Something is happening this week that I’m not sure has ever happened before. Bruce Springsteen will perform at a show and we know, ahead of time, exactly what he’s going to do.
A message on his social media this week said, regarding his participation in the Aug. 21 “WE LOVE NYC: The Homecoming Concert,” taking place on the Great Lawn of Central Park: “All of us here on E Street are excited for Bruce’s special appearance this weekend, joining Patti Smith for one song only on Because The Night!”
“One song only.” That’s pretty specific.
And so, I thought it would be a good time to take a closer look at “Because the Night” and its unusual story.
It’s one of Springsteen’s most notable successes — the 1978 version recorded by its co-writer, Patti Smith, made the Top 20, as did 10,000 Maniacs’ 1993 cover. And it’s also a rare example of Springsteen writing a song with someone else. It’s not hard to make the argument that it’s his most notable songwriting collaboration.
As many Springsteen fans know, he was having trouble finishing the lyrics when producer Jimmy Iovine (who was working on both Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and Smith’s Easter) suggested giving it to her, and he agreed. She added some of her own lyrics and recorded it.
On the June 30, 2021 edition of his SiriusXM satellite radio show, Springsteen talked about Smith’s contributions. “I had a nice hook and a melody on a song that I could not finish the lyrics for,” he said. “So Patti took it and turned it into the hit it became, writing a beautiful love song for her husband, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith. Now it wouldn’t have been a hit if I had finished it and released it. It needed a woman’s voice, it needed Patti’s voice and her vision. She turned it into something that I alone could never have created. And for that, I forever thank my lovely, lovely friend.”
Springsteen and Smith performed it for the first in public, together, at one of her shows, at CBGB in New York in December 1977. Springsteen began performing it on his own, without Smith’s added lyrics, in May 1978, on his Darkness on the Edge of Town Tour.
Here is Smith’s recorded version.
And here is a great 1978 concert version by Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Here is the Patti Smith Group in 1978, too, performing it on the British television show, “The Old Grey Whistle Test.”
The sound isn’t great but this Marianne Faithfull concert version, from 1982, is still worth hearing.
The song became a showcase for Nils Lofgren’s guitar playing after he joined the band in 1984. Here is a great version from 1985:
Springsteen and the E Street Band’s 1986 boxed set, Live/1975-85, contained this version, from a 1980 show on the River Tour.
A hair metal version! From 1986! By Keel!
A 1992 dance version by the Italian group Co.Ro became a big hit in Europe but didn’t make much of an impact in the U.S.
Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs included the song in their 1993 “MTV Unplugged” special, then released it as a single, making it a U.S. hit for the second time.
The German group Cascada’s 2008 version was — like Co.Ro’s, 16 years before — a hit in Europe but little heard in the United States.
“This is the song we wished we’d written,” said U2’s Bono when introducing a version of “Because the Night” by the band along with Springsteen, Smith and Roy Bittan at a 2009 concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at Madison Square Garden.
A nice version featuring KT Tunstall and members of the Buena Vista Social Club, from 2009.
Springsteen finally released his own studio version in 2010 on The Promise, his collection of outtakes from the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions. It is believed that this version includes the original music but a new vocal performance, with Smith’s added lyrics.
Alternative-rock groups Garbage and (New Jersey’s own) Screaming Females teamed up for a scorching version in 2013. Be sure to check out Marissa Paternoster’s guitar solo at the 3:40 mark.
A fairly recent E Street Band version (from 2016).
Smith performs it with Alicia Keys (also from 2016)
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