BY JOEY SWEENEY
I want to be as level-headed about this as a Philadelphian/lifelong lover of the shore can be. But it will not be easy. There will be feelings, I know — feelings I did take into account when writing the headline above. It was not clickbait. I really do mean it and believe myself when I say that we need a better Shore song than “Wildwood Days because “Wildwood Days” is garbage. We do, and it is. But perhaps we should first avail ourselves of some context: In April of 2013, the Cape May County Herald, in a piece about the 50th (!) anniversary of Bobby Rydell releasing the song, they said it better than I ever could:
An essential element of Jersey Shore lore, as well as rock music history, Bobby Rydell is to Wildwood what Bruce Springsteen is to Asbury Park.
This is irrefutable fact. And so too is it fact that it is every singer’s deepest desire to be separated from the song. Nobody wants to be known for that one song, which is why “one hit wonder” is a decidedly pejorative term — shade is implicit in its construction. Bearing this mind, I come not to bury Bobby Rydell, whose new tell-all book makes it clear that he’s ready to be re-appraised as a singer of multiple songs, and who has honored people’s love for this tune since it was released on the legendary Philly label Cameo-Parkway in 1963. I come to liberate him from the tyranny of “Wildwood Days.” I come to liberate us all from it, and demand better. For all of us.
You see, what we need to look at is that quote from the Herald above, and the song itself, and see how they do not match up: “Bobby Rydell is to Wildwood what Bruce Springsteen is to Asbury Park.” Well, if that’s the case, I think Bobby himself would tell you he would have gone for a more ambitious tune if that was the bar he was going to be held to. Because let’s A/B the comparison: Take, say, Springsteen's “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” (one of a whole canon of Bruce beach songs) versus “Wildwood Days.” One of these is laden with deeply evocative poetry, as evocative of the American working-class beachgoing experience as has ever been written. The other is a rudimentary, doo-wop cast off that has a pitiful rhyme scheme and could be about anything or anywhere else, really, if you merely swapped out the word “Wildwood” and put in something else. Does this speak to your experience of Wildwood or the South Jersey shore towns we love? Is Asbury Park so much more amazing than Wildwood that its song representation should rightfully dwarf its cousin to the south? No, and no. Meanwhile, "Wildwood Nights" could have just as easily been “Conshohocken Nights.” The closest it comes to poetry is by accident, in the phrase “party lights.” Always liked that bit.
But overall? It’s shite. It says nothing of the Jersey Shore I know and not even very much about Wildwood, particularly. And if you’ve ever been to Wildwood, you know that there is a helluva lot to say about Wildwood. Why wasn’t Bobby paying more attention? He was a kid, he didn’t know what life would have in store, who knows, but leave the man alone: He’s had to carry this tune for over half a century now. Leave him be. And, truly, fuck “Wildwood Days” and the similarly brainless/pandering “On The Way To Cape May” horse they all rode in on.
And so I leave you with what I said right up front: We need a better Shore song than “Wildwood Days because “Wildwood Days” is garbage. Because our love for the Shore is not garbage. Our love for the Shore is real. And if you’re a songwriter out there and your heart is pulled by those salty cold waves and the feeling of warm skin and, yeah, the “party lights,” consider this a personal challenge from me to write a better shore song than “Wildwood Days.”
It shouldn’t be too hard.
Because “Wildwood Days” is garbage.