Love, Sex, Death, and Springsteen’s “Sha La La”

Bruce Springsteen remains one of the great living artists who connects us to early rock and roll. Perhaps as part of that connection, he is the artist most likely to sing the classic rock lyrics “sha-la-la.”

“Brown-Eyed Girl” Cover

In one example from a recent tour, Springsteen sang the line while covering Van Morrison’s classic “Brown-Eyed Girl” on April 19, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina: “Do you remember when we used to sing / Sha la la la la la la la la la la dee dah.”

“Darlington County” and “Jersey Girl”

The two “sha-la-la” songs most identified with Springsteen, though, are “Darlington County” and “Jersey Girl.” “Darlington County” first appeared on Born in the U.S.A. (1984), recounting the travels of the singer and “Wayne” heading down South from New York City to meet some girls. “We got rock and roll music blasting off the T-top singing / Sha la la la la la la la la.”

Below is a swinging performance of “Darlington County” at Olympic Park in London, England on June 30, 2013. Although the original version highlighted Springsteen’s harmonies with Steven Van Zandt, when the band plays live, everyone sings on the “sha-la-la’s.”

Although California-born Tom Waits wrote “Jersey Girl,” fans also identify Springsteen with the song from his many performances and from his close connection to New Jersey. Springsteen began performing the song during The River tour in 1981, and it appeared as a B-side to Born in the U.S.A.‘s “Cover Me.” “Jersey Girl” finally appeared on an official Springsteen album when a live version closed the box set Live: 1975-85 (1986).

In “Jersey Girl,” the singer tells us he is in love with a girl from New Jersey. It is a touching song, tinged with real-life hope and regret. The singer pleads with a single mother who is exhausted from her job, asking that she go dancing on a Saturday night where everything will be all right.

And then, apparently, they will “Sha-la-la. . .” because the singer is “in love with a Jersey girl.” As in “Brown-Eyed Girl,” one might read the “Sha-la-la’s” as rock and roll talk for sexual relations. Below is an October 2009 performance at Giants Stadium . . . in New Jersey, of course.

“Breakaway”

Springsteen used “sha-la-la” in at least one other original song besides “Darlington County.” The phrase appearing in background vocals for his song “Breakaway.”

“Breakaway” was recorded during Springsteen’s 1977-’78 recording sessions around the time of Darkness on the Edge of Town.  But these sha-la-la’s did not see official release until Springsteen put together leftover songs from those sessions for the 2010 release The Promise.

Unlike the other sha-la-la’s in other songs in this post, the sha-la-la’s in “Breakaway” appear in the background, not up front in a chorus. Also, “Breakaway” is one of the rare times where “sha-la-la” does not have any sexual or love connotations.

In “Breakaway,” the “sha-la-la” phrase fills in the spaces in a song about broken dreams. Arguably, the phrase fills in for another topic we do not like to talk about: death. “Janie slid into a car last night (sha la la la, sha la la la) / In a parking lot she gave her soul away . . . .”

“Jole Blon”

On a much happier note, one of my favorite “sha-la-la” songs resulted when Springsteen joined Gary U.S. Bonds on a modern version of the Cajun classic “Jole Blon” on Bonds’s 1981 album Dedication. Among other things, Springsteen contributed some “sha la la’s.”

Here is a 2012 performance where the two men teamed up on stage at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey singing a great duet on “Jole Blon” from an excellent album. Again, it is a love song and the “sha-la-la’s” help fill in the blanks.

“Sha La La”

Finally, if “sha-la-la” is good enough for a chorus, it is good enough for a name of a song. In 1964, The Shirelles recorded a song called “Sha La La” that may have given Springsteen his first love of the “sha-la-la” phrase, even though a more famous song by The Shirelles, “Baby It’s You,” also used the phrase.

Springsteen recently performed The Shirelles’ “Sha La La” in 2009 during the Working on a Dream tour.  But prior to that, all of his other known performances of the song occurred in 1975.

Below is the audio of a live Springsteen version of “Sha La La” from 1975. Again, you can figure out what “sha-la-la” means: “When I kissed you and I held you tight / Baby, you made me feel alright / So this is the song that I sang all night / Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la.”

What Sha-la-la Song Should Springsteen Sing Next?

With these six songs, four of which appear on official recordings, Bruce Springsteen may be the living artist most likely to “sha-la-la” in song. It has been awhile, though, since he has recorded a “sha-la-la” song. Let us suggest “Let’s Live for Today” (“Sha-la-la-la-la-la, live for today”) by the Grass Roots, which Springsteen apparently is yet to sing. Maybe it is time for another new sha-la-la.

Is there a “sha-la-la” Springsteen song we missed? What is your favorite Springsteen “sha-la-la”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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  • The Promise
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  • Paul McCartney & Bruce Springsteen: “I Saw Her Standing There”
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