This is the 78th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
In 1977, producer and engineer Jimmy Iovine was working on two records: Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and the Patti Smith Group’s “Easter.” The bands recorded down the hall from each other, so Iovine shuffled back and forth to work on each album.
Springsteen had started working on a song, but stopped after writing the chorus and melody. Iovine, in his trips between rooms in the studio, suggested Smith finish and record the song. She did, reportedly writing the verses while awaiting a phone call from her then-boyfriend (and future husband) Fred Smith. The song became “Because the Night,” the first single from “Easter.”
Springsteen’s version of “Because the Night” did not end up on “Darkness on the Edge of Town, though he did end up releasing two versions of the song: A concert recording from the collection “Live 1975-1985,” released in 1986…
…and an unreleased version from the “Darkness on the Edge of Town” sessions, released on the 2010 compilation “The Promise.”
It’s easy to listen to Smith’s version and Springsteen’s versions with a sense of hindsight, factoring in everything we know about their lives and careers. Springsteen might have more widespread recognition among mainstream audiences, but Smith is the one who got more recognition for the song. The Patti Smith Group’s “Because the Night” charted in the US, the UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and Sweden. It was one of the most commercially successful songs Smith had recorded, leading some of her fans to accuse her of selling out. Smith could not care less about what her fans thought, telling New York Magazine:
I liked hearing myself on the radio… To me, those people didn’t understand punk rock at all. Punk rock is just another word for freedom.
The same year that Springsteen released his version on “Live 1975-1985,” L.A. pop metal band Keel included “Because the Night” on its album, “The Final Frontier.” Keel put more emphasis on the pop rather than the metal, so it was more ’70s radio rock than ’80s rock. Think more Bon Jovi, less Motley Crüe.
In 1992, dance act Co.Ro reinterpreted “Because the Night” as a bass-laden Eurodance jam. The cover could sound familiar for two reasons: it sampled Depeche Mode’s “Master and Servant,” and in hindsight, it sounds like a precursor to Culture Beat’s “Mr. Vain.”
The following year, 10,000 Maniacs performed “Because the Night” for “MTV Unplugged.” It became a radio hit for the band, but compared to the version by The Patti Smith Group, 10,000 Maniacs’ cover seemed to play it too safe. It was a fine acoustic version, but it smoothed out the roughness of Smith’s version, and sounded a little too smooth.
10,000 Maniacs included a live version of “Because the Night” on the band’s 2016 album, “Playing Favorites.” This featured lead vocalist Mary Ramsey, as Natalie Merchant had already left the band.
Singer Beki Bondage, best known as the frontwoman of the punk band Vice Squad, covered “Because the Night” for the 1997 compilation, “Barefoot: A Tribute to Patti Smith.” Her version was fine, but there was nothing other than Bondage’s voice that separated this cover from Smith’s version. Instrumentally, it was almost identical.
“Philharmania” was a 1998 album in which guest singers performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Besides Bonnie Tyler’s cover of “I Put a Spell on You,” the album included a version of “Because the Night” by Kim Wilde. Over strings, the song has a smoother, more fluid sound. But Wilde and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra did not polish all of the edges of the song; they made sure to keep some crunchy guitar in there so that the song had some of its original grit.
Avant garde musician Jun Togawa covered “Because the Night” on her 2000 album, “20th Jun Togawa.” Though Togawa sang the lyrics in the melody of the original, this cover was stripped of any recognizable instrumentation. Instead of the piano and guitar from Smith’s or Springsteen’s versions, Togawa sang over a mess of beeps and distorted guitar. It was stylized, alright, but hard to listen to for four and a half minutes.
German DJ and producer Jan Wayne covered “Because the Night” for his 2002 album, “Back Again.” Wayne recast the song as a dance track, but the overwhelming keyboards and bass seemed geared toward people who had been dancing for hours and partying long enough that they didn’t remember their own name. Otherwise, it seemed too aggressive for casual listening.
German dance group Cascada’s 2007 album “Perfect Day” featured covers of popular songs as fast Eurodance tracks. Some of the reinterpreted versions worked better than others, with “Because the Night” being one of the weaker covers on the album. Like Jan Wayne’s version, the backing track on Cascada’s “Because the Night” was too layered with samples and effects to be recognizable without the vocals. And as AllMusic’s Sharon Mawer noted, vocalist Natalie Horler sounded unable to keep up with the beat and tempo.
