Songplaces

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Miss America by Styx

Share this post

Well it's true just take a look
The cover sometimes makes the book
And the judges, do they ever ask to read between your lines Read full Lyrics
Atlantic City, New Jersey is famous for its salt water taffy, boardwalks, casinos, and the notorious Donald Trump. Recent years have found the city in a sharp decline of where it once was, its heyday being almost a century ago, with casinos closing down and crime running rampant along its streets. Incorporated in 1854, Atlantic City became the destination in the northeast as a resort town and health spa – prime real estate located between Jersey marshlands and islands.

The first boardwalk was built in 1870 along the beach for very different reasons than you might think. The primary motivation in its construction was the prevention of erosion of sand into hotel lobbies. However, because of the popularity, it continued to be expanded and extended until it reached seven miles. The city's boom began in the early part of the 20th century when developers and real estate moguls built hotels up and down the seaboard – inspiring the Parker Brothers game Monopoly. For example, two of the most distinctive hotels were the Traymore and the Marlborough-Blenheim.

In 1883, David Bradley accidentally created salt water taffy when his shop was flooded with ocean water after a major storm. He sold some of his self-named salt water taffy to a little girl who bragged about it. Bradley's own mother heard the transaction and loved the name, and apparently the taste, because salt water taffy was born and began taking on a life of its own.

Protests at the Miss America pageant in 1968
But perhaps the greatest period in the city's history began during the Prohibition era when gambling and illegal drinking regularly took place in back rooms of nightclubs and restaurants. The city barely enforced the Prohibition, growing Atlantic City's popularity and granting it the nickname The World's Playground. Maybe you've seen the HBO show, Boardwalk Empire?

Honestly, there is little left in the town worth mentioning at all. The 1950s and '60s experienced a resurgence in popularity, and eventually gambling was legalized, giving rise to the casino boom, but not much else has happened in the city worth mentioning with the exception of one other epic event that got its start in the coastal town: the Miss America Pageant. What began as a boardwalk parade of bathing-suited girls on wicker chairs in 1920 – to bring business to the area – evolved into a beauty pageant complete with a talent competition and girls being represented not just from the local area, but all 50 states. The title of Miss America wasn't officially used until 1940, and great strides have been made over the past century to modernize, update, and legitimize the practice. For example, in 1944, the prizes for the contestants changed from furs and movie contracts to college scholarships; and in 1950 the rule excluding all non-white-race women from competing was abolished.

However, as much as can be said of the good that comes out of the pageant can be said of the bad. Critics of the pageant have gone on record to say that the practice sends the wrong message to the youth of America. The beauty contest exploits women, sexualizes their bodies, and encourages ludicrous beauty standards. James Young of Styx used it as the backdrop to a song about his wife, Susie, his "Miss America." But to those who didn't know the true meaning, the song came off as parody of the pageant.

Contestants arrive in Atlantic City, 2018
Styx formed in Chicago in 1972. They became known for melding pop rock with the power of hard rock guitars; they excelled at balancing acoustic guitars and synthesizers with the harder elements. Their first hit in 1973 was the power ballad, "Lady," but it wasn't really until the later part of the decade where they broke out and achieved large commercial success. 1977's The Grand Illusion contains perhaps Styx's longest-lasting hit – thank you South Park – with "Come Sail Away" (there's a story about Tommy Shaw going around to radio station program directors and bribing them with bags of cocaine to get the songs off Grand Illusion played on the radio). At the time, "Come Sail Away" reached #8 in the US (1978), but it was the lesser-known track, "Miss America," which called many of the pageant criticisms into the light.

In "Miss America," Young sings, "We love your body in that photograph," echoing many of the complaints the pageant has faced during its existence. The lyrics of the song chastise the girl who becomes Miss America for her shallowness and her focus on the way she looks. They utilize the double meaning of the word "miss" to show the quick disappearance of the contestants. And Young finishes the song with the line, "Next year, what will you do when you have been forgotten?" He emphasizes the idea that the entire farce is fleeting and that any of the show's participants will find themselves tossed out on the street shortly when the next crop of beauties surfaces as early as the following year.

It really is a sad tale when you think about these women, who feel the pressure to look perfect in every moment, give themselves over to these pageant shows, only to be tossed aside after. Young and the other member of Styx didn't like it too much either, and it's not only obvious in the lyrics, but in the composition and instrumentation of the song. Harsh vocal stylizing and heavy guitars blanket the track with a proverbial wall of sound that smacks you in the face, like the real world that lies beyond the pageant lights.

April 25, 2019
Justin Novelli
Miss America Songfacts
Browse all Songplaces

Comments: 1

  • Scott Peebles from Winnipeg Mb. Ca.I had no idea that there was a site dedicated for both lyrics and song meanings. I was 11 years old when Styxx released The Grand Illusion. The meaning of the song was lost on me. The world is very different from an 11 year olds point of view. The fact that both Shaw, and DeYoung were taking stabs at the Miss America Pgt. never occurred to me. Now 40 years later, I understand the song, and I understand the point of the pageant objectifying women, and then casting them away the following year. I will enjoy this site, and look through my playlists for other songs I have taken for granted. Well done SONGFACTS
see more comments