It’s no small irony that “Jersey Girl,” one of Bruce Springsteen‘s most famous songs about New Jersey, was actually written by Tom Waits. It appeared on his 1980 LP, Heartattack and Vine, inspired by his wife Kathleen Brennan. With reference to “corner boys,” carnival rides and traveling “across the river to the Jersey side,” it truly sounded like something Springsteen had written himself. When The River tour hit the Brendan Byrne Arena in Jersey on July 2nd, 1981, Springsteen added it into his show. A month later, he played the Memorial Sports Arena and a special guest was in the house.
“There’s a guy that’s written a lot of great songs like ‘Ol’ 55,’ ‘Heart of Saturday Night’ and this song,” Springsteen told the crowd. “I remember it was one of those songs I said, ‘Well, I wish I’d wrote that.’ It’s a song called ‘Jersey Girl’ and Tom Waits is gonna sing it with us.” There’s no footage of the duet, but a pretty competent bootlegger was recording. Stream the audio above.
From the very first time he played it, Springsteen’s version had an extra verse. Suddenly, the woman is an exhausted single mother that needs to drop her kid off at her mom’s before they can go out dancing. It’s a scene straight out out of Nebraska, complete with an instruction to “put your makeup on” that later appeared on “Atlantic City.” Springsteen also rewrote Waits’ “whores out on 8th Avenue” line to “the girls out on the avenue.”
Springsteen’s rendition of “Jersey Girl” was initially only known to people that saw him on the latter part of The River tour or collected bootlegs, but in 1984 it appeared as the B-side to “Cover Me.” Two years after that, it was the concluding track on the massive box set Live 1975-85. Radio began playing it and suddenly people at Springsteen concerts, many of whom probably had never heard of Tom Waits, were screaming for “Jersey Girl.” He hasn’t obliged them much in recent years, and the song rarely surfaces outside of New Jersey. Waits himself hasn’t played the tune a single time in the past 16 years, and the 1981 Los Angeles show remains the only time he’s ever done it with Springsteen.