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 three 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.
Suggestion credit: 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 two 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.
Steve from Sydney, AustraliaThe lyrics attached to the site vary somewhat from those on the Nebraska album which include, for example, "debts no honest man can pay" ("honest man" appears in what appear to be The Boss's handwritten lyrics in Bruce Springsteen Songs, Virgin Publications), which alters the role of the singer. The song takes in the immediate aftermath of Testa's assassination "last night" at a time when sides are forming. The singer's (and partner's?) relationship described as "our love may be cold" indicates an unwillingness to separate, perhaps reflective of a Catholic marriage. The singer has been recruited as a foot soldier on one side with the promise of eventually being sent on to Nevada where, in an earlier time, the desert sands were turned into gold by the mafia and where the nights get cold. In an implied conversation the partner tries to talk him out of it, wanting to get away while they can but he is desperate to come out a "winner" for once in his life. His marriage has failed, his honest work prospects have failed; even his savings are gone--and he's now gambling with the only thing left to hin: his life.
Barry from Sauquoit, Ny"Well, they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Testa
Brad from Lexington, KyThe "everything dies" chorus refers to the singer telling his wife his fear that he might not survive now that he has taken a job in the mafia. But he hopes "maybe everything that dies someday comes back".
Tim from Raleigh, NcBruce loves to write songs about small-time grifters, like "Atlantic City", "Meeting Across the River" and "Straight Time".
Matt from Boston, MaThe Best line in the song is "Down here its just winners and losers and I dont wanna get caught on the wrong side of that line"
Anthony from West Chester, Palyrics are haunting.....sorry steve from cali not an uplifting song......it describes how he and his lover have hit rock bottom with their love and financially("Well our luck may have died and our love may be cold, but with you forever I'll stay.") and think are goin to a better place ("goin out where sands turnin to gold.") but then he gets there and realizes it's not much better if not worse("I gotta job, but down here it's hard to find. Down here it's just winners and losers and don't get caught on the wrong side of that line. Well I'm tired of comin out on that losin end.....")He gets involved in organized crime and things are all down hill (the "favor").
Gene from San Diego, CaThis is the only acoustic solo song he's done that I like, the others like Devils and Dust and Ghost of Tom Joad sound to country. This is one awesome song, though.
Kim from Holbaek, DenmarkThis site has been a great help! I found it because I wanted to know who "the chiken man in Philly" was - now I know. Reading all your comments made me listen to the song and reading the lyrics over and over again. My personal view is, that the "favor" is in fact a hit job, and he is feeling bad about having to do it - but it is the only way out of his financial problems. He is felling bad about it "But maybe everything that dies someday comes back" - he is trying to forgive himself for what he is about to do....
Tom from Long Island, NyI'm working on covering the dublin version, coz it is so good, but Steve in Chino Hills is missing something. Maybe too much california sun? The song is about him and his girl "meeting in Atlantic City" ("meet me tonight", "two tickets on the coast city bus") the coast city is Atlantic City... but while he's there, he's gotta take car of a little business, it could be a hit, running numbers, picking up a bag... But I def agree, it is a love song, to his baby that he has to do some things (the favor) to get back on top, so they can "make it". I don't think "what" the favor is, is important, fact is it's def illegal, and he's got to do and she has to deal with. I've been there, on the beach, beneath the boardwalk and looked up at the hotels and that is where the sands turn to gold... hellooo? I also think "Everything Dies" refers to many things.. love, their relationship (Now our luck may have died and our love may be cold) The Jersey Shore itself... and the fact that Atlantic city itself was supposed to revitalize The Shore and in fact, did not and only contributed to corruption that is rampant in The Garden State. It's all metaphors , my friends.. remember who's the Boss and why. coz he takes us to those places, but alays leads us out :-) TW; LI, NY
Fred from Magnolia, DePhil Testa was blown up in Philly not AC. The casinos where opened in 78 not the 80's!
Jared from New York, NyI always thought the "favor" is to collect some debt, vandalize some property or kill someone.
Matt from New York, NyJon in London has it right. Dare I say the definitive version of this song is The Band's version? The Band does for "Atlantic City" what the Byrds did with "Mr. Tambourine Man."
Oren from Toronto, CanadaI don't know why everyone's is sh@tting around, this is the finest springsteen I have heard from the opning chord to the hamonica, no one can replicate it, period.
Eric from Milltown, Inhank williams III did a great version of it on his "Lovesick, Broke, and Driftin" album. he gave it a real country feel to it. good song, better songwriter.
Rob from Vancouver, CanadaI lived in AC in the mid 80's. What a Sh@#hole.
Rick from ManchesterSpringsteen at his finest. I particularly love the 3rd verse, (yeah the soppy romantic bit)
"Now our luck may have died and our love may be cold But with you forever I'll stay We're goin' out where the sand's turnin' to gold Put on your stockin's baby, 'cause the night's getting cold"
Dane from Honolulu, Hiit threw me off when he screws up the last chorus.
Jon from London, Englandtry listening to the fantastic cover version done by The Band on their album Jericho.
Dave from Brisbane, AustraliaMan I dont think Springsteen got any better than Nebraska, We used to work on our cars late at night in the garage and my mate used to loop this album, brings back many memories, Great song great album
Fred from Abilene, TxI don't know, Steve, about the hopeful nature of "Atlantic City." I don't think he's planning to gamble; he's "got debts no honest man can pay" (like Johnny 99). Ask some of Jay's students--the "favor" is a hit. "Everything dies, baby, that's a fact...." If you're looking for uplifting songs, look somewhere else rather than the _Nebraska_ album.
Jay from Nyc, NyAtlantic City is among Bruce's top ten songs. I teach a sixth-grade writing class and as an assignment give them the lyrics and ask them what they think the 'favor' in the song is. "Nebraska is a voyage into the unconscious of America. And "Antlantic City" is its most haunting song. A masterpiece for the ages.
Dean from Danbury, CtOne of the best Bruce songs ever, watch the video and see if it doesnt make you think of the 80s..... damn, I love it.....
Steve from Chino Hills, CaThe concept of the downtrodden doing a change of geography is nothing new to Bruce Springsteen songs. He implies in songs like The River, Atlantic City, and The Promised Land that central characters are held victim to their socio-economic surroundings. In the song "Downbound Train" the character gets laid off from the lumber yard, loses his his love, and suffer with the memories of their relationship as we leave him working at a car wash where all it ever does is rain. I found Atlantic City to be a more uplifting song, and a more romantic song because the character realizes that he's in over his head, but makes a commitement to stay with his true love. He has a last ditch effort plan, which is to gamble what little money he has in Atlantic City in hopes to move out west where the sands are turning to gold.