A Meditation on the Artistry and Influence of Patti Smith (book excerpt)
For those in the know, Patti Smith, pioneering punk poet and unparalleled rock star, needs no introduction. But times change, generations come and go and sometimes you have to remind the world of things like Why Patti Smith Matters, which is exactly the book that veteran music journalist Caryn Rose recently published via University of Texas Press.
Rose, whose work has appeared in Pitchfork, Salon, the Village Voice, Vulture, Backstreets, the Guardian and Variety, explains: “I was eager to undertake the formidable task of chronicling the career of Patti Smith because, aside from Smith’s own work, the existing scholarship lacked the kind of informed and cautious perspective of her life and of her art that she deserves.”
The book combines original research and primary sources – including Bruce Springsteen, who gave Rose an exclusive interview about the creation of their 1978 hit song, Because the night.
A section of the book dedicated to the song appears below:
Today, Jimmy Iovine is known as a legendary producer and music industry mogul who founded Interscope Records and co-founded Beats Electronics with hip-hop pioneer Dr. Dre. But in 1977, Iovine was a scrappy engineer in his twenties who was currently working on engineering sessions for Bruce Springsteen that would become Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Next Radio EthiopiaIn the absence of success, Arista Records would have strongly preferred that Patti hire someone with more production history.
“So I fought for Jimmy, and he had something to prove,” Patti said. “Jimmy worked very hard with us, but he really wanted to leave a special mark on this record.” Springsteen had a backlog of material for his record and continued to write, so he had a lot of unfinished songs lying around. This included a track originally called The night belongs to lovers.
As it happens, it was the first song Springsteen recorded on his first day in the studio, but he only had a rough vocal and no lyrics except for the chorus. As Bruce moved his record in a different direction, Iovine focused on the song. The details of when and where Iovine got Springsteen’s blessing to release this Maxell C46 tape from the studio differ slightly each time either tells the story, but it boils down to Iovine campaigning for Springsteen for the song, and Bruce saying yes.
Springsteen told me, “I was a huge fan of Patti, you know, and I was just flattered that she was interested in collaborating, and I was just happy that she found something that she could do with the song, you know, because the song would still be in my archive if it wasn’t for her, and it would be something no one had ever heard of.
There was one big problem: Patti wasn’t interested in singing someone else’s songs. She was very keen on wanting to write and record her own material, either by herself or with someone in her band. So the gang went home and sat on his fireplace.
“Even now, it makes me laugh,” Patti explained in 2017. “Every day I would come into the studio, he (Iovine) wouldn’t say hello to me, he would say, ‘Did you listen to the song? Did you listen to the song? I was like, ‘No, I haven’t listened to it yet.’ “Should we go back to your apartment and listen to the song?” ” For days. ‘Did you listen to the song?’ “
She continued, “At that time, I was building a romance with my future husband, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, and he was living in Detroit, so I could only talk to him once a week. I’m home and I I’m waiting for Fred to call. 7:30 is coming, he’s not calling. 8:00, I was getting really restless, and I noticed the tape lying on the coat and I thought, ‘I’m going to listen to that fucking song. put on and – it’s perfectly produced, great chorus, it’s in my key, it’s an anthem. So Fred finally called me around midnight, but by midnight I had written all the lyrics.
The next day, Patti had a different response when Iovine asked, “Did you listen to the song?” They recorded it and finished it in two days.
The song, now titled Because at night was published in one right as Easter hit the streets and spent three months on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching number 13. In the UK, the single went to No. 5 and was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry, which means that it sold over 250,000 copies.
I asked Springsteen if he remembered the first time he heard the song on the radio and if he had any regrets.
“I was just happy because I realized I had written a great chorus – I knew that,” he said. “But I didn’t have the rest of the song! I got a few things mumbled to myself and I had a good hook, I knew it… A good hook, no matter how good, still isn’t a good hook. good song. And so she turned it into a great song.
“Bruce wrote the music, and I still consider myself the translator,” Patti told an interviewer in 1978. “He gave me the music, and there were mumbles to it, and Bruce is a genius mumbler. , as the sexiest mumbler I’ve ever heard… He wrote the tag “Because the night belongs to lovers”, which was between the mumbles… I respected his words, and I thought it was a really good feeling, so I built the rest of the lyrics, which are obviously mine, around his feeling.”
Springsteen continued, “Did I expect him to go Top Five, or whatever? Well, as far as I know, none of us were doing that. I hadn’t no big hits, you know. (He laughs.) So it was a surprise when the mainstream radio Top 40 record got cracked. It was a surprise just because of the type of artist that was Patti – but when it works, it works!”
There was some rock partisanship at the time of the single’s release, with detractors muttering that Smith hadn’t done anything, that it was Bruce’s song, and others once again accusing that it was was “sold”. The best answer to that is his: “Punk rock is freedom, it’s not your chart position. And I’ll sing any song I want.”
Because the night was designed for FM radio, but it also stood out from its competition. Patti’s rendition of the song embodied intense vulnerability and longing, and the emotional delivery of the lyrics was candid and unapologetic. Someone would probably call it “fierce” these days, but looking for an easy, overused tag is a way to minimize a woman’s clutter and couldn’t be further from the song’s intent.
Because the night was a grown woman who sang of her desires and dreams, and there are no couplets more perfect than “love is a ring, the telephone”, regardless of the decade in which you listen to it. How do these six words manage to perfectly encompass that feeling of elation and relief when the phone finally rings and the right person is on the other end?
There was no way of knowing how this song would grow to fill the space given to it, that there would be a new cover in every generation, that it would fly over the rooftops and become an anchor for people. who needed to hear it.
In 2010, at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s twenty-fifth anniversary concerts at Madison Square Garden, Bono introduced the song saying that “it’s the song we wish we’d written” before inviting Bruce and Patti to interpret it. with U2. As Lenny Kaye said, “I don’t think Bruce or Patti understood the power of this song until it became a song and started climbing the charts…And together we all did something that was bigger than all of us.” -Reuter