In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re talking about songs that were originally created by men but were better covered by women.
I learned that “Because The Night” was created by Bruce Springsteen during a cross-country road trip, one with only six cassette tapes in the car to accompany us. (We were broke, which goes a long way toward explaining why no further tapes were added, once the realization of the relative paucity of musical selections set in.) Patti Smith’s Easter was one of the albums. The others included a live Grateful Dead bootleg, Pearl Jam’s Yield, two mix tapes, and The Cure’s live album Show. I soon memorized the Patti Smith record front-to-back, which wasn’t a bad introduction to the artist, considering that I had never really listened to her before.
Except, of course, for “Because The Night.” Everyone knows “Because The Night.” It’s one of those songs in the societal ether, a massive hit that saturated popular consciousness and mass culture even if you didn’t realize it was Patti Smith who had made it famous, which I didn’t. It was a song I had considered “old people music” as a kid, something outdated and silly that certainly didn’t belong in my record collection. Coming of age when I did, there wasn’t an appreciable difference between “Because The Night” and “Looks Like We Made It,” say. But, as often happens when one is forced to grapple with a piece of art, I discovered a new appreciation for the song after hearing it over and over, discovering the nuances and staccato verbal attack that Smith executes on the lyrics. It became kick-ass, really.
I turned to one of my traveling companions. “You know what? I always thought ‘Because The Night’ was kind of generic and stupid. Now, I kind of love it. Nice writing, Patti Smith.” They looked at me with a sardonic grin. “You know Bruce Springsteen wrote it, right?” I did not know it. “Yeah, he wrote it during the recording of Darkness On The Edge Of Town but decided to give it to Patti Smith. I think she re-wrote the lyrics.” This was the kind of behind-the-scenes musical tidbit that always fascinated me. When we stopped at a library shortly thereafter, I found a Springsteen biography—I can’t remember which one, and the best one wasn’t out yet—and looked it up. Sure enough, Springsteen had thought the track wasn’t good enough; and his lack of enthusiasm, combined with Jimmy Iovine’s suggestion, led him to give it to Smith, who was recording in the next studio over. She revised the lyrics, but kept that killer refrain, and in so doing turned it into a classic piece of rock and roll Americana.
These days, I love Bruce Springsteen arguably more than I love my family, and Patti Smith, well, she’s no longer just another name in rock history. She’s a voice I’ll turn to when it’s late, and when the world seems a little overwhelming. Because now, Smith speaks to me in a way that a Midwest kid in a Jetta with too many miles on it didn’t understand. Her voice connects emotionally, with a longing that I didn’t yet realize was about the kind of feelings I had yet to experience. I had mistaken the night for something that belonged to the young, when really, it belongs to lovers.