JOHNNY 99

Album version


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


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Info

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 in 1982.

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.

Studio Recording

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Nebraska

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.

The four-track cassette recorder that Bruce Springsteen used to record his famous Nebraska demo tape of January 1982
The four-track cassette recorder that Bruce Springsteen used to record his famous Nebraska demo tape of January 1982

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.

  1. NEBRASKA (released on Nebraska)
  2. ATLANTIC CITY (released on Nebraska)
  3. MANSION ON THE HILL (released on Nebraska)
  4. BORN IN THE U.S.A. (released on Tracks)
  5. JOHNNY 99 (released on Nebraska)
  6. DOWNBOUND TRAIN (unreleased)
  7. LOSIN' KIND (unreleased)
  8. STATE TROOPER (released on Nebraska)
  9. USED CARS (released on Nebraska)
  10. OPEN ALL NIGHT (released on Nebraska)
  11. PINK CADILLAC (unreleased)
  12. HIGHWAY PATROLMAN (released on Nebraska)
  13. REASON TO BELIEVE (released on Nebraska)
  14. CHILD BRIDE (unreleased)
  15. MY FATHER'S HOUSE (released on Nebraska)
  16. THE BIG PAYBACK (released as a B-side)
  17. JOHNNY BYE-BYE (unreleased live version)

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.

Bruce Springsteen -- Nebraska
Bruce Springsteen -- Nebraska

Nebraska features 10 new Springsteen compositions and clocks at 40:50.

The Essential Bruce Springsteen

The Essential Bruce Springsteen is a compilation album released as part of Sony BMG'S (previously Sony Music Entertainment) series of "Essential" sets. According to 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.

The collection is fundamentally a 2-disc set (clocking at 153:37) compiling songs from all of Springsteen's studio albums to date plus his Live In New York City release. A 3-disc limited edition (clocking at 201:04) was also released. It includes a bonus third disc comprising of a selection of rarities and previously unreleased recordings.

The Essential Bruce Springsteen was released on 11 Nov 2003 on Columbia Records. It debuted and peaked at #14 on the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart where it spent 13 weeks. It also reached #28 on the UK Albums Chart. The album was awarded certified gold and platinum records by the RIAA on 16 Dec 2003.

Bruce Springsteen -- The Essential Bruce Springsteen (2003 edition)
Bruce Springsteen -- The Essential Bruce Springsteen (2003 edition)

The Essential Bruce Springsteen was reissued on 16 Oct 2015, this time as a 2-disc set (clocking at 156:25) with an updated track list, compiling songs from all of Springsteen's studio albums to date plus his Greatest Hits (1995 edition) collection. This 2015 reissue features remastered tracks not found in that form on other Springsteen releases.

Bruce Springsteen -- The Essential Bruce Springsteen (2015 edition)
Bruce Springsteen -- The Essential Bruce Springsteen (2015 edition)

Other Official Releases

JOHNNY 99 can also be found on two Bruce Springsteen promo-only samplers.

Bruce Springsteen -- The Future Of Rock'n'Roll / 70's To 80's
Bruce Springsteen -- The Future Of Rock'n'Roll / 70's To 80's

2-CD – CBS/Sony (XADP 90009~10) – Japan, 1988

Japan-only promotional 2-CD set sampler compiling 28 tracks from Springsteen's first nine albums plus two 1988 live B-sides.
Bruce Springsteen -- Bruce Springsteen Sampler
Bruce Springsteen -- Bruce Springsteen Sampler

CD – Columbia (CDNK 677) – Canada, 1992

Canada-only promotional CD sampler compiling 10 tracks from Springsteen's albums up to 1987, plus the 1988 acoustic live version of BORN TO RUN. Comes in a plain white die-cut cardboard sleeve.

