Who are the top 10 bands and artists from New Jersey? Among fans who know a thing or two about their rock music heroes, odds are Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen may be among the names that come to mind first. This Atlantic Ocean shoreline state has produced some of the biggest stars the American music industry has ever known. Possibly the most interesting aspect about the bands and artists from New Jersey mentioned in this list is how close most of the names mentioned tie with each other. While New Jersey may not be the United States of America’s largest state, this is New York’s next-door neighbor, so it’s bustling with all kinds of activity, including music. There is a reason why the Jersey Sound got its name.
Jersey’s Trademark Sound
It all started in Newark, New Jersey during the early 1980s. Known as either the Jersey Sound or the New Jersey Sound, it was a style of house music that combined the elements of garage music and soulful vocals, all influenced by the city’s gospel-fused legacy. Popular venues such as Club Zanzibar featured DJ Tony Humphries got the rockin’ ball rolling in 1982. It was he, as well as Kerri Chandler who were among the pioneers of deep house music that would be referred to as the Jersey Sound. As far as music fans in the United Kingdom were concerned, this was the birthplace of garage music as it knew it. Among Newark’s female singers, they became famous for remixing house music. Two examples of these include Taana Gardner’s “Heartbeat” and Gwen Guthrie’s “Ain’t Nothin’ Going On but the Rent.”
Also contributing to the Jersey Sound was Movin’ Records out of East Orange. This mostly came from the house of Abigail Adams. Combine this with the ball culture coming from the hotels and nightclubs in and around Newark, it gave rise to New Jersey’s influence with its own brand of musical sounds that made the stars that came bursting out of there at the time set themselves apart from the rest of the pack. While the music industry was experiencing an influx of rap and a second musical British Invasion, New Jersey’s finest rocked their way across America and the rest of the world like a bunch of musical rebels on a mission.
While Zanzibar was partially credited to the popular spread of the New Jersey Sound, there were already recording artists who were making names for themselves with their own unique sounds as far back as the late 1950s. The influence of 1980s and 1990s rock in New Jersey was mostly fueled by the songs coming from groups like Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, as well as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Top 10 Bands and Artists from New Jersey
# 10 – Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes
From the Jersey Shore, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes have been in the music industry as recording artists since 1976. The close ties they have with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band include several songs they’ve covered that were originally released by “The Boss” and his gang of musicians. Springsteen has also performed with Southside Johnny and his gang several times, including a 1991 guest vocalist appearance for the album Better Days.
The early days of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes also included the involvement of Steven Van Zandt, who acted as its co-leader, producer, and songwriter. The other E Street band members such as Ernest Carter, Clarence Clemons, Patti Scialfa, Garry Tallent, Soozie Tyrell, and Max Weinberg have also performed with Johnny and the Jukes.
The membership roster of Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes has been extensive as over one hundred musicians, including Jon Bon Jovi, can stake claim they’ve been a Juke at least once at some time. Recording stars such as Bon Jovi have named Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes as one of the musical influences that spawned his career.
When Southside Johnny, otherwise known as John Lyon, teamed up with Steven Van Zandt to form the Jukes, they began to play together in different bands that were mainly based at The Upstage Club in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The majority of the bands had short-lived careers as musicians but it also housed Bruce Springsteen and a collection of musicians that would later form The E Street Band. During this time, Van Zandt was a member of Steel Mill, one of Springsteen’s earlier bands.
Between the collection of bands and musicians Johnny and Van Zandt played with, the roster of The Asbury Jukes had begun to take form. Kevin Kavanaugh from Middleton, New Jersey, was a childhood friend of Van Zandt, as well as a prolific musician who once upon a time was in the same band as him, The Shadows. Starting in July 1971, The E Street Band began to take on a form of its own with Vini Lopez, Garry Tallent, David Sancious, and Steven Van Zandt. They originally backed Springsteen as The Bruce Springsteen Band before officially becoming The E Street Band.
In 1974, Steven Van Zandt was a member of a backing band for The Dovells while Southside Johnny was playing with the Blackberry Booze Band. It would be Johnny’s band that would become The Asbury Jukes as of June 1975 after undergoing a series of name and lineup changes. The mainstay with Southside Johnny all along was a drummer named Kenny Pentifallo. It was these two men, plus Carlo Novi and Billy Rush that were the original Asbury Jukes that would carve a name for themselves in the music industry’s history books.
As a group, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes underwent a few different eras that began right after Steven Van Zandt joined the E Street Band as they toured with Bruce Springsteen to promote his album, Born to Run. As for Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, they remained in Asbury Park as performers for its popular club scene. Despite being on the road with Springsteen, Van Zandt produced with Johnny and the Jukes a four-song demo at Recording Plant Studios. It was enough to earn the interest of Epic Records’s Steve Popovich.
This led to the production of the group’s debut album, I Don’t Want to Go Home. Van Zandt wrote three songs for that album while Springsteen donated two of his, namely “The Fever” and “You Mean So Much to Me.” Under the pseudonym of Selmon T. Sachs, Clarence Clemons performed with bass vocals for “The Fever” while Ronnie Spector performed “You Mean So Much to Me” as a duet with Southside Johnny.
After the success of 1976’s I Don’t Want to Go Home, 1977’s This Time It’s For Real became the group’s second studio album release. This one had eight of its songs written by Steven Van Zandt where three of them also included Bruce Springsteen’s penmanship. This particular recording has guest vocal appearances from The Coasters, The Drifters, and The Five Satins. In 1977, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes appeared in 1977’s Between the Lines, a movie that featured a scene of the band playing “Having a Party” and “Sweeter than Honey.” Then in 1978, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes released Hearts of Stone, an album that was purely original music material performed by the group only.
