Tom Waits wrote Jersey Girl as a love letter for his wife-to-be, Kathleen Brennan, a onetime Garden State resident. Fittingly, it’s one of his most warmhearted songs, built around a Brill Building-type melody and a lush musical arrangement, and distinguished by Waits’ charbroiled yet uncharacteristically sweet 'sha-la-las'.
When Bruce Springsteen introduced the song during the opening of the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1981, he remained mostly faithful to Waits' original (although the E Street Band, a mini orchestra, added a vaguely Spector-ish flourish), but he changed a few lines around ("whores on Eighth Avenue" became "the girls out on the avenue") and added a final verse of his own.
What’s striking about his interpretation, recorded on the final night of a six-night stand, is how Springsteen finds pockets of sensuality, intimacy and even humour, talking about taking "that little brat of yours and drop[ping] her off at your mom's".
Bootlegs of Springsteen’s recording made the rounds and were played on radio stations until finally, in 1984, it was released as the B-side of Cover Me. By then, it had already become New Jersey’s No. 2 unofficial anthem, right behind Born To Run