Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late that month
Ralph went out looking for a job but he couldn't find none
He came home too drunk from mixing Tanqueray and wine
He got a gun, shot a night clerk, now they call him Johnny 99
Down in the part of town where when you hit a red light you don't stop
Johnny's waving his gun around and threatening 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 poor 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 any statement you'd like to make
Before the bailiff comes to forever take you away
Now judge, judge, I got debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holding my mortgage, they taking my house away
Now I ain't saying that makes me an innocent man
But it was more and 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
JOHNNY 99 is a song written by Bruce Springsteen and released on his 1982 album Nebraska. The above lyrics are for Springsteen's album version of JOHNNY 99 as released on Nebraska.
The album version of JOHNNY 99 was included on The Essential Bruce Springsteen (2015 edition) compilation album.
"The auto plant in Mahwah" is a reference to a Ford Motor Company plant in Mahwah, NJ, that opened in 1955 and closed in 1980. "Tanqueray" is a brand of gin that originated in England and is now produced in Scotland. Its largest market is North America where it is the highest selling gin import.
Though never released as a single anywhere, JOHNNY 99 garnered enough album oriented rock airplay to reach #50 on the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
Following The River Tour, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band were scheduled to start recording the next album in New York City in February 1982. Springsteen felt that the upcoming band studio sessions would progress faster than they had for his previous three albums if he first records finished demos and demonstrates them to the band. He decided to record multi-channel, professional sounding, finished demos of some songs he had written during the period.
To achieve his goal, Springsteen asked his guitar technician, Mike Batlan, in December 1981 to set up a recording facility in a spare room at his home in Colts Neck, NJ. Some modification work was done to the room making it more receptive to achieving a decent sound. Batlan purchased a Teac Tascom Series 144 4-track cassette recorder, two Shure SM57 microphones, and two microphone stands. The sound was mixed through an old Gibson Echoplex and an old Panasonic boom box acted as the mix-down deck.
Batlan told journalist David McGee, "Springsteen began organizing his work for Nebraska during the first week of December 1981 – that's when I was directed to buy the four-track... actual recording began on 17 or 18 December and ended around January 3." Some of the songs were recorded two or three times in slightly different arrangements. A cassette tape was compiled and edited at the end of the sessions, likely on 03 Jan 1982. It contained fourteen songs recorded during these late December 1981 / early January 1982 sessions plus what is almost certainly a live recording of a fifteenth song, JOHNNY BYE-BYE. It also included seven alternate takes and five alternate mixes. The first person to listen to the tape was Jon Landau. Two or three months later, Springsteen recorded two additional songs (MY FATHER'S HOUSE and THE BIG PAYBACK) at home on the same equipment – thus making a total of 17 different songs.
The solo demo tape was never conceived to result in a commercially released album, as the songs were recorded by the E Street Band with multi-instrument arrangements, during what's known by fans as the "Electric Nebraska Sessions". It should be noted that most of the songs were not recorded in "rock" arrangements. Instead, Springsteen and Max Weinberg just added light percussion, or Roy Bittan added a synth pad.
During the E Street Band sessions it became apparent to Springsteen that a majority of these songs did not lend themselves well to a full band arrangement. He later wrote in his 1998 book Songs, "I went into the studio, brought in the band, rerecorded, remixed, and succeeded in making the whole thing worse." At one point he even went back into the studio with an acoustic guitar to try and re-record the songs solo, but the result lacked the atmosphere and feeling of isolation only found on the original home demos. According to Toby Scott, Springsteen handed him the original solo demo tape in April 1982 and asked him if it was possible to just master off the tape, with the intention to release some of the songs as a solo album. It took Scott a few weeks before eventually saying yes and in May a decision was taken to release a solo album ahead of the still-in-progress E Street Band album.
Most of the E Street Band arrangements of these songs were discarded and ten of the original solo demos from the tape were released on the Nebraska album. Max Weinberg revealed to Rolling Stone in June 2010 that the recording of the "Electric Nebraska Sessions" does exist. He said that "the E Street Band actually did record all of Nebraska and it was killing [...] It was all very hard-edged. As great as it was, it wasn't what Bruce wanted to release. There is a full band Nebraska album, all of those songs are in the can somewhere."
"Open All Night" and "January 3, 1982" were considered as titles for the album, but ultimately "Nebraska" was chosen. The album was produced by Bruce Springsteen and was commercially released on 20 Sep 1982 by Columbia Records.
Nebraska features 10 new Springsteen compositions and clocks at 40:50.
The Essential Bruce Springsteen is a compilation album released on 11 Nov 2003 on Columbia Records. It's part of a series of "Essential" sets released by Sony BMG (previously Sony Music Entertainment). According to the Springsteen's liner notes comments, the collection was intended as an introduction to his music for new fans who attended shows on The Rising Tour; hence, it includes songs from every Springsteen album since his debut. The album was available as a 2-disc set (which clocks at 153:23) and as a limited edition 3-disc set (which clocks at 200:45). For the latter, the third disc contained a selection of rarities and previously unreleased recordings.
The Essential Bruce Springsteen debuted and peaked at #14 on the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart where it spent 13 weeks. The album was awarded certified gold and platinum records by the RIAA on 16 Dec 2003. The Essential Bruce Springsteen also reached #28 on the UK Albums Chart.
The Essential Bruce Springsteen was reissued on 16 Oct 2015, this time with an updated track list, compiling songs from all of Springsteen's studio albums to date and also from Greatest Hits.
JOHNNY 99 can also be found on two Bruce Springsteen promo-only samplers.
Other versions of JOHNNY 99 were also officially released.
List of available versions of JOHNNY 99 on this website:JOHNNY 99 [Album version]