There really was no reason to import Snooki or the other cast members over state lines to star in MTV's Jersey Shore. Aside from its awesome refineries, overwhelming rush-hour traffic on endless highways, high property taxes and certain residents who say "Hello" with "What the F#@@ are you looking at?," New Jersey is awash in celebrities and some mighty fine people. From Jazz studios to legendary radio stations to ridiculously expensive beachfront properties, New Jersey is more than the sum of its exits on the Garden State Parkway and Turnpike. The land has raised Jon Stewart, Meryl Streep, Artie Lange, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg and me.
Here is a list of 25 important musicians from this century, with apologies to Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Bill Evans and other well-deserving musicians, but did you really think I would drop Adrenalin O.D.?Debbie Harry (Blondie): Debs had been kicking around for years before finally making the big breakout with Blondie (unless, of course, you're a huge Wind In the Willows fan). Born in Miami, she was adopted and brought to New Jersey where she attended high school in Hawthorne and a couple of years of college in Hackettstown. Throw in a stint as a Playboy Bunny in Union City and no amount of CBGBs hanging can alter her inner Jersey.
24) The Smithereens: Pat DiNizio came from Scotch Plains, while the rest of the band came from Carteret, a town you really have to want to go to in order to find it. They wished they were from London or Liverpool. Just like the way all those young Brits wished they'd been born in Mississippi. Me? I would've preferred being born rich. To hell with geography.Naughty By Nature: Naughty by Nature were once a Grammy-Winning group from East Orange, a town New Jersey decided they could destroy by putting a huge Interstate Highway through the middle of it. It worked. By the mid 1990s, E.O. had no real shopping center and its college, Upsala, went bankrupt. Its radio station, WFMU, moved to Jersey City! There was a time when people moved out of J.C. to move to E. O. Then again, the rich folks are moving into the East Village where twenty-thirty years ago, you could've visited to get drugs or mugged. I understand E.O. now has "upscale apartments" being built. Start the cycle all over again.
22) Overkill: Overkill were once an underground metal band with punk influences. Come to think of it, 26 years later and they're still an underground metal band with punk influences. A successful band, but not one that Black Crowes fans are necessarily familiar with. And that's how you become a real success. By selling your albums to people who otherwise don't care for your kind of music.Yo La Tengo: If you'd told me in 1989 that we'd still be talking about Yo La Tengo in 2010, I would have thought you were being pretty random. They were popular in Hoboken, but that was where they were from. Their last album, 2009's Popular Songs, cracked the Billboard Album Charts, showing you just how few people sell records anymore!
20) Adrenalin O.D.: A legendary hardcore punk band from Elmwood Park and Union, NJ (meaning there was a bit of driving for this band), Adrenalin O.D. took out a huge chunk of my hearing back in 1984. They were helped along by Bedlam, whose records are also must-haves, and something called Priapism that featured my neighbor, Frank, on vocals. Other "punk" bands from The Blisters to the Skulls to Pleased Youth to Cynamid are equally notable and I'm proud to say that Electric Frankenstein continue to remove people's hearing these days.P.M. Dawn: Jersey City is now mostly gentrified with glamorous apartment buildings for people who once would never consider having a Jersey City address. You wouldn't imagine melodic, psychedelic hip-hop coming out of that town back when it was like the Wild West (or more like the Urban East). But that's the great thing about music, you can never guess! And when you do, you're often wrong.
18) The Feelies: Haledon, New Jersey! It's a sign of who's in control of the media when the New York Times runs a story about a band from thirty years ago who could barely get an inch of recognition at the time. The Bongos were among the first to play the legendary Maxwell's in Hoboken, but the Feelies were among the first to travel there to becoming underground famous. Let's give both bands credit, shall we?Looking Glass: I have to thank my physician for this one. Not only does he dispense great medical advice ("Stop doing that!"), but he's originally a Jersey Boy, too. I never knew the band that did the completely essential and remarkable "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)" were from New Brunswick. The things you can learn from your medical professionals! The immediate inclusion of this band meant there was no chance for My Chemical Romance or New Brunswick's own Thursday, since neither band has a tune as great as "Brandy."
16) The Fugees: Lauryn Hill went to my fab girlfriend's high school. Lauryn sold millions of records and won many Grammys. She landed on the cover of Time magazine, representing the future of music. Then she began to ponder the meaning of it all, as rich people are inclined to do. (The rest of us are too busy working to worry about "existence" beyond paying for food, gas, rent and candy.) She kind of disappeared and is supposedly trying to make a comeback. Just the like the world of music!Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes: Actually bumped into Southside in a little breakfast joint in Asbury Park and didn't even realize it was him until my buddy ran back in to talk to him. Johnny was considered the finest soul singer on the Jersey beach scene and would kick off Memorial Day Weekend with a NYC radio broadcast. I think his career started to suffer when he realized he had too many band members who all expected to be paid.