Van Zandt was once again the primary songwriter as all but two of the nine songs on the album were written by him. “Trapped Again” was a collaborative effort with Southside Johnny, Springsteen, and Van Zandt. Those two songs on the album were “Hearts of Stone” and “Talk to Me.” This was followed by 1979’s homecoming concert performed in Asbury Park which also became the feature of a documentary produced by Neal Marshad. It was presented for the first time as a film in January 1980 at Columbus, Ohio’s Warner Cable’s QUBE station.
Starting in 1979, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes experienced a series of key changes that would alter the course of this musical group’s recording career. The first three studio albums the group released while signed with Epic Records were not as commercially successful as hoped so it was dropped from the label. As Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band became busier and more popular, Steven Van Zandt’s commitment to Johnny and the Jukes came to an end. As a result, Billy Rush stepped up to share the leadership role with Southside Johnny. He also became the band’s primary songwriter.
Via Mercury Records, the group recorded and released three new albums, starting with The Jukes in 1979. Love is a Sacrifice was next with its 1980 release, which was followed by the 1981 release of the double live album, Reach Up and Touch the Sky. After this, the group was signed to Mirage Records and released Trash It Up in 1983. At this point, the band was referred to as Southside Johnny & The Jukes. This would remain the band’s name upon the 1984 release of In the Heat and the 1986 release of At Least We Got Shoes. These three albums marked the end of the Billy Rush era, as well as the run of Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes as a band name.
It wouldn’t be until 1991 that the group’s full name would be restored as it released Better Days. This one featured Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen joining in as guest vocalists. After this, there were six more albums that were released by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes between 2000 and 2017. The accomplishments Southside Johnny achieved continue to make its mark as one of New Jersey’s pride and joy when it comes to its musical influence. So many stars have come and gone that breathed life into this band but the one who has remained constant the entire time was Johnny himself, the man who started it all.
# 9 – The Gaslight Anthem
The Gaslight Anthem got its start as a rock band in 2006 from New Brunswick, New Jersey. Founded by Brian Fallon, it underwent a series of lineup changes that included its name change that would reflect its direction as a band. In 2007, it made its album debut with Sink or Swim. It won over positive reviews as a punk favorite, as well as a thumbs-up with a few mainstream music publications.
One of the group’s songs, “I’da Called You Woody, Joe,” was featured in the soundtrack belonging to 2008’s Skate It and 2009’s Skate 2, two video games published by Electronic Arts (EA Games). In the meantime, The Gaslight Anthem its second studio album, The ’59 Sound, as well as Senor and the Queen, an EP that would have vinyl versions released that ranged from standard black to limited editions in clear, red, or white for customers to choose from.
These were followed by 2010’s American Slang, then 2012’s Handwritten. From the group’s fourth studio album, a Mercury Records production, “45” became The Gaslight Anthem’s most successful single on the music charts. It became a number-one hit on the UK Rock & Metal Chart, as well as a number-fifteen hit on the US Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart. After the release of 2014’s fifth album, Get Hurt and its European summer tour, The Gaslight Anthem went on hiatus until it embarked on a tour in 2018 to promote the tenth anniversary of The ’59 Sound.
After this, the lineup of Brian Fallon, Benny Horowitz, Alex Levine, and Alex Rosamilia went back to enjoying their private lives until deciding to revive The Gaslight Anthem again in 2022. The group’s sixth studio album, History Books, was slated for release on October 27, 2023.
According to music critics, The Gaslight Anthem was regarded as part of a rich New Jersey punk music tradition that also embraced the Jersey Shore elements that made Fallon’s group so popular. The star roster of The Gaslight Anthem were fans of Bruce Springsteen and it was his brand of rock music that influenced its style, even though it wasn’t intended to adopt the Jersey Shore sound into its musical repertoire.
The intent was to come up with a signature sound that would help The Gaslight Anthem stand out. This was accomplished with “I’da Called You Woody, Joe” as this was a tribute to Joe Strummer, one of the lead vocalists of the UK-based rock group, the Clash. It was a song that won over music fans in the gaming community as they played the sequel editions of EA’s popular skateboarding-themed video game, Skate.
# 8 – Danzig
Before Glenn Danzig created his heavy metal band in 1987, the man from Lodi, New Jersey founded Samhain as a side project now that he was no longer part of the Misfits punk rock lineup. On July 14, 1986, Danzig’s Samhain performed before a live audience at The Ritz in New York. In attendance, there was a producer named Rick Rubin. As the owner of Def Jam Recordings, Rubin was seeking out bands whom he felt would make the ideal hard rock supergroup. He had great interest in Glenn Danzig but not the rest of his bandmates.
Danzig informed Rubin if he wanted him that badly then he also needed to sign his bassist, Eerie Von. Rubin agreed as he also brought on board Chuck Biscuits and John Christ. Instead of sticking with Samhain as a name, it was suggested by Rubin to use Glenn’s surname. The first recording released with Rubin in charge was “You and Me (Less than Zero),” a song that was put in the Less than Zero soundtrack in 1987. This was credited to Glenn Danzig and the Power and Fury Orchestra.
With Rubin still at the helm, 1988’s Danzig served as the official debut album for Glenn Danzig and his bandmates strictly as Danzig. While supporting the album until 1989, the group embarked on a tour that had it open for bands such as Metallica and Slayer across North America while doing the same overseas for Accept, Armored Saint, Carnivore, Circus of Power, Mudhoney, Murphy’s Law, sick of It All, and White Zombie.
Over time, Danzig’s debut album became certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). At the same time, Danzig was at the heart of controversy due to the satanic lyrics performed by Glenn Danzig. This didn’t change things for him or his group as 1990’s Danzig II: Lucifuge simply picked up where the group’s debut album left off.
What made Danzig stand out as a rock musician was the bluesy approach that shared the same crooning vocal styles of Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley. After the 1988 live performance of “Mother,” Danzig developed a larger fan following. By 1992, the control of Danzig’s destiny as a recording artist put Glenn Danzig in the driver’s seat as Rick Rubin’s involvement with its direction began to deteriorate. The album released that year was Danzig III: How the Gods Kill where Danzig took partial credit for its production.
