Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band -- "Because The Night" (1980)

In honor of taking my family to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band tomorrow night at Giants Stadium, I thought I'd discuss one of his more unusual catalog songs that I consider one of his best (and you can imagine, it's tough to make that choice).

"Because The Night" is unique in that it was the only songwriting collaboration I can recall Springsteen doing (in this case, punk poet Patti Smith), and it never appeared on any album as a studio recording. Patti Smith had her biggest hit with it off her Easter album in 1978, but it was not until several years later that The Boss released this ferocious version on his first live compilation. Upstate New York folk rock band 10,000 Maniacs had a hit with it too in the 90's.

Lyrically, the song is a blend of the two artists while the music is pure Springsteen. Apparently Springsteen was trying to record a version of it during his Darkness On The Edge of Town sessions, and it never quite jelled. And in an uncharacteristic move, because you just don't hear about outsiders stepping into Springsteen's songwriting action, Smith overhauled the lyrics to her viewpoint. While a song like "I'm On Fire" is about as erotic as Bruce usually gets, the "Because The Night" lyrics definitely pushed the envelope.

It starts off with the usual Bruce themes of working all day, "protecting" his woman...

Take me now baby here as I am
Pull me close try an understand
I work all day out in the hot sun
Stay with me now till the mornin' comes
Come on now try and understand
The way I feel when I'm in your hands
Take me now as the sun descends
They can't hurt you now
They can't hurt you now
They can't hurt you now

And then there's this phrase right out of the Bruce playbook...

What I got I have earned
What I'm not I have learned.

However, the middle section shifts to Patti Smith mode...

Your love is here and now
The vicious circle turns and burns without
Though I cannot live forgive me now
The time has come to take this moment and
They can't hurt you now.

Of course, I could be totally wrong about who wrote what...

I think another reason why the song didn't make Darkness On The Edge of Town is because it bears a musical resemblance to "Prove It All Night." Very similar chord patterns on the choruses.

But you have to love Springsteen's distinctly male version, which has that big thump of Max Weinberg's drums, all the men shouting "Because the night!" in the choruses, jacking it up half a key right after the middle break, and the mightily fantastic Nils Lofgren trading off solos with the Boss (his trademark flag hanging off the end of his instrument -- hey isn't this the part you wish Patti Smith could have put on her version?).

Why keep writing about it when you can see it below, straight from Paris in 1985. You can tell this was shot in Bruce's "Darkness" phase with his cut-off shirt and ripped muscles. Below that, a skinny, jacketed Bruce and the band from 1978 (!) in Passaic, NJ. And then fast forwarding to 2004's tour in support of presidential candidate John Kerry, when REM's Michael Stipe joined him in Washington DC. My daughter loved the Patti Smith cover but when I showed her this from a DVD, she recognized it instantly and now calls it "the boy version."

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