When Tom Waits sang ‘Jersey Girl’ with Bruce Springsteen in 1981
Despite being two of the great legends of Americana, Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen have only shared the stage together on one occasion in their illustrious careers. That moment arrived when they linked up in 1981 for a gorgeous duet of ‘Jersey Girl’.
The track in question originally appeared on the 1980 album Heartattack and Vine, with the song being a love letter to Waits’ future wife Kathleen Brennan who had been living out of New Jersey at the time. Kathleen had entered into Waits’ life during what was nothing short of a difficult period for the musician who, at that time, was in the process of getting over a turbulent relationship with Rickie Lee Jones when Brennan offered him a sense of tranquillity.
From the first time that Springsteen heard the track, it instantly resonated with him. The Boss believing that the character in the song could be a grown-up version of the protagonist from his earlier tracks ‘Sandy’ and ‘Rosalita’ who has now an adult that has found the Jersey Girl.
Springsteen would play the song on many occasions but he added another layer to the tale in the track by including an extra verse. In his version, the woman is a tired single mother that needs to drop her young child off at her mother’s house before they can go out for an evening dancing together. It features the line “put your makeup on” which would, of course, go on to later appear on ‘Atlantic City’, which could be interpreted as being the follow up to ‘Jersey Girl’.
The New Jersey-born singer also changed Waits’ lyric “whores out on 8th Avenue” to “the girls out on the avenue”. Springsteen would eventually release his version of the track this as the B-side of ‘Cover Me”‘in 1984. Two years later, he used the same version, taken from a show at The Meadowlands, on his boxed set Live 1975-1985 and remains one of the few cover songs that Springsteen has ever released.
The two iconic figures would only perform the song on one occasion together which was when Springsteen came to Los Angeles in 1981 which, unfortunately, there is no footage of. However, thankfully there is a wonderous bootleg version of that catches this historic moment.
Springsteen welcomed his very special guest by saying: “There’s a guy that’s written a lot of great songs like ‘Ol’ 55,’ ‘Heart of Saturday Night’ and this song,” he 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.”
Take a few minutes out and listen to this incredible meeting of minds, below.