Atlantic City is a very poor city in New Jersey where gambling is legal. When casinos were built there in the early '80s, it was supposed to revitalize the city. The casinos made it a popular tourist destination, but the city itself continues to be very run-down. There is a stark contrast between the glamorous casinos on the boardwalk and the city itself.
Atlantic City is also a haven for organized crime, and it's implied that the narrator, who struggles with his finances and ruminates on the inevitability of death, as taken a job as a hit man.
This was the first Springsteen song to be made into a video (unless you count live performance clips), but Bruce does not appear in it. Springsteen had no interest in making concept videos, but an executive at his label, Columbia Records, named Arnold Levine knew that Bruce could benefit from exposure on MTV and put together the clip using footage of Atlantic City. MTV was based in New York and run by radio veterans who were big fans of Springsteen, so the video got some airplay on the network, which was trying to stick to a Rock format in 1982.
This is the only track from Nebraska included on Springsteen's Greatest Hits album.
The title and many of the images are shared with a 1981 Louis Malle movie starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon.
Springsteen recorded this as a demo on a 4-track tape recorder in his house. After trying it with the band, he decided this and the other songs that would make up Nebraska sounded best as he originally recorded them.
The version on the album is acoustic, but the plugged-in live version is a concert favorite.
Other songs Springsteen wrote about his home state of New Jersey towns include "Freehold" and "Fourth Of July, Asbury Park." He is wildly popular there.
This was released as a single in Europe, but not the US.
Springsteen recorded 3 takes, each with slightly different lyrics, on the tape he gave his manager which became Nebraska.
The first line, "They blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night," was taken from a newspaper article about a mob hit in Atlantic City. The "Chicken Man" was Phil Testa, number two man in the Philadelphia Mob under Angelo Bruno. After Bruno was murdered in his car, Testa was blown up by a bomb placed under his front porch. These hits were orchestrated by Nicky Scarfo, who took over the Philly boys so he could control the new Atlantic City gambling rackets. He made such a mess of things that he and most of his crew were either murdered or incarcerated within a few years. (thanks, Paul - Elmira, NY)
Since Springsteen did not tour for Nebraska, the first time this was played in concert was on the Born In The U.S.A. tour 2 years later.
When Bruce Springsteen toured with The Seeger Sessions Band in 2006, they played a drastically different arrangement of this song with multiple outros. This can be heard on the 2007 album Live in Dublin. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)