In 1993, Thrall-Demonsweatlive was released as an EP that featured live tracks from a Halloween concert Danzig performed in 1992. “Mother” was one of the songs featured on it and once again became the “it” song that would put Danzig in the spotlight among metal music fans. This was a song that became so popular that it was an MTV favorite for its shows such as 120 Minutes, Beavis and Butt-Head, and Headbangers Ball. On the US Billboard Hot 100, “Mother” became a number forty-three hit. It also peaked as high as number seventeen on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart.
From 1994 until 1999, Danzig ventured into industrial metal as a performer, starting with 1994’s Danzig 4. Although the album was a commercial success, it didn’t share the same level of attention as “Mother” did. Although “Cantspeak” became a staple favorite on MTV, “Mother” still reigned supreme as the cult classic. While Danzig’s musical direction shifted in favor of industrial metal, the band’s lineup began to experience its first major shakeup. Chuck Biscuits decided he had enough before the summer of 1994 was over.
John Christ and Eerie Von would also resign as of July 5, 1995. Nevertheless, Danzig continued with a new lineup that included Biscuits’ replacement, Joey Castillo. 1996 witnessed the release of Danzig 5: Blackacidevil. Two additional albums were released with Castillo on board before he moved on. It was also during this time Glenn Danzig steered back to the heavy metal material he used at the start of his career as Danzig. The start of the twenty-first century witnessed Danzig’s lineup become more stable which would go into 2023 with a musical resume featuring twelve studio albums to its credit, along with two EPs, a live album, and a compilation album.
# 7 – Skid Row
As a term, skid row has been referenced to an impoverished urban area that has people having the most difficult time trying to make ends meet. These areas are known to have drug dens, street gangs, and high crime rates where the majority of the commercial, industrial, and residential buildings are in a state of disrepair. For the most part, criminal activities and prostitution are the top two trades some people will take part in an effort just to get by. As for bassist Rachel Bolan and guitarist Dave Sabo, these two rockers from Toms River, New Jersey, decided Skid Row was the name they came up with as a band name in 1986.
The two brought in Scotti Hill as their guitarist, along with Rob Affuso as their drummer after placing ads in the newspaper classifieds. Originally, Matt Fallon served as Skid Row’s lead singer before he was replaced by Sebastion Bach in 1987. The founders of the band were at Mark Weiss’s wedding when they heard Bach sing and felt he would be an ideal fit for the aspiring rock band.
Sabo’s decision to form Skid Row came after he was replaced by Richie Sambora as Bon Jovi’s guitarist. Sabo and Jon Bon Jovi were actually good friends since they were teenagers and the two made a pact if one became successful with his band he’d help the other make the same achievement. Skid Row received its first record deal in 1988 after signing up with Atlantic Records. Its self-titled debut album featured the production work of Michael Wagener.
It was also this same management team who paid off a guitarist named Gary Moore $35,000.00 USD so Skid Row could secure the rights to its name as a band. After Skid Row debuted and won an American Music Award for Favorite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock New Artist, it was 1991’s Slave to the Grind. This became the group’s second most successful album as it became certified double platinum by the RIAA, as well as platinum with Music Canada. It also became certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association and silver by the British Phonographic Industry. However, the debut album was by far the overall favorite as it became platinum five times with the RIAA and three times in Canada.
It also became platinum in Australia, Japan, and New Zealand. In the UK, it was certified gold, as was the case in Finland. While “Youth Gone Wild” was a great debut for Skid Row “18 and Life” and “I Remember You” became the signature hits as these two were released right behind each other as the follow-ups. Both became top ten hits on the US Billboard Hot 100. It would be “18 and Life” that would become certified gold as a single with the RIAA while “I Will Remember You” became certified gold in Australia.
The start of Skid Row’s recording career had its first two albums achieve the stardom Bolan and Sabo deserved as its founding members. 1995’s Subhuman Race was the group’s third album that met with favorable reviews by the critics but it wasn’t quite as commercially successful as the previous two. After this, tensions between the classic lineup began to mount. It would lead to a three-year break as Affuso and Bach decided they had enough and left the band by the time 1996 was over. It wouldn’t be until 1999 that Skid Row would pick up where it left off as a band.
Replacing Bach as lead vocalist was Johnny Solinger, who sang for 2003′s Thickskin and 2006’s Revolutions per Minute. He also performed in 2013 and 2014 for the two EPs Skid Row released, United World Rebellion: Chapter One and Rise of the Damnation Army – United World Rebellion: Chapter Two. After this, he was briefly replaced by TNT’s Tony Harnell for eight months before ZP Theart of DragonForce fame took over in 2017. He remained with Skid Row until 2022 and was replaced by Erik Gronwall. It would be with Gronwall Skid Row would release its sixth studio album, The Gang’s All Here.
# 6 – The Shirelles
Out of Passaic, New Jersey, was an all-girl group known as The Shirelles. The group was founded in 1957 after a talent show was held in Passaic’s high school and had its four winners declared. Doris Coley, Addie “Micki” Harris, Beverly Lee, and Shirley Owens were the victors as they were collectively signed to Tiara Records by Florence Greenberg. The schoolgirl sound mixed with sexual themes became the trademark sound belonging to The Shirelles as the ladies began recording in 1958.
The first single was “I Met Him on a Sunday,” before realizing Tiara’s licensed affiliation with Decca Records wasn’t getting Greenberg and The Shirelles anywhere. Greenberg formed her own label, Scepter Records, and worked with Luther Dixon to help The Shirelles earn the fame it deserved as a group. The first hit was “Tonight’s the Night,” a 1960 release that served as a major breakthrough that would launch The Shirelles into stardom.
