" 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)", better known as "Sandy," is early Springsteen and the E Street Band at their poetic best, a beautiful image-laden tone poem about Asbury Park, New Jersey, where Springsteen cut his teeth as a young musician, the place that made him, in many ways. Or perhaps his legend—it’s hard to separate the two. "Sandy" is a wistful, fairy-tale ode to ‘home’, or at least a place that is home in the heart, much like The Clash's tribute to London in London Calling and Van Morrison's Belfast in Cyprus Avenue, evoke more than just a sense of a place.
"Sandy," from Springsteen’s second album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, is a beautiful little ballad that shuffles and skips along, mostly due to dearly departed accordionist Danny Federici's lilting and elegant accordion line. Federici, a founding member of the E Street Band, passed away in 2008. The song is a love song, for a girl, for a lifestyle, for a certain place in a certain time, destined to never really come back again, thanks to the way youth speeds away from us and leaves us with just memories. Hopefully, good ones—and the best part of good memories is how much better they get with time.
Robert Santelli, in Greetings From E Street:The Story of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, describes the song as “the perfect musical study of the Jersey Shore boardwalk culture.” The song is populated with the eccentric, vibrant characters that populated many of Springsteen’s youthful, Dylan-inspired street epics: switch blade kids, tramps, factory girls…all those faces that made Springsteen’s street-scene operas such wonderful pieces of not only music, but poetry as well.
His greatest work in regards to the neon, asphalt and brick fables is Jungleland, but it is "Sandy" that invokes a sense of nostalgia, even for places an times that the listener might have no claim on at all. Springsteen is that kind of writer: universal in the experiences he relates. But, here it is Federici’s accordion that makes "Sandy" such a beautiful song, that as the major aural element works to emphasize the sadness that sits underneath the bright sun and the brash joking of the narrator, trying to get right, but just not making it. The accordion here sounds like youthfulness, it sounds like the carnival. It sounds, truly, like a a whole soundtrack to memory.
The E Street Band still brings this tune out, as a tribute to Federici, much as 10 Avenue Freeze-out is done now as tribute to the Big Man, Clarence Clemons. That’s a hell of a thing: a song that comes to serve as a monument to one who made it sound so distinctive. "Sandy" has always a special place for E Street Band fans, and will now stand not only as memory of Danny Federici, but as a hat tip and a wink to youthful days, long gone by…