I've always been a huge Springsteen fan, and from the very first time I heard this song, I couldn't help but think how cool it would sound done by an entire band. But I was careful to keep it as "stripped down" as possible; hence, the instrumentation is simply bass, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, solo guitar, drums, and one vocal. This was the first song from the album to be completed. It was initially going to be part of a heavier rock album but then I started to record "Plastic Love" and somehow "Johnny 99" just seemed to fall in with "Plastic Love's" country tone and the entire album sprung from there.
Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late last monthRalph went out lookin' for a job but he couldn't find noneHe came home too drunk from mixin'Tanqueray and wineHe got a gun shot a night clerk now they call him Johnny 99 Down in the part of town where you hit a red light you don't stopJohnny's wavin' his gun around and threatenin' to blow his topWhen an off duty cop snuck up on him from behindOut in front of the Club Tip Top they slapped the cuffs on Johnny 99 Well the city supplied a public defender but the judge was Mean John BrownHe came into the courtroom and stared poor Johnny downWell the evidence is clear gonna let the sentence son fit the crimePrison for 98 and a year and we'll call it even Johnny 99 A fistfight broke out in the courtroom they had to drag Johnny's girl awayHis mama stood up and shouted "judge don't take my boy this way"Well son you got a statement you'd like to makeBefore the bailiff comes to forever take you away Now judge judge I got debts no honest man could payThe bank was holdin' my mortgage and they was takin' my house awayNow I ain't sayin' that makes me an innocent manBut it was more than this that put that gun in my hand Well your honour I do believe I'd be better off deadAnd if you can take a man's life for the thoughts that's in his headThen won't you sit back in that chair and think it over judge one more timeAnd let 'em shave off my hair and put me on that execution line