There aren’t many artists who are as easily discernable from the mire of rock ‘n’ roll as Patti Smith. The singer’s work is so singular that it is an easy guess to decipher who the voice on the other end of the radio is. There’s perhaps only one exception to that rule, 1978 effort ‘Because The Night’, a song which is steeped in the duality of its star-crossed creators.
The song is a slight departure from Smith’s usual guttural sound and sees the Godmother of Punk transcend into the mainstream if only for a few moments of her empirical career. However poptastic the track may appear through the radio on your car speakers, when given the opportunity to perform it live, Patti Smith left you in no doubt whose song this is, despite the extra songwriting credit.
The track is taken from Smith’s third record Easter and sees the artist trying to mould herself into a brand new shape. Though her solo beat poetry had propelled her to the top of the underground food chain, 1975’s Horses had seen Smith breakout of the pulsating New York art scene and reach national audiences and. as most artists will tell you, if you get big you have to stay big. Something Smith has pulled off with incredible authenticity throughout her years.
It meant that extra pressure from the record label soon arrived and pushed Smith into an increasingly profitable direction — but as with anything Patti Smith does, she wouldn’t be guided by anything other than her own mind. It means that Easter remains a resurrection album for the singer with its lead single ‘Because The Night’ going on to be a defining moment in her glittering career.
As soon as The Patti Smith Group released the single it shot to number five in the UK charts and nearly broke the top ten on the US Billboard chart. It’s unsurprising that it quickly became one of Smith’s biggest hits as it explored the purity of lust, the grandeur of debauchery and the sanctity the darkness can hold for secrets and secret lovers. When you back that kind of sentiment with an anthemic rock sound it is a chart smash made in heaven.
Another match made in the musical dreams was the songwriting partnership for this song. Not only was Smith in charge of the lyrics but she was given the music by none other than The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. “Bruce [Springsteen] wrote the music, “ said Patti in 1978, “And I always think of myself as the translator.” If Smith is the translator then we must applaud her for the expert language in use. “He gave me the music, and it had some mumbling on it, and Bruce is a genius mumbler, like the sexiest mumbler I ever heard.
“I just listened to it, and the words just tumbled out of me,” she added. “I wrote it alone, but it was a very direct thing. I got the tape, I immediately wrote the lyrics, he wrote the tag ‘Because the night belongs to lovers’, which was in between the mumbling, he’d say that every once in a while. He said I didn’t have to keep that bit, but I thought it was really nice.
“I always write the lyrics to my own songs, unless they’re covers, but I respected his lyrics, and I thought it was a very nice sentiment, so I built the rest of the lyrics, which are obviously mine, around his sentiment.”
She added: “Bruce has a great love for a period of music that was part of my upbringing, the ’60s girl groups like the Ronnettes, the Crystals and the Chantels and all those girl groups, and so he wrote a song that was perfect for my voice range. It’s the easiest song in the world for me to sing. I think I did it in two takes — where another song might take forty takes, it was a breeze.”
Though not instantly recognisable on the radio as one of Patti Smith’s punk-flirtatious guttural givings, the song is entirely hers and nobody else’s when performed live. When performing the 1978 hit, she is raw, powerful, dominating and truly, truly special. It’s the kind of performance which has long confirmed Smith as one of the foremost performers of her generation.
Below is a clip of The Patti Smith Group performing ‘Because The Night’ for the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey (Smith’s old stomping ground) in 1979 and sees Smith deliver a perfect example of “owning the stage”…and the audience too. Though it isn’t one of Smith’s finest vocal performances, it does show the power she had on stage. Prowling the spotlight with a smile and comfort that not many people can claim, Smith connects with her audiences, unlike any other artist.
Watch it all go down below as Patti Smith delivers a scintillating performance of ‘Because The Night’ back in 1979.