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Songs Of The Occupation: Johnny 99

Debts no honest man could pay.

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Song: "Johnny 99"

Artist: Bruce Springsteen

Recorded: January 3, 1982

Released: September 30, 1982

Length: 3:44

Album:Nebraska

Wikipedia: Like several other songs on the Nebraska album, "Johnny 99" is a song about complete despair. It has direct links with certain songs on Nebraska: the protagonist in "Johnny 99" notes that he has "debts no honest man could pay," repeating a line used by the protagonist in "Atlantic City", and, like the title song, "Johnny 99" is about a murderer - though rather than being a psychopath like the protagonist in the title song, "Johnny 99" is motivated by his economic circumstances.

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The background of the song is based on a real life incident, the closing in 1980 of a Ford Motor Company plant in Mahwah, which had been open since 1955. The song also has antecedents in two folk songs that appeared on the box set Anthology of American Folk Music: Julius Daniels' "99 Year Blues" and Carter Family's "John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man."

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During a September 22, 1984 Born in the U.S.A. Tour concert in Pittsburgh, Springsteen used the introduction to "Johnny 99" to respond to President Reagan referencing the message of hope in Bruce Springsteen's songs, stating "The President was mentioning my name the other day, and I kinda got to wondering what his favorite album musta been. I don't think it was the Nebraska album. I don't think he's been listening to this one."

Songfacts: Springsteen recorded this as a 4-track demo in his home. He put his vocals and guitar on the first two tracks, and used the remaining two for overdubs.

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The judge who sentences Johnny 99 is named "John Brown," which is also the name of the sheriff in Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sheriff." Bob Dylan also has a song called "John Brown," about a man who goes to war and comes back wounded.

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Since Springsteen did not tour to support the album Nebraska, the first time he played this in concert was on the Born In The U.S.A. tour two years later.

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Covers: In 2000, Los Lobos performed this on Badlands, a tribute album of songs from the album Nebraska.

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Punk rock band The Loved Ones covered the song on their Distractions EP.

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Johnny Cash covered "Johnny 99" and Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman" for a record he titled Johnny 99.

Lyrics:

Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late that month
Ralph went out lookin' for a job but he couldn't find none
He came home too drunk from mixin' Tanqueray and wine
He got a gun shot a night clerk now they call'm Johnny 99

Down in the part of town where when you hit a red light you don't stop
Johnny's wavin' his gun around and threatenin' to blow his top
When an off-duty cop snuck up on him from behind
Out in front of the Club Tip Top they slapped the cuffs on Johnny 99

Well the city supplied a public defender but the judge was Mean John Brown
He came into the courtroom and stared young Johnny down
Well the evidence is clear gonna let the sentence son fit the crime
Prison for 98 and a year and we'll call it even Johnny 99

A fistfight broke out in the courtroom they had to drag Johnny's girl away
His mama stood up and shouted "Judge don't take my boy this way"
Well son you got a statement you'd like to make
Before the bailiff comes to forever take you away

Now judge judge I had debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holdin' my mortgage and they was takin' my house away
Now I ain't sayin' that makes me an innocent man
But it was more 'n all this that put that gun in my hand

Well your honor I do believe I'd be better off dead
And if you can take a man's life for the thoughts that's in his head
Then won't you sit back in that chair and think it over judge one more time
And let 'em shave off my hair and put me on that execution line

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The original:

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Born in the USA tour:

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Rocking it out, Hyde Park, London: June 28, 2009:

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Los Lobos:

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The Loved Ones:

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Johnny Cash:

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See also:
* Songs of the Occupation: To Have And To Have Not

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* Song of the Moment: Anarchy in the U.K.
* Song of the Moment: Ballad of a Thin Man

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And From The Beachwood Occupation Affairs Desk:
* Occupy Chicago. Occupy The Nation.

* The Week in Occupy Chicago

* Occupy America

* We've Got The Guillotine!

* Occupying The Hyatt; Trashing Bank Of America

* Why No One Believes The Banks

* Occupy CNN

* RT's Superior Cable News Coverage Continues With Its 'Occupy Wall Street' Reportage

* The Weekend in Occupy Chicago (October 17, 2011)

* Just How Much Can the State Restrict Peaceful Protest

* Blue Ribbon Glee Club Joins The Occupation

* The Week in Occupy Chicago (Oct. 21, 2011)

* The Weekend in Occupy Chicago (Oct. 24, 2011)

* Jimmy Fallon (& Friends) For The 1%

* Today In Occupy Chicago (Oct. 26, 2011)

* Occupation Diary: The Horse, Keith Sweat And Cell 72

* The Week in Occupy Chicago (Oct. 28, 2011)

* Wall Street to Occupy Chicago: Drop Dead

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Comments welcome.



Permalink

Posted on November 1, 2011


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