While with Scepter, the ladies scored seven hit singles that broke into the top twenty before leaving in 1966. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was the follow-up behind “Tonight’s the Night,” which became one of the two classics that’s been listed by critics as some of the greatest songs of all time. In 2022, the Library of Congress for Preservation in the National Recording Registry agreed. The debut album of The Shirelles, Tonight’s the Night, was selected for its impact on the music industry for its cultural, historical, and aesthetic impact.
After the run with Scepter Records was done, The Shirelles continued to record music but met with stiff competition with other all-girl groups such as the Chiffons, Martha & the Vandellas, The Ronettes, and The Supremes. This was also during the era of the musical British Invasion by groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones that somewhat drowned out The Shirelles.
The lineup itself experienced issues as Coley’s family commitments kept her away from performing. As a result, Dionne Warwick often replaced her, as well as Shirley Owens for the same reasons. By the time 1968 was over, the roster of The Shirelles was reduced to three ladies after Coley left to spend more time with her family. Now down to Harris, Lee, and Owens, The Shirelles continued with additional recordings for different record labels until 1971 before sticking to performing their older tunes in concert tours. In 1975, Coley returned to the lineup as she replaced Owens who decided it was time to go solo.
The latter years of The Shirelles witnessed the death of Addie Harris who died of a heart attack in 1982. That officially put an end to The Shirelles as an active group with its original lineup. In 1983, Coley, Lee, Owens, and Dionne Warwick teamed up to perform “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for Warwick’s album, How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye.
On February 4, 2000, Doris Coley would be next to pass away as she lost her battle with breast cancer at fifty-eight years old. As for Lee and Owens, Lee acquired the trademark of The Shirelles that had a version of the group feature Geraldine Crowell, the daughter of David Jones of The Rays fame. As for Shirley Owens, she toured as Shirley Alston Reeves and her Shirelles until she retired in 2020.
#5 – Bon Jovi
As young as thirteen years old, Jon Bon Jovi from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was playing the guitar and piano with his first band, Raze. By the time Bon Jovi was established as a rock band in 1983 in Sayreville, the young man already had an impressive background as a musical performer. In 1980, he recorded “Runaway” as his first single while in his cousin’s studio.
It was also at this time he was the opening act for Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes. At the time, he worked at Power Station Studios, a Manhattan-based recording facility that was partially owned by his cousin, Tony Bongiovi. Bon Jovi used this opportunity to record demos and have them sent to companies which would lead to his first professional recording as a lead vocalist. “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas” became one of the songs his cousin co-produced for the album, Christmas in the Stars. This was also a 1980 release.
By the time Bon Jovi was put together as a band in 1983, Jon Bon Jovi already had experience as a songwriter as he wrote and sang jingles for a radio station in Lake Success, New York. After “Runaway” was rerecorded in 1982, Jon Bon Jovi recruited his high school buddy, Dave Sabo, to play lead guitar so the song could be promoted as part of a short tour run. At the time, both men promised each other if one succeeded before the other as a recording artist that he would help out.
While Jon Bon Jovi worked on his band’s lineup, Sabo did the same which would later result in the 1986 founding of Skid Row. For Bon Jovi, the suggestion of guitarist Richie Sambora was made by Alec John Such and Tico Torres. After watching him play, Jon Bon Jovi knew Sambora, who was also from Perth Amboy, was the perfect guitarist he needed to make his band complete.
The official debut single for Bon Jovi was the 1984 release of “Runaway,” which became a number thirty-nine hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. The big breakthrough came in 1986 after Bon Jovi recorded and released its third studio album, Slippery When Wet. It produced two number-one hits with “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
The group’s fourth album, 1988’s New Jersey, also became intensely successful as it produced five singles that all broke into the top ten mark on the US Billboard Hot 100. “Bad Medicine” and “I’ll Be There for You” were the two number-one hits from that same album. Both albums became multi-platinum sellers around the world, as did 1992’s Keep the Faith. “Always” became Bon Jovi’s highest-selling and longest-charting single yet after it was released as a single in 1994.
That one peaked as high as number four on the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as topping the music charts belonging to Canada, Ireland, and Switzerland. Between New Jersey and Keep the Faith, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora each released successful solo albums as side projects.
1995’s These Days by Bon Jovi was an album release that was more successful in Europe than it was in North America. Four of its singles became top ten hits on the UK Singles Chart, including “This Ain’t a Love Thing.” It became a number six hit in that nation, as well as becoming certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association. In 2000, Crush was an album that produced another big hit, “It’s My Life.”
This song resonated so well with a younger audience that it was marked as Bon Jovi’s big comeback. It was followed by 2002’s Bounce, then 2005’s Have a Nice Day, and 2007’s Lost Highway. The latter two each became certified platinum at a time when Bon Jovi began to trickle the influence of country music into its brand of Jersey rock sound. 2013’s Because We Can marked the final recording featuring Richie Sambora as Bon Jovi’s lead guitarist as he wanted to spend more time with his family. 2015’s Burning Bridges was the first album Bon Jovi released without Sambora in the lineup, which was followed by 2016’s This House is Not for Sale. 2020, which was released in 2020 were songs Bon Jovi recorded that were inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and the George Floyd protests.
In total, Bon Jovi has produced fifteen studio albums, five compilation albums, and three live albums. With more than one hundred million recordings sold worldwide, Bon Jovii has established itself as one of the best-selling American rock bands of all time. In 2004, Bon Jovi received an Award of Merit from the American Music Awards. Two years later, the group was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. In 2018, it was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2009, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
#4 – The Smithereens
The musical pride and joy of Carteret, New Jersey, was The Smithereens. It was founded as a rock band in 1980 by Jim Babjak, Pat DiNizio, Dennis Diken, and Mike Mesaros. This was a lineup that stayed together until 2006. Mesaros would be the first to leave and would be replaced by Severo Jornacion until Mesaros came back in 2016. In 2017, after Dinizio passed away, The Smithereens carried on as a trio that would feature guest vocalists. The height of The Smithereens’ popularity began after “Blood and Roses,” a single that came from the group’s debut album, Especially for You, in 1986. This was the song that was featured in 1986’s Dangerously Close soundtrack, as well as during a 1987 television episode on Miami Vice.
