Jersey Music and Down the Shore: Perfect Together

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Carousel at Wildwood. Credit: Andrea Lyn Van Benschoten

As it is now Memorial Day Weekend and many of us head down the shore, we often can’t help but think of our youth. Our first car, driving down after prom, windows open, and music blasting.

We have great pride in this state; especially pride for our music. Whether you come from the era of Connie Francis (from my hometown of Belleville), The Four Seasons (from the city of my birth, Newark), Frank Sinatra, Bon Jovi, South Side Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, or The Boss, just like everything else, if you live in Jersey, you have strong opinions about our music.

There is a special sound that comes from Jersey music. As soon as you hear it, you know it is must be a Jersey Guy. But what makes that “Jersey Sound?”

One word: Calliope.

What? Let me explain.

When you go down the shore, you may not head to the rides like The Scrambler anymore, but we all look forward to a ride on the merry-go-round. No matter your age, we all turn into little kids when we head to that special ride that has been on the boardwalk for generations. That unique music mixed with pipe organ and bass drum is one of those happy memories we think about in January when the temperature is in the single digits and the snow is above your knee. While the correct name for the instrument that provides that music is the band organ, most people refer to it as the Calliope.

Now with that in mind, listen to the last minute of Springsteen’s Jungleland or the first 30 seconds of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, thanks to Roy Bittan. Hear that right hand? That’s the homage to that wonderfully unique sound of the calliope. Add to that Danny Federici’s organ, glockenspiel, and accordion playing, and you have what is known as “that Jersey Sound.”

You can hear this same sound when you listen to Love on the Wrong Side of Town by South Side Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. By the way another Jersey favorite son, Jon Bon Jovi also gigged with the great Southside Johnny.

Many will argue that the prominent use of a horn section is a big part of what makes up that unique sound, and they would be correct. After all, what is The E Street Band without Clarence Clemons? And the use of trumpets hitting the high notes in Southside’s band is a mainstay of his band. But that piano and organ combo is what makes up that special sound.

So as the weather gets warm and we all head down the shore, windows down, wind in our hair, remembering our youth and blast our favorite Jersey music, you can thank the carousels of our childhood for that special music that sets us apart from the rest of the country.

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