Other versions of JOHNNY 99 were also officially released.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band -- Brendan Byrne Arena, New Jersey 1984
The live 05 Aug 1984 version of JOHNNY 99 was released on the Brendan Byrne Arena, New Jersey 1984 official live download in 2015.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band -- Live/1975-85
The live 19 Aug 1985 version of JOHNNY 99 was released on the Live/1975-85 box set in 1986.
Bruce Springsteen With The Sessions Band -- Bruce Springsteen With The Sessions Band PBS Exclusive
The live 18 Nov 2006 version of JOHNNY 99 was released on the Bruce Springsteen With The Sessions Band PBS Exclusive EP in 2007.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band -- London Calling: Live In Hyde Park
The live 28 Jun 2009 version of JOHNNY 99 was released on the London Calling: Live In Hyde Park home video in 2010.

Live History

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Covers

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Various artists -- One Step Up / Two Steps Back: The Songs Of Bruce Springsteen
Various artists -- One Step Up / Two Steps Back: The Songs Of Bruce Springsteen

2xCD - The Right Stuff (7243 8 59780 2 9) - USA, 1997
2xCD - EMI (TOCP-50377/8) - Japan, 1997

This is a various artists Bruce Springsteen tribute album. JOHNNY 99 is performed by John Hiatt.
Various artists -- Badlands - A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska
Various artists -- Badlands - A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska

CD - Sub Pop (SPCD 525) - USA, 2000
CD - Sub Pop (9878-70525-2) - Germany, 2000
CD - Sub Pop (WPCR-10845) - Japan, 2000

This is a various artists Bruce Springsteen tribute album. JOHNNY 99 is performed by Los Lobos.
Various artists -- Light Of Day: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen
Various artists -- Light Of Day: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen

2xCD - Schoolhouse Records (SHR0022-2) - USA, 2003
3xCD - Good Sounds (DM 797-02) - Spain, 2003
2xCD - Good Sounds (DM 797E-02) - Spain, 2003
2xCD - Revolver (REV XD244) - UK, 2004
2xCD - Sony (MHCP-928/9) - Japan, 2005
2xCD - Sony Records (MHCO 928-929) - Japan, 2007

This is a Bruce Springsteen tribute album. There are six issues of this album (with three track configurations) and this track was included on all six issues listed above. JOHNNY 99 is performed by The Mystic Knights Of The Sea.
The Bruceband -- Nebraska Electric
The Bruceband -- Nebraska Electric

CD - Stemra (88690-2) - Holland, 2008

This is a Bruce Springsteen tribute album.
1000 Mile Highway -- Long, Straight And Live
1000 Mile Highway -- Long, Straight And Live

CD EP - no label (no catalog number) - UK, 2009

This is a 5-track EP recorded live in July 2009 at Cornbury Music Festival in the UK. Includes two Bruce Springsteen covers: JOHNNY 99 and AMERICAN LAND.
Various artists -- Play Some Pool, Skip Some School, Act Real Cool: A Global Pop Tribute To Bruce Springsteen
Various artists -- Play Some Pool, Skip Some School, Act Real Cool: A Global Pop Tribute To Bruce Springsteen

2xCD - Where It's At Is Where You Are (WIACD20) - UK, 2009

This is a Bruce Springsteen tribute album. JOHNNY 99 is performed by One Milky Wimp.
The Wild Magnolia Mariachis -- Boogie Indians
The Wild Magnolia Mariachis -- Boogie Indians

CD - NOTNOWMOM! (LC 11335) - Germany, 2014

Includes two Bruce Springsteen covers: JOHNNY 99 and FROM SMALL THINGS (BIG THINGS ONE DAY COME).

Available Versions

List of available versions of JOHNNY 99 on this website:

JOHNNY 99 [Album version]
JOHNNY 99 [Home demo version 1]
JOHNNY 99 [Home demo version 2]
JOHNNY 99 [Live 21 Sep 1984 version]
JOHNNY 99 [Live 19 Aug 1985 version]
JOHNNY 99 [Live 18 Nov 2006 version]
JOHNNY 99 [Live 28 Jun 2009 version]
JOHNNY 99 [Live 21 Sep 2009 version]
JOHNNY 99 [Johnny Cash's cover version]

Page last updated: 10 Jan 2016