As a niche, The Smithereens produced power pop music that borrowed the influence of 1960s rock as part of its musical repertoire. The band also recorded and released music that paid homage to various films such as the 1960 version of Oceans 11. 11 was an album released in 1989 that often made reference to the movie. “In a Lonely Place” was a song that seemed to pay homage to Humphrey Bogart’s 1950 classic. This was when The Smithereens reached the height of its popularity as “A Girl Like You” was a single from it that peaked as high as number thirty-eight on the US Billboard Hot 100.
In addition to enjoying a career run as a recording artist, The Smithereens starred in the 1986 science fiction flick, Class of Nuke ‘Em High. The group played “Much Too Much” in the movie but its soundtrack wouldn’t be released until 2014. In 1991, The Smithereens produced another hit single, “Too Much Passion.” This one came from Blow Up, the group’s fourth studio album and the last one that would release a song that would appear on the music charts.
Altogether, there were twelve studio albums The Smithereens released, as well as two EPs, five live albums, and seven compilation albums. Over the course of more than forty straight years as a band performing music, The Smithereens have collaborated with numerous recording artists such as Belinda Carlisle, Lou Reed, and Suzanne Vega.
# 3 – The Misfits
From Lodi, New Jersey, The Misfits carved a name for themselves as the pioneers of horror punk as a subgenre. This was Glenn Danzig’s group he founded in 1977 before it first disbanded in 1983. The starring lineup that built The Misfits to become a successful group alongside Danzig were Jerry Caiafa as the bass guitarist, and Manny Martinez as the drummer. Together, they recorded their first single, “Cough/Cool,” a 1977 release from the label, Blank Records.
When the album was published, the record’s sleeve spelled Jerry Caiafa’s last name wrong. This resulted in the bassist’s request to be credited as “Jerry, only Jerry.” “Jerry Only” would become his pseudonym throughout the remainder of his career. Also in 1977, Frank Licata joined the band as a guitarist who used Franche Coma as his pseudonym. This addition allowed Danzig to stop playing the electric piano so he could focus on singing for a band that was striving to make a name for itself as a punk rock group.
Another change to the band’s lineup was the removal of Martinez and the return of Mr. Jim Catania, who was the original drummer for The Misfits before he was replaced by Martinez beforehand. It would be this lineup that would record fourteen songs destined to be mixed for its 1978 album, Static Age. When no record label seemed interested in releasing it, The Misfits resorted to releasing “Bullet” as a single from its own label, Plan 9 Records, by June.
The name of the record company was inspired by the 1957 science fiction horror flick, Plan 9 from Outer Space. As for Space Age, this wouldn’t be released as a full album until 1996. After this, The Misfits began to change its appearance and songwriting as the group focused more on B-grade horror and science fiction movies. There were skeletal patterns sported on Danzig’s attire while Jerry Only began to wear dark makeup around his eyes and grow his hair out.
The style Only sported with the hair’s long point hanging from his forehead between his eyes and down to the chin became known as “devilock.” It would be a style Danzig and Jerry’s brother, Paul “Doyle” Caiafa, would also take on that would have The Misfits recognized as a horror punk band. Doyle joined The Misfits who’d later adopt Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein as a pseudonym and took part in the recording of 1982’s Walk Among Us and 1983’s Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood.
The idea behind the skeleton came from a poster that was promoting a 1946 horror flick, The Crimson Ghost. This started in 1979 when The Misfits released “Horror Business” as a single. The skull from the skeleton’s image became the group’s logo and it has remained ever since. There was also a “Fiend Club” that had the most devout fans of The Misfits gain access to whatever merchandise Danzig and his bandmates came up with.
After The Misfits were done as a band in 1983, Danzig moved on to form Samhain first, then Danzig. Up until this point, the popularity of The Misfits didn’t extend beyond the underground punk scene. It wasn’t until Danzig made a name for himself as his own band that spawned a growing fan interest in his previous work as a recording artist. Those fans included other big-name hard rockers and heavy metal performers such as Guns N’ Roses and Metallica to find what they found to be really cool Misfits songs to cover. GNR covered “Attitude” and “The Spaghetti Incident?” while Metallica covered “Last Caress” and “Green Hell.”
As The Misfits, the songs were all credited to Glenn Danzig and featured extensive use of overdubbing. This was a tactic used to avoid having to pay royalties to other former Misfits bandmates. At point, after the 1983 split of The Misfits, a legal battle erupted between Danzig and Jerry Only over royalty issues that ultimately led to an out-of-court settlement that Only could revive The Misfits under the agreement merchandising rights was shared with Danzig.
In the meantime, Jerry Only married and had a daughter. He also converted to Christianity and found himself regretting how he carried himself as The Misfits. In 1987, he and Doyle founded Kryst the Conquerer, a heavy metal group focused on Christian-related material until it was dissolved in 1995. This would be the same year he would revive The Misfits.
From 1995 onward, the focus on using horror films as a source of inspiration to come up with new music was resumed, starting with 1997’s American Psycho. This was followed by 1999’s Famous Monsters, then 2003’s Project 1950. Project 1950 was an album that was all covered versions of previously recorded songs by artists from a variety of genres. In 2011, The Devil’s Rain would be the final studio album recorded and released by The Misfits. About five years after this, Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only, and Doyle reunited to perform as The Original Misfits. Off and on since then, the men have performed with this new name at concert events such as Riot Fest.
