There’s a scene in Joan Micklin Silver’s 1977 film “Between the Lines” where the staff of the Boston underground newspaper the Back Bay Mainline is gathered at a press party for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
“We’re havin’ a party!” Johnny Lyon proclaims. “Everybody’s swingin’!”
He quotes an old Sam Cooke song that the Jukes adopted as a reliable part of their repertoire. “Keep those records playing.” Don’t stop the music. Out on the dance floor, Max Arloft (Jeff Goldblum), the Mainline’s rock critic, is having a blast, flanked by fun-loving girls.
That’s what an Asbury Jukes late show, like the ones I caught at the Bottom Line in ’76 and ’77, felt like, a whirlwind of motion and momentum, a celebration of this exact moment, captured and suspended.
The movie ends with Goldblum cadging drinks at a bar, and under the credits, we hear “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” the title song from the Jukes’ debut album, the song that announced their intent, and summed them up. They’re the band you want to be on stage when you’re in no mood to wrap things up for the night, either because you’re just having too much damned fun, or you don’t want to face the silence and be alone with your own thoughts. Hidden inside the song is doubt: “Whatever happened to you and I?” Johnny wants to know. He doesn’t want to go home. No one is waiting for him there, and he’s dreading last call.
Though no one would have called them innovators — their amalgam of rock, blues and soul was pretty standard — they came with a couple of advantages.
You can, as many have, call Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes a bar band. A useful and noble thing to be. By the time of their debut album in 1976, they had put in their Gladwellian hours and then some on the Jersey Shore, and Lyon was on the circuit in bands with Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt, playing clubs like the Upstage and the Stone Pony. Though no one would have called them innovators — their amalgam of rock, blues and soul was pretty standard — they came with a couple of advantages.
One was the emergence of Springsteen, who managed to make Asbury Park a hip place to have honed one’s musical craft, and who always had a stash of unreleased songs filed somewhere. Two, in Van Zandt they had a producer-songwriter-auteur with a clear and defined sense of what he wanted rock to embody. He was there to preserve, protect and defend an idea. Rock with scope, emotion, a connection to the music he loved, a sense of male camaraderie (his first album with his Disciples of Soul is called “Men Without Women”). Part J. Geils Band, part Electric Flag, with a dash of Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders. Horn fanfares announcing: listen to this.
It worked splendidly on the first three Jukes albums, “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” “This Time It’s for Real” and “Hearts of Stone.” There were sweeping, cinematic songs like “Love on the Wrong Side of Town,” “This Time Baby’s Gone for Good” and “Some Things Just Don’t Change.” They brought along Lee Dorsey and Ronnie Spector on the debut, and the Drifters, Coasters and (Five) Satins on the second LP. And though the rest of their recording career was spottier (apart from “Better Days,” from 1991, which found Springsteen and Van Zandt back in the fold), a Jukes show has never been anything but a rousing good time.
One of those concerts, from 2002 at the Opera House in Newcastle, is vividly captured on “From Southside to Tyneside.” It covers a lot of territory in 95 minutes: “Without Love,” the Aretha Franklin song they did on their debut; the title songs from their ’70s Van Zandt trilogy of albums; songs by Goffin & King (“No Easy Way Down”) and Tom Waits (“Gin-Soaked Boy”); bits of “Pipeline” and “Sleepwalk” channeled by guitarist Bobby Bandiera. And it ends with “Hearts of Stone,” one of the songs Springsteen gave away.
“This is the last dance, the last chance…,” Southside Johnny sings, sending his Newcastle fans into the night.