morning for its use as the opening theme for the American crime drama The Sopranos, but the song started off being released by the British band Alabama 3. They recorded and released the track on their 1997 album Exile On Coldharbour Lane, on which you can find the full version of the song.
It inextricably became tied to the states of New York and New Jersey thanks to their history of organized crime and those states being the setting of the television show. On the charts, it was a modest hit, peaking at number 78 in the UK and number 79 in Scotland.
19. Wildwood Days – Bobby Rydell
Wildwood Days is all about the city of Wildwood, New Jersey. The city itself is famous for its nightlife and the rock and roll performances that were a big attraction in the city during the 1960s when the song was written. Bobby Rydell released the track in 1963 and saw it spend nine weeks on the Hot 100, eventually peaking at number 17 on the chart. It quickly became the anthem of Wildwood and is still frequently played over the loudspeakers of the boardwalk located there.
20. Over on the Jersey Side – Bill Murray
Over On The Jersey Side is perhaps the funniest entry on this list about New Jersey. It makes fun of the state and the people who live there, mostly dealing with the way the people and state are perceived by those who don’t live there. While Bill Murray might have produced the most memorable, this is a super old song, coming out as early as 1908. No wonder it was acceptable to refer to Germans by bringing up their land of sauerkraut in the track.
21. Open All Night – Bruce Springsteen
Open All Night is another hit song about New Jersey from Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album. He mentions plenty of memorable locations in the state, but the main focus of the track is him driving to see someone he loves and heading down the Jersey Turnpike. Since he’s driving in the middle of the night, he has to stop at places that are open the whole night to find ways to stay awake.
22. Jersey Boy – Eddie Rabbitt
The stories of people from New Jersey are often shared by different people who have come there or were born there. Eddie Rabbitt’s tale in Jersey Boy is likely something many New Jerseyans can relate to, being born to Irish immigrants who settled in the state. It describes the great things about growing up in The Garden State and talks about places like Palisades Park and the George Washington Bridge. It also reminds people from there that a large part of their identity will be about being from New Jersey, no matter how far they go.
23. Every Ghetto, Every City – Lauryn Hill
There isn’t a single bad song on Lauryn Hill’s album The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, but this one is an especially great one about New Jersey. It’s a positive take on her hometown in South Orange, New Jersey, but the message in the song is universal for any other similar city environment. It’s her description of events growing up, both good and bad, recreating detailed portions of her childhood that tell the story of what made her into the woman she is today.
24. Night Falls on Hoboken – Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo might be a cult favorite more than a mainstream success but that takes nothing away from their tribute to their hometown. Night Falls On Hoboken is a moody song, to say the least, but in the end, they just want to go home where they can get a peaceful night of sleep. This also isn’t a track for those looking for a quick synopsis of New Jersey, as the track runs for almost 18 minutes in total.
25. Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
If Bruce Springsteen wrote it, you can bet it has a little bit of inspiration from New Jersey in it. Born To Run was the title track of perhaps his most successful album, and the first worldwide single release of The Boss’s career. A signature song for him, it was a major hit single that has been regarded as a fundamental track in the rock and roll genre.
26. So Jersey – The Bouncing Souls
Nobody is going to argue that New Jersey doesn’t have a unique culture of people. So Jersey is a celebration of that culture, a punk rock anthem of everything great about the people of the state and their way of life. Maybe more than any other song on the list, this rebellious and irreverent track captures the energy and passion of New Jerseyans.
27. Who Says You Can’t Go Home – Bon Jovi
The most famous version of this one came when Jon Bon Jovi and Sugarland sang it as a duet, which also got released to country music radio stations. That version was a major hit single, breaking into the top 30 on the Hot 100. The song was all about remembering that you can always go back home to find help, no matter how far you roam or what you get yourself into.
28. Garden State – Senses Fail
Senses Fail is another group that originated in New Jersey and references to the state abound in their work. Garden State was released on their album Life Is Not A Waiting Room and uses New Jersey as a bleak backdrop for their regrets and pain.
29. Theme Song for a New Brunswick Basement Show – Lifetime
We’ve talked quite a bit about the boardwalks and city life in The Garden State throughout this article, but the underground punk bands are just as integral to the culture of New Jersey as either of those things. Lifetime takes that topic on in this song, telling a sweet story of a mediocre band and talking to a potential love interest.
30. 99 Problems – Jay-Z
Bet you didn’t think this one was about New Jersey. The track 99 Problems was a huge smash hit for Jay-Z, serving as a major tell-off for all his critics, haters, and nonbelievers. But the particular part that made it about the state is that the police encounter detailed in the song was with the New Jersey police in 1994. He eventually got some revenge on the state, helping relocate the New Jersey Nets NBA team away from the state to bring them to Brooklyn.
31. You Vandal – Saves the Day
Looking for a melodic punk group to talk about New Jersey? Saves The Day has already made appearances on our other lists before, but this one is a take on the state. Rather than waking up to the person they love, they’re stuck waking up on the cold streets of New Jersey, painting a dreadful picture for anyone who isn’t in love with The Garden State itself.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.