14) R. Stevie Moore: The Mayor of Montclair? The Bard of Bloomfield? The Uncle of Upper Montclair? Stevie wasn't raised in New Jersey, but he came to New Jersey because...he ran out of money before he got to New York? I'll just send you to his website and you can figure it out for yourself. He only has about two thousand albums he can sell you and will--for money! (www.rsteviemoore.com)Connie Francis: My old piano teacher used to have tons of pictures of Connie Francis on her wall. Not because she was a huge fan, but because she actually knew her. Wouldn't it be great if we could all have lunch with famous people and make them listen to our dreadful stories? (Who says this blog isn't helpful!)
12) Queen Latifah: So many towns try to take credit for Queen Latifah. I see Newark, Jersey City, East Orange, but I think we should Irvington something to be proud of. That's where she went to high school. And, believe me, Irvington needs all the props it can get. She once listed her favorite film as being Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders. You can totally hear it in her music.Skid Row: The weird thing about these guys is I don't ever remember seeing ads for them or any of the kind of gigs that working New Jersey bands did before they became hugely successful. And I don't remember anyone particularly caring about them the first time around. They sold millions of albums and then, after Nirvana, didn't. Sebastian Back wisely put himself back on television to remind everyone that he was still around and that maybe they should play his old songs. Don't think Trixter aren't bummed.
10) Bon Jovi: There is no denying that Bon Jovi define a certain aspect of the New Jersey experience. I leave the rest up to you.The Jonas Brothers: Millions of young people across the globe absolutely love the wholesome, fun-lovin' image and music of the Jonas Brothers, who are now in their "Beach Boys" phase. Can it only be a matter of time before one of them goes completely weird? Let's wait around and see!
8) Whitney Houston: Another great talent from East Orange, New Jersey, daughter of Cissy Houston, cousin to Dionne Warwick and godchild to Aretha Franklin. If you can't sing after all that, you've been adopted!Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons: They named themselves after a bowling alley in my hometown. I know a lot of people who used to hang out there and I think one or two of them actually bowled a game. In any event, their list of hits--"Sherry Baby," "Big Girls Don't Cry" "Dawn (Go Away)," "Rag Doll"--makes me want to gouge out my eardrums since Valli sings in a range best left for dogs! But millions love him, just like the Jonas Brothers.
6) The Misfits: Let's thank Metallica for wearing Misfits T-Shirts and making a lot of early punk rock singles collectors very rich in the process. Glenny Danzig went on to a solo career, but this is where it started. Own Walk Among Us, at least. And they're from Lodi, NJ, making that Creedence Clearwater Revival song completely obsolete!Frank Sinatra: Apparently, Frank Sinatra used to sing with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. He is clearly not rock or even R&B. I think they play him on oldies stations and I highly doubt that anyone, besides Hoboken residents, will care I put him on this list. I know my demographic. They're still trying to figure out who Adrenalin OD are. Besides, he sang that traitorous "New York, New York" tune. Thanks a lot, pal!
4) Patti Smith: Well, she's from South Jersey, but we'll count here anyway. I mean, she's practically from Philadelphia. But if only for "P*** Factory" and her debut album, Horses, if not her big hit, "Because The Night," co-written by Mr. NJ himself, Bruce Springsteen, and "Dancing Barefoot," Patti deserves to be this high on the list. Who should be higher? That Frank Sinatra guy?Dionne Warwick: Another distinguished musical talent from East Orange, Dionne Warwick was not always on the Psychic Friends Network, but the singer of fine songs, often written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. I'm sure kids today would be way more psyched to see Dionne Warwick than some exploitative publicity hound like Lady Gaga, no?
2) George Clinton: The man who defined funk came from Plainfield, New Jersey, which is not exactly the music capitol of the world. So rather than traveling the 30 minutes into New York City, he goes to Detroit! Which, in fairness, was one seriously rocking city back in the late 1960s. Nowadays, there are laws against there being "regional" scenes. You either join the cyber-community or you're nobody!Bruce Springsteen: Well, of course he's going to be number one. He called his first album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and featured a postcard on the cover. It was like Bruce was part of the New Jersey Department of Tourism before they even knew who he was. Why he sometimes speaks in an accent that sounds like he's from Oklahoma continues to baffle the locals who shop in the same supermarkets and hope they, too, will one day get a song written about them.
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