In 2008, Patti Lupone released “Patti LuPone at Les Mouches,” a digitally restored recording of Patti LuPone’s 1980 club act during the same time she was starring in “Evita” on Broadway. She injected enough cabaret flourishes and delivery that it sounded more Patti Lupone than Patti Smith.
In 2009, The Buena Vista Social Club released “Rhythms del Mundo Classics,” which featured collaborations with artists from all over the world. The Buena Vista Social Club was joined by KT Tunstall on a cover of “Because the Night.” At the beginning, the track resembled the versions by Smith and Springsteen, but once the percussion kicked in, the song had a definitive Cuban sound.
Andy Scott, original guitarist for the band Sweet, released a covers album in 2012 under the Sweet name. But rather than just play straightforward covers, Scott chose to sample elements from Sweet’s previous songs, working parts of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” into a cover of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” On “Because the Night,” Scott gave the song a touch of Sweet by replacing the iconic piano part with a dark guitar riff that hinted that something sinister was coming.
For Record Store Day in 2013, Garbage and Screaming Females recorded a cover of “Because the Night.” When the two bands toured together at the end of 2012, Garbage singer Shirley Manson and Screaming Females singer Marissa Paternoster had performed the song as a duet a few times. In an interview with Billboard, Manson explained how they chose to record that song:
We were playing it a couple of times on the road, and we thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to solidify a recording and do something really special for the fans and for all the independent record stores.
Garbage’s producer and drummer Butch Vig said the recording process required very little polishing. Speaking to NME, Vig said:
We did it old-school style. They came out to Hollywood and we went into a big tracking room and recorded Phil Spector style… We cut it live and did very few overdubs, did everything in a day and it came out pretty great. Marissa plays, I think, a 48-bar guitar solo at the end, that girl can shred like Eddie Van Halen, no kidding.
That is high praise, but Paternoster earned it. On this version of “Because the Night,” Garbage and Screaming Females roughed up the parts that 10,000 Maniacs had smoothed out. Where Merchant was calm, Manson was chaotic, as if she had summoned the spirit of Smith into the studio with them.
California band Night Riots covered “Because the Night” for its 2015 release, “Howl.” The band, known for its synth-heavy dance rock, managed to make a version that founded like a cross between Arcade Fire and The Cure, mostly because Travis Hawley sounded as if here channeling both Springsteen and Robert Smith.
That same year, The Protomen released a cover of “Because the Night” on its cover album, “The Cover Up.” The cover paid homage to both Smith and Springsteen: not only did The Protomen feature lyrics from both artists’ versions, but the song featured both male and female vocals (including a valiant effort to mimic Springsteen’s guttural drawl).
Also in 2015, UK ska band The Selecter covered “Because the Night” for its album, “Subculture.” Imbued with ska flourishes, this version abandoned the piano from Smith’s and Springsteen’s versions in favor of horns. Though it was several years after the fact, this version had such an authentic feel that it sounded like it could have been plucked from the 2 Tone era.
Over the years, “Because the Night” has been more synonymous with Smith than Springsteen, but for his part, Springsteen has continued to play the song live. In 2004, Springsteen participated in Vote for Change, a 2004 concert tour throughout the US presented by MoveOn.org to benefit America Coming Together, a progressive political action group. In addition to performing “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” on that tour, Springsteen played “Because the Night.” But he did so as a duet, recruiting R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe to sing with him.
At a 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert in 2009, Bono brought Smith and Springsteen onstage to join U2 on “Because the Night.” There was such an obvious chemistry between the three that it was hard to tell who was enjoying it the most.
A year later, Springsteen appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” playing the song with Steven Van Zandt, Roy Bittan, and The Roots.
Bono and Springsteen performed “Because the Night” together again in 2016 when Springsteen’s tour made a stop in Ireland.
So, even if publications are still attributing the song to Smith, Springsteen does not seem ready to give up his claim to the song. Nor should he. At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert, Bono said “Because the Night” was both a Patti Smith song and a Bruce Springsteen song. Saying it that way — rather than just calling it a Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen song in one breath — acknowledged the unique shared custody they both have over the song. And as they belted the song with Bono, neither seemed to feel any less ownership. They didn’t care, and just as importantly, neither did the fans.