Jay Lustig is halfway through a New Jersey journey that no one has taken before. For 350 days, the veteran pop music critic is writing about one song a day that in some way is connected to New Jersey.
At this writing, Lustig has chosen 177 songs, posting information and in some cases a video link for each at his website, NJarts.net. Yes, the list reflects the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. But Lustig, the former arts and entertainment editor at the Star-Ledger, has gone way beyond these notables.
Lustig chooses songs based on several criteria. They are either by New Jersey artists, or were recorded here, or have some New Jersey reference. Or they can be some combination of the three. Some are songs he knows or finds through research; some are suggestions from readers of his posts. Some of the posts are tied to specific events. For example, in honor of the last concert at the Izod Center before its closing this month, Lustig featured “We Bid You Goodnight,” recorded by the Grateful Dead in 1989 at what was then the Brendan Byrne Arena.
Lustig came to the project with an extensive knowledge of New Jersey’s musical culture, but has had some surprising discoveries along the way. “There are a lot of songs that I had simply never heard before,” he says, citing YouTube as an important resource. Some of his favorite discoveries include “Little Peach from East Orange,” recorded in 1950 by Ray Anthony and His Orchestra; “Jersey City,” a blues song recorded in 1960 by an obscure singer/songwriter named Bobby Long; and an Allman Brothers Band performance of “Hey Bartender” at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic in 1979 with a surprise appearance by John Belushi.
Lustig says the idea for the project came when he was asked to be a part of Mayo Performing Arts Center’s “New Jersey 350” lecture series in honor of the state’s 350th birthday. He embarked on the project in September 2014 in anticipation of the launch of his website.
Lustig has yet to decide on the final song for the project, but promises he still has some tricks up his sleeve. The entire playlist can be heard here.