Web exclusive: The Band revitalizes a classic

Atlantic City, NJ Looking West (toward Borgata) from the top of Atlantic City Housing Authority tower, April 8, 2007- Photo by Giants135 via Wikimedia

In a song covered by countless artists, there is only one version that needs to be heard. The upbeat tempo will make you tap your foot and clap your hands for five straight minutes.

     “Atlantic City,’ covered by The Band on their 1993 album Jericho is far and away the best version of this song. Other artists to cover this song are John Andersen and Riley Green, both well-known country artists.

     Most notably, however, is the man who first recorded the song. Bruce Springsteen first introduced us to “ Atlantic City” on his Album Nebraska (1982). His original take on this song is much different than subsequent covers. His naturally low and grumbly voice gives off a sad and somber feel. The first line of the song goes, “ Well, they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night,” which gives you a feeling that this isn’t going to be a song you get up and dance to.

Bruce Springsteen plays harmonica and guitar during his set for The Concert for Valor in Washington, D.C. Nov. 11, 2014 – photo by EJ Hersom via Wikimedia

     The lyrics about struggling in a poor city and taking immoral jobs match the only two instruments in this song, the acoustic guitar and the harmonica. Even though the guitar is overshadowed by Springsteen’s voice, it still plays a prominent role.

     The harmonica, on the other hand, plays an important role in the song. After the lyrics “ Meet me tonight in Atlantic City” a harmonica solo follows, giving off a 1930s hobo feel. It makes you think about someone who is down and out on their luck.

Photo of The Band from Billboard for an ad of their upcoming single “Time To Kill” / “The Shape I’m In”, November 28, 1970 – Photo by Elliot Landy via Wikimedia

     When The Band covers it, it is a summer day in July and you’re driving down to the shore. You want to roll down the windows and sing at the top of your lungs.

     The lyrics are no different but instead of listening to a low, sad voice, lead singers Rick Danko and Levon Helm show some excitement. They make you forget about the story that the lyrics are trying to tell, and instead, produce a song that makes you excited to go down the shore or do just about anything.

All the lyrics get thrown out of the window when Garth Hudson goes to town on the accordion

     The Band removes Springsteen’s harmonica and adds an accordion. Now after the chorus, there is an accordion solo, that once again makes you feel like there is no way this could be a sad song. All the lyrics get thrown out of the window when Garth Hudson goes to town on the accordion. He turns this into a feel-good song in a matter of seconds which is truly remarkable considering how Springsteen branded this song originally.

     Usually, covers of songs get no recognition and get put to the back burner. With their cover of “Atlantic City”, The Band has broken that trend and created a musical masterpiece that brings the people to their feet when it comes on. You can say what you want about Springsteen’s version, but when you’re on your way to the shore after a long week of work, “Atlantic City” by The Band makes you forget about your troubles and puts you in a terrific mood.

“Atlantic City” by The Band from their Album Jericho (1993) via Youtube

Author: Ben Murphy '20

Ben Murphy '20 is a student in the journalism seminar. He enjoys finding the opinions of the Haverford community and finding a way for everyone to hear them. In addition to writing, Murphy is a captain of the football team, a defenseman for the lacrosse team, and a member of the Character Mentorship Program.