Though it clearly sounds like early Boss, no doubt intentionally, the tune was actually the biggest hit for a journeyman group from Rhode Island called John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, which had toiled for years on the East Coast beach-bar circuit. The big break came in 1983, when film director Martin Davidson (The Lords of Flatbush) began assembling a cast for a little movie called Eddie and the Cruisers, about a Jersey Shore garage band trying to make the big time. The film starred Tom Berenger, Ellen Barkin, and Joe Pantoliano—who has since become far better known for his role as Ralph Cifaretto in another Garden State–inspired drama—and gave fifteen minutes of fame to pouty, pretty Michael Paré, who played lead singer Eddie Wilson with the suitable combination of great hair and disaffected swagger.
Filming took place all over the Shore, most notably at landmark Tony Mart’s bar in Somers Point, and in Wildwood, where much of the story was set. The film centers on Eddie and his partner, Sal, who form a band that becomes the centerpiece of Tony Mart’s in the summer of 1962. The band gets signed and releases a hit album, but the evil head of the record company hates the follow-up and refuses to release it, causing Eddie to crack up and drive his car off the Raritan Bridge. Years later the Cruisers’ first album is re-released and again becomes a hit, revealing a mystery (that sort of doesn’t make sense) about the location of the follow-up album’s master tapes. In a final twist worthy of All My Children, Eddie resurfaces, opening the door for the sequel, Eddie and the Cruisers 2, a dreadful effort filmed, it should be noted, almost entirely in Canada.
When viewed today, clearly the best part the original film is its raw authenticity. Not only does it sound like a Shore band; it looks like the Shore. In this regard, it may be the quintessential Jersey Shore movie, Louis Malle’s Atlantic City notwithstanding. Unlike with other Shore-set treatises—the 1988 Bette Midler weeper Beaches, whose Atlantic City scenes were filmed in Coney Island; the cult CBS crime drama Wiseguy, whose first story arc was set in A.C. but filmed in Vancouver—you can almost smell the saltwater coming off the screen. And you recognize Eddie as he does what many a musician has done before and since: trudge up and down the New Jersey coastline chasing his dreams.