#2 – Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
Before becoming the Four Seasons, it was The Four Lovers from 1954 until 1958 while Frank Valli was part of the lineup. Even before this, Frank Valli already had recording experience as he released a single in 1953 called “My Mother’s Eyes.” Bob Gaudio would become part of this band before he and Valli started up the Four Seasons in 1960. It was technically founded as the Four Seasons Partnership as Gaudio and Valli signed as equal owners to a doo-wop rock group that would cement its name in history as one of the best-selling musical groups of all time.
Even after the name expanded to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in 1970, Gaudio and Valli remained equal partners. All this came about due to various issues that gave Gaudio and Valli good reason to exercise caution as they formed their own group. The Four Seasons was simply a resurrected version of The Four Lovers with Gaudio and Valli at the helm as its founder. The Four Seasons got its name from a bowling alley, right after The Four Lovers failed an audition that was held at the Union Township in Union County, New Jersey.
In 1961, as The Four Seasons, “Bermuda” was the first single the group released with Bob Crewe as its producer. However, it was not popular enough to become a hit on the music charts so it was back to the drawing board to find a song that would give The Four Seasons the breakthrough it needed. Bob Gaudio’s “Sherry” would be that song after The Four Seasons became the first white recording artist to sign up with Vee-Jay Records.
In 1962, it became a number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart (previously known as the Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles). It was also a number-one hit in Canada and New Zealand. In Australia, it peaked as high as number three and it was a number eight hit on the UK Singles Chart. In the UK, “Sherry” also became certified silver after selling over two hundred thousand copies.
For the Four Seasons, the hits didn’t stop with “Sherry.” Thanks to Bob Crewe’s production guidance and songwriting skills at the start of the men’s career, several more hit singles from Gaudio and Valli would chart their group as one of the most dominant musical acts throughout much of the 1960s. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man” also became number-one hits. The Four Seasons made history by scoring three consecutive number-one hits on the same US Billboard chart.
From 1962 until 1964, the toughest competition the Four Seasons faced in the music industry was the Beach Boys. Unfortunately for the Four Seasons, Vee-Jay Records met with a series of financial and legal issues that would send the Four Seasons to find a new label in 1964. Vee-Jay was not only battling against the Beatles and Capitol Records but found itself going toe to toe against Gaudio and Valli over release rights. Although Vee-Jay was able to retain the release rights in a 1965 court decision, its bankruptcy in 1966 resulted in those rights being handed to the Four Seasons in order to settle unpaid royalties.
While this was happening, the business savvy of Gaudio and Valli and their musical talent, they were able to maintain the popularity status of The Four Seasons despite Beatlemania and the rest of the influx of talent otherwise known as the British Invasion. When troubles began with Vee-Jay, the Four Seasons jumped over to Philips Records. Philips was also in a position to reissue the musical material that now belonged to the Four Seasons.
What the Four Seasons did throughout the 1960s was stick to a musical formula Gaudio and Valli knew worked. While several recording artists were making the mistake of sounding more like the British acts that were so popular at the time, the Four Seasons kept its distinct sound. Performing with Gaudio and Valli until 1965 was Nick Massi. After he left, the band’s arranger, Charles Calello joined as a temporary replacement before Joe Long would be hired to join the Four Seasons. Calello was a former colleague from The Four Lovers who went back to arranging music for Gaudio and Valli. Long remained with the Four Seasons on bass and backing vocals until 1975.
Collectively, the Four Seasons recorded music using different names such as the Wonder Who? and Frankie Valli. 1965’s “My Eyes Adored You” was recorded as a Frankie Valli number while its 1974 version was recorded as the Four Seasons. The key difference between the two songs was the trademark falsetto Valli used as a member of the Four Seasons. He didn’t use the falsetto as a solo singer. Between 1965 and 1968, the Four Seasons continued to produce hits that were at least a top forty hit on the US Billboard charts. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” was the last single in seven years to earn this achievement as it peaked as high as number twenty-four.
After this, the Four Seasons met with a popularity decline as the fans were favoring harder rock sounds, as well as socially-driven songs. This would be a queue Gaudio took note of as he teamed up with Jake Holmes to produce The Genuine Imitation of Life Gazette, a concept album that dealt with current social issues. Holmes had a niche in writing folk-rock songs and the material the Four Seasons produced in 1969 was vastly different than anything the group did before. Between this and the marketing scheme exercised by Bob Crewe, this was an album that met with failure. It was enough for the Four Seasons to leave Philips Records in favor of a new label.
While The Genuine Imitation of Life Gazette may not have been a commercial success, it won over Frank Sinatra enough to involve Calello, Gaudio, Holmes, and Valli for his 1969 recording, Watertown. “Patch of Blue” was the final single produced by Philips Records, a 1970 release that was credited to Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. After the run with Philips was done, the Four Seasons signed up with Motown and released Chameleon in 1972.
This also became a commercial flop. After 1974, the Four Seasons had enough with Motown and moved to another label. Before leaving, the Four Seasons Partnership attempted to purchase the full collection of songs it recorded while with Motown. After learning how much the bill was going to come to, Valli purchased “My Eyes Adored You” for four thousand dollars. He’d take this to the owner and founder of Private Stock Records and had it released as a solo single. At the time, the Four Seasons had yet to sign up with another label as a group. As for Valli, he had a new label and now a career as a solo artist.
Despite the first half of the 1970s proving to be unsuccessful for the Four Seasons, the group was still popular with enough fans that the name wouldn’t disappear into obscurity. There was a new lineup that came into the fold as Don Ciccone and Gerry Polci signed up as lead singers. At the time, Frankie Valli was contending with hearing loss issues caused by his otosclerosis condition. This was mostly rectified after surgery.
In 1975, “My Eyes Adored You” was making its mark on the US Billboard Hot 100 at the same time Gaudio and Valli scored a contract with Warner Bros. Records. At the time, the influence of disco music was about to become the next trend that would win over a fan base. This also came at a time when The Four Seasons Story was released as a compilation album featuring the Four Seasons’ hits from 1962 to 1970. It sold over one million copies, becoming certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
In the meantime, “My Eyes Adored You” as a Valli solo peaked at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100. “Who Loves You” also became a number three hit on the same chart. This all took place in 1975. Valli’s first real solo as a recording artist was “Swearin’ to God,” a single that peaked as high as number six as it capitalized on the disco craze that swept across North America.
Also in 1975 was Who Loves You, an album that came as a surprise commercial hit for the Four Seasons. It was also a recording that didn’t have Valli handle the majority of the lead vocals. Gerry Polci did about half of them while Valli shared the other half. Ciccone sang the lead vocal for “Slip Away.” This served as the big comeback the Four Seasons needed to get its groove back as hit makers.
In 1976, the year started off right with “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night).” It became a number-one hit that was co-written by Bob Gaudio and Judy Parker. Parker later became Gaudio’s wife. This was a single that had Polci sing as lead vocalist with Valli singing lead on two bridge sections. Valli also performed as a backing vocalist on the chorus.
After the success of Who Loves You, Frankie Valli and Four Seasons followed up with the 1977 release of Helicon. It came at a time when the musical tastes of the fans began to change again. Ciccone and Polci performed most of the lead vocals and it would be the year the crew from the Four Seasons decided it was time to take a break. In the lineup at the time, Lee Shapiro got married. Polci started working with Barry Manilow.
Valli was having to contend with hearing issues again that met with the need for surgery. He did, however, accept the offer to sing the theme song for the 1978 blockbuster musical hit, Grease. “Grease” became a number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and a global fan favorite as John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John won over the world with their roles as Danny and Sandy.
In 1980, the Four Seasons was reunited as a band that would feature the 1981 release of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons Reunited Live. This was followed by 1984’s East Meets West. This featured the band from New Jersey collaborating with the California-based Beach Boys. It wound up becoming a commercial failure but it didn’t diminish the popularity of the Four Seasons as a touring act. When “December 1963” hit the music charts again as a remixed version in 1994, it became a number fourteen hit on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Adding to the legacy of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons includes the 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1999, it was into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, then in 2017 into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are in the history books as one of the best-selling musical groups of all time with over one hundred million records sold around the world.
#1 – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Before he became “the Boss” that would influence the entire world with his brand of rock, Bruce Springsteen was born on September 23, 1949, in Long Branch, New Jersey. He grew up in Freehold, along with his two younger sisters, Virginia and Pamela. Springsteen’s family heritage includes the legacy of early Dutch families that included a patriot of the American Revolution, John Springsteen. While going to school, it was clear Springsteen had a stronger love for playing the guitar than doing his high school homework. Springsteen was a fan listening to New Jersey’s musical hero, Frank Sinatra.
After watching Elvis Presley perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, Springsteen’s destiny to become a world-class musician was set. Although Springsteen graduated from high school in 1967, he chose not to take part in the graduation ceremony. When he was drafted at nineteen years old to serve in Vietnam on behalf of the United States military, it was discovered he had a two-year-old head injury from a motorcycle accident. He failed the physical but this was seen more as a blessing than a curse. In 1969, Springsteen stayed behind in New Jersey with his sister, Virginia, while his parents and other sister moved west to San Mateo, California.
As a teenager, Bruce Springsteen found himself caught up in the Beatlemania hype after watching the UK-based group on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. It was enough for him to buy his first guitar and learn how to play it well enough before a live audience. He first joined a band called the Rogues and performed locally before he would get his first real break as a lead guitarist, then lead singer for the Castiles. This led to Springsteen performing in Greenwich Village before heading back to perform in various venues in New Jersey and New York.
Between 1969 and 1971, Springsteen performed with a band that started off as Child before becoming Steel Mill. It would be with this band he’d meet Danny Federici, Vini Lopez, Vinnie Roslin, Robbin Thompson, and Steven Van Zandt. Together, they’d perform at venues on the Jersey Shore, as well as in California, Tennessee, and Virginia. This marked the beginning of a cult following that would observe what became the eventual start of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
First, Springsteen signed with Columbia Records as his first label in 1972. This would mark the year he would form his own band and release his debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. That group would become known as the E Street Band, a name it adopted in 1974. Springsteen became “The Boss” a nickname, that came about after he would collect the money he and his bandmates earned from each gig and distribute the money among them.
While with Columbia, Springsteen brought the E Street Band to the studio to record with him. This took Columbia Records by surprise but went ahead with the recording of Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and had it released in 1973. Although it was deemed a critical favorite as a poetic approach to folksy rock, the fans were not quite as enthused to buy the album as hoped. At the same time, critics compared Springsteen to Bob Dylan, who was also connected to Columbia and John Hammond.
He was also compared to Robbie Robertson and Van Morrison but Bruce Springsteen had a style that was entirely his own. He, along with the E Street Band, released another 1973 album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. This met the exact same fate as Springsteen’s debut album. However, “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” became a fan favorite in concert, as well as “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “Incident on 57th Street.”
1975 marked the year that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would finally achieve the stardom they deserved. Born to Run and its title track was Springsteen at his best as it seemed as if all the pent-up frustration was poured out on a song and album that had him let loose like never before. It was also during this time Springsteen and Jon Landau asked Steve Van Zandt to help with the album’s production as they knew he was also committed to playing and managing Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. By the time the recording was done, Steve Van Zandt became a full-time member of the E Street Band as one of its new guitar players.
The infamous guitar line featured in “Born to Run” came from Zandt. This was highlighted even further on August 13, 1975, when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed a five-night, ten-show event at The Bottom Line Club in New York. This was later regarded as one of the biggest moments that changed rock and roll as the world knew it. As an album, Born to Run peaked at number three on the US Billboard 200. As for “Born to Run,” it didn’t perform as well as hoped as it only peaked as high as number twenty-three on the US Billboard Hot 100. This ultimately became a cult classic, as did “Junglehead,” and “Thunder Road.”
