“Because The Night” has an interesting history. Bruce Springsteen technically wrote the song – but decided he didn’t actually want to use it – he had too many love songs on his then current project. Patti Smith happened to be recording next door, and got a copy of the song, tweaked a few things, recorded it for her “Easter” album, and the rest was history. One might almost say the original of “Because The Night” is a cover itself.
Regardless of authorship – Patti Smith’s version of “Because The Night” still amazes me. Of course, as any great song of this popularity, there will be covers. Join me as we examine some of the famous and not so famous versions of perhaps one of the most emotional songs ever written.
Patti Smith Version (1979):
Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” starts with a haunting piano and Patti Smith’s signature, sultry voice. In the bridge we get an upward change of tempo, that almost lasts the duration of the song (the second verse slows down a tad). As the song progresses, we get layer after layer of instrumentation – guitars, drums, keyboards. At one point, one can almost make out a string section, though there’s no mention of strings in the credits.
Ultimately, the composition of Smith’s “Because the Night” gives the listener a buffet of several emotions and voices. In the beginning, we see vulnerability and possibly loneliness. The first bridge serves as an “entering” of the lover, and the rush of emotions, knowing the speaker isn’t alone. The chorus shows a strong, confident speaker – though the speaker isn’t the same as (s)he was at the beginning of the song. The speaker and their lover are two souls that have become one.
Bruce Springsteen version (Live, 1980):
Before I go on, a look at the Bruce Springsteen version of “Because the Night” is in order. Again, Springsteen technically wrote the song, though Patti Smith originally recorded the song. Springsteen’s version sounds like – well – any Springsteen song might sound. Firstly, his version is anything but simple. Springsteen has a lot of instrumentation – even in the beginning of the song. Pianos. guitars, horns, drums, keys, and what feels like a small choir of BGVS.
The most striking differences in Springsteen’s version of “Because the Night” – the lyrics, especially the verses, are different. In verse 1, Smith sings: “Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe / Love is a banquet on which we feed.” Springsteen Sings “I work all day out in the hot sun / Stay with me now till the mornin’ comes.” In verse 2, Smith sings: “Have I doubt when I’m alone / Love is a ring, the telephone / Love is an angel disguised as lust / Here in our bed until the morning comes.” Springsteen’s sings ” What I got I have earned / What I’m not I have learned / Desire and hunger is the fire I breathe / Just stay in my bed till the morning comes.” There’s also the fact that Smith sings “Under your command” in the second bridge, whereas Springsteen keeps the line “The way I feel when I’m in your hands” for both bridges.
10,000 Maniacs Version (1993):
Natalie Merchant’s voice sounds tender, and maybe a bit fragile as she starts the first verse of “Because the Night.” As we reach the bridge, we find the same up tempo found in Smith’s version. We also find the same layering of instrumentation as the song progresses. We even hear strings – slight during the bridge, and more pronounced during the chorus. All in all, the 10,000 Maniacs version sounds just as powerful and conveys almost as many emotions as the Smith version. Merchant’s voice in the chorus sounds a bit weak, however she makes up for it in the coda where her voice sounds extremely strong. One last thing to note – 10,000 Maniacs uses the line “Under your command” in both bridges.
Garbage, Screaming Females Version (2013):
Garbage with Screaming Females makes “Because the Night a duet.” The two bands separate vocal duties with Shirley Manson’s semi-sweet vocals on the opening voice. Marissa Paternoster’s overpowering, deep vocals enters with the bridge. Throughout the song, both vocalists trade off, blend, and make quite the combination. Making “Because the Night” a duet certainly supports my theory that there’s two voices in the song – however switching those voices at seemingly random times gives us a new level of meaning. The Garbage / Screaming Females version of the song presents both lovers as equally weak, and equally strong. Neither lover is there to rescue the other from loneliness – they’re equal.
One last thing about The Garbage / Screaming Females version: The screