Artists like Southside Johnny who have survived the music business for over forty years have had long careers defined by various changes in group personnel and songwriters. But what has always defined Southside’s music, has been that wonderful, soulful, and passionate voice. Below is a list of some of the best material Southside Johnny has recorded throughout his career. If you have never heard of the singer, well then I hope this list inspires you to check out the fabulous albums that Southside Johnny, and yes Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes have recorded over the past forty years.
Top 10 Essential Southside Johnny Songs
The first four songs on this list present some of the material from Southside’s 1980’s period. The 1980s was the decade in which Southside Johnny seemed to have experimented the most with his sound, producers, writers and band personnel. Understandably so, the singer was trying to reach the widest possible audience which he so richly deserved. However, many of his loyal fans shied away from some of the material, especially the Nile Rogers produced Trash It Up album. Nonetheless, the albums were all quite good and sadly went out of print before they ever had a chance to resonate with a much wider audience. Hope you enjoy the list. This one was fun to put together.
# 10 – New Romeo
One of the great Southside Johnny songs to be issued in the 1980’s; “New Romeo,’ appeared on the In The Heat LP. The album was issued in 1984. The song and album were produced by Billy Rush and Southside Johnny. After the experiments in dance music on 1983’s Trash It Up album, Southside Johnny returned with an album more based in pop rock music. “New Romeo,” was one of the standout tracks released on the great In the Heat album, and a great way to start out the top ten Essential Southside Johnny Songs list.
# 9 – Trash It Up
When listening to the Southside Johnny album Trash it Up from a distance widely separated from the early 1980’s era, one would question the drastic stylistic change that occurred on the album. Since the start of his career, Southside Johnny had been recording soulful rock and blues melodies infused with brill building style lyrical ideas, and a dynamic horn section backing up the great recordings that the band had made since 1976. However, in 1983 dance music had been making a comeback with the success of the film Flashdance. Michael Jackson’s Thriller album had also continued to sell on levels unheard of in the music business.
The legendary producer Nile Rogers had just scored a major hit with his production of David Bowies‘ “Let’s Dance”. So Southside turned to Nile Rogers to produce an album that would hopefully help the legendary singer find a larger audience. The album was a shock to loyal Southside Johnny fans who were not expecting Southside to change styles so dramatically. Nile Rogers signature rhythmic guitar playing is clearly evident throughout the album as so is his dance groove drum programming. So in the end, regardless of whether or not you like the song, because of the drastic left turn the singer made, the single “Trash It Up,” deserves a place on the Top 10 Essential Southside Johnny Songs list. And oh by the way, I brought the album when it first came out and played it all summer long.
# 8 – Walk Away Rene
Most singers that spend time recording new versions of already released songs look for material that is usually not well known or were at least minor hits. It’s not always the best idea to cover a song that had already been a monster hit. Have you ever heard a cover version by a major label artist of a song like “Piano Man,” or Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven?” Covering those iconic songs would just not work. So, it was a surprise at first when it was reported that Southside Johnny was covering the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Rene.” The song had been the Left Banke’s biggest hit and was a very well loved song that had become fully ingrained in popular music culture. Nonetheless, Southside Johnny had always had a great ear for picking songs to record by older artists.
Southside Johnny’s version of “Walk Away Rene,” was simply killer. Southside’s voice perfectly matched the beautiful melodic line of the song’s fabulous chorus. In the old days of AM radio and the format’s narrow frequency range, there was no room for mediocracy. Songs had to be well written and vocals had to rise above the format’s frequency bands that limited the high and low frequencies of the recorded material.
A song that had been so well loved became even more beautiful with Southside’s passionate performance. The singer juxtaposed the original beauty of the song within a new groove and vocal phrasing that made it enjoyable to listen to as if the song was brand new. Southside Johnny’s recording of the Left Bank’s “Walk Away Rene,” defined why Southside has always been one of the best interpreters of classic rock and rhythm and blues.
# 7 – Murder
The Southside Johnny song, “Murder” appeared on the singer’s 1980 release Why is Love such a Sacrifice. The album easily stands as Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ most underrated record and one of the best Southside Johnny songs of the 1980’s. The album was filled with killer tracks such as “On the Beach, Restless Heart, Love When It’s Strong and the title track Why is Love such a Sacrifice.” Either one of those songs could have been a great representation of the early 1980’s Southside Johnny songs. However, the track “Murder,” was chosen because of the long great introduction and extended solos that defined just how great the band was at the time.
The album was recorded at the height of the new wave era, yet the band seem unaffected by the stylist changes happening in the music business at that time. The track “Murder,” with its soaring chorus, blazing guitar solos, smoking hot horn section, and Southside’s astounding vocal performance easily grades as one of the top 10 Essential Southside Johnny songs.
# 6 – Talk To Me
While “Hearts of Stone,” may have been the most beautiful ballad on the same-titled LP, “Talk to Me,” was the most fun. With a groovy happening and snapping piano intro and an in-the-horn section line that raised the song to all-time all-star party status, Southside Johnny had recorded one of his all-time greats. If this song did not get you out of your seat and dancing in the aisles while Southside performed it, you might as well have just driven yourself off to the old age home. Many fans have voted this one as one of the best all-time Southside Johnny songs. I would not put up much of an argument against their claims.
# 5 – I Don’t Want to Go Home
The title track to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes debut album; the song “I Don’t Want To Go Home,” was Southside Johnny’s first hit and highest charting single to date. The first of many songs written for Southside Johnny by Bruce Springsteen, “I Don’t want to go Home,” featured the great horn section of the Asbury Jukes and was the song that introduced the world to the Southside Johnny and Asbury Jukes sound. Always loved the picture on the back of the album of Southside Johnny sitting at the bar with the shot glasses in the foreground. Perfect!
# 4 – Hearts of Stone
“Heart of Stone,” was one of the most beautiful rock and roll ballads ever written by Bruce Springsteen. It’s hard to believe that Bruce Springsteen gave “Hearts of Stone,” away to Southside Johnny to record. Many Southside Johnny fans have labelled “Heart of Stone,” as Southside Johnny’s greatest recording. Southside Johnny has recorded so many wonderful mind blowing vocals over the years, it’s hard to choose his best performance. Nonetheless, “Hearts of Stone,” stands as probably Southside Johnny’s most emotional vocal of his career.
The song “Hearts of Stone,” was released in 1978 and appeared as the third track on Southside Johnny’s third album entitled “Hearts of Stone.” The Hearts of Stone album should be easily listed as Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes greatest LP. Each track on the album was written by either Bruce Springsteen or Steven Van Zandt. The production, performances, arrangements and songwriting on the album are all hall of fame worthy. However, some songs are just too beautiful to be defined by words. Hearts of Stone is one of those songs. If you have never heard the song, sit back and take it easy, because it will leave you breathless.
# 3 – Having a Party
The essence of Southside Johnny’s persona has always derived from the years of experience performing in nightclubs. Southside Johnny’s “Having A Party,” was the ultimate 1970s/80s club party anthem that defined the raucous nightclub experience that club veterans like Southside Johnny had excelled at. Once Southside graduated from the clubs to the concert halls, songs like “Having a Party,” elevated the concert arena towards the celebratory nature of a frat house party.
The song was originally written and recorded in 1962 by Sam Cooke. It was a top 20 hit for Sam Cooke in 1962. While the Southside Johnny version did not chart as high, the song became one of Southside Johnny’s signature songs and was usually performed with the “The Fever,” as one of the bands nightly encores.
# 2 – The Fever
Written by Bruce Springsteen over 40 years ago, and recorded by Southside Johnny in 1976, “The Fever,” still stands as one of Southside’s greatest studio performances. “The Fever,” was released on Southside Johnny’s debut album, I Don’t Want to go Home. There is no other song in Southside Johnny’s catalog that portrays the essence of cool more than “The Fever,” Bruce Springsteen recorded the song himself, but it was Southside’s recording that became legendary. Having seen Southside Johnny perform numerous times over a forty-year career, it can be easily argued that the performances of “The Fever” have always received the loudest applause of the evenings.
# 1 – Without Love
In 1977, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes released their second album entitled, This Time It’s For Real. The album featured much higher production values than their debut album. The album’s credits also included a long list of guest musicians hailing from the 1950’s Do Wop Era. Well-known artists such as The Drifters, The Coasters, and The Satins all contributed to the vocal arrangements on the album. Nonetheless, the standout track on the recording was a song that did not feature any of those legendary groups. As the second song on side one, Southside Johnny’s greatest song “Without Love,” was defined by probably the greatest arrangement on record by the band.
The song “Without Love,” had originally been recorded a few years earlier in 1974 by Aretha Franklin. It can be easily said that most singers would have shied away from covering a song already recorded by one of the most soulful voices in music history. But Southside Johnny has made a career of tackling songs sung or written by the greats. However, no matter how great an arrangement of a song is written, it won’t matter much if the basic elements of melody, verse, chorus and lyrics are not exceptional. With the help of a beautiful and rare string arrangement, a spectacular horn section and one of Southside’s greatest vocal performances, “Without Love,” easily became the legendary singers’ greatest work.
Top 10 Southside Johnny Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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