The only thing that marred Springsteen’s momentum as a recording artist after Born to Run was the legal battle he had with his former manager, Mike Appel. Since he and the E Street Band were kept out of the studio for nearly a year, the group embarked on an extensive concert tour across the United States of America. This didn’t slow down the momentum, nor dwindle down the popularity of Springsteen and his bandmates at all.
After a settlement was reached with Appel in 1977, Springsteen and the E Street Band returned to the studio to record Darkness on the Edge of Town. It was released in 1978 as an album that served as a shift in direction for Bruce Springsteen’s career as a performer. This was a recording that had Springsteen begin to reveal his political and social views which would include intense and lengthy concert shows.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band made a name for themselves as one of the most influential rockers in the music industry. Even a fan base who preferred other genres couldn’t help but find themselves drawn to the raw energy that came from a group of such talented musicians. Recording artists such as Manfred Mann’s Earth Band covered Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” and turned it into a number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1977.
The Pointer Sisters took Springsteen’s “Fire” and turned it into a number two hit in 1979. Also in 1979, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took part in the two-night concert that was held at Madison Square Garden. A group of musicians banded together as the Musicians United for Save Energy as they stood in defiance against the concept and use of nuclear power. This led to No Nukes as a live album, as well as a documentary that showed Bruce Springsteen and his band in concert. This wouldn’t be the last time Bruce Springsteen would open up about his political and social views.
1980 began with Springsteen focusing on music that represented the working class. The River featured “Hungry Heart,” the first single he released that became a number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. After this, it was the 1982 release of Nebraska, a solo album that revealed a rather depressed Bruce Springsteen as he performed this album as an acoustic project. It was a different story in 1984 as Born in the U.S.A. became Bruce Springsteen’s signature album. It sold over thirty million copies worldwide. In the United States alone, it sold over fifteen million copies.
This became one of the best-selling albums of all time as it had seven singles crack into the top ten on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Born in the U.S.A.” was Bruce Springsteen’sblast against the inadequate treatment Vietnam veterans received by a government that should have treated them better. This was a subject that touched Springsteen directly as he was among the drafted who were supposed to be sent to a controversial war that had the American people deeply divided. While he stayed behind, some of his friends were sent. Among those who came back, not one was the same, a price every veteran pays when stuck in the trenches of war.
What Born in the U.S.A. represented as a song and album was the energetic defense Bruce Springsteen delivered on behalf of the working man. “Born in the U.S.A.” was so profound that it remains a favorite tune for politicians and social activists to play as part of a statement they’re trying to make. As popular as this song was, “Dancing in the Dark” became the biggest single for Springsteen as it peaked as high as number two on the US Billboard Hot 100. The music video featured a young Courtney Cox in the audience who would later dance on the stage with Springsteen as the song neared its end. This magical moment catapulted Cox’s career that would later land her a starring role on Friends, as well as the Scream horror movie series.
After the incredible run of success with Born in the U.S.A., 1987’s Tunnel of Love was a more reflective album that selectively featured the full sound of the E Street Band. This was followed by a 1988 concert in East Germany that would be documented in a 2013 Erik Kirschbaum book, Rocking the Wall. Bruce Springsteen: The Berlin Concert that Changed the World. According to Kirschbaum, Springsteen’s concert played a contributing factor to the fall of the Berlin Wall that took place in 1989. It was also in 1989 that Bruce Springsteen dissolved the E Street Band.
Three years later, after Springsteen moved to Los Angeles, California, he released Human Touch and Lucky Town as two albums with the intent to quell speculation that he was selling out by catering to Hollywood’s whims. As fate had it, Springsteen won an Academy Award in 1994 for Best Original Song for “Streets of Philadelphia,” a song that was featured in the Tom Hanks blockbuster, Philadelphia. The song’s music video borrowed the “Brilliant Disguise” technique that used a hidden microphone as Springsteen sang to a previously recorded instrumental version.
When Bruce Springsteen opted to record a few new songs for the 1995 Greatest Hits album, he recruited the E Street Band to accomplish this task. After this, he moved back to New Jersey and recorded Tracks as his next album in 1998. A year later he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. U2’s Bono did the honors while Springsteen would do the same when it was U2’s turn to be inducted in 2005.
1999 also marked the year Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were back in business as a unit again. This started with an extensive reunion tour that included fifteen shows performed in East Rutherford, New Jersey at the Continental Airlines Arena. There was also a ten-night concert run held at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. “American Skin (41 Shots)” was the controversial song Springsteen and his band performed that criticized the police for shooting Amadou Diallo.
Going into the twenty-first century, 2002 marked The Rising as Bruce Springsteen’s latest studio album. This came as a reflective album as Springsteen felt the impact of the September 11, 2001 attacks. This won over the hearts of critics and fans as “The Rising” was a fantastic “rise from the ashes” type song engineered to lift people’s spirits up. It won a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. On the music charts, “The Rising” was yet again a number-one hit for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band but on the US Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart. It was a number fifty-two hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 but it holds fast as one of Springsteen’s finest classics.
From 2005 onward, Bruce Springsteen’s growing involvement in political and social movements played a factor in the musical material he recorded and released. Sometimes he was with the E Street Band and sometimes he was on his own. What contributed to Springsteen’s stellar career as one of the greatest rock musicians of all time was his determination to keep hard drugs out of his life.
He became so focused on maintaining a healthy diet that it seemed to make it easier for him to handle the grueling schedule of touring and recording for so many years. While many recording artists seem to crash and burn after a few short years, Bruce Springsteen displayed why he rightfully earned “The Boss” as among the best two words to describe him. He was the boss of his own destiny, as well as caring so much for the working class citizen that he often sang about it. That’s what made him and the E Street Band so great.
Top 10 Bands And Artists From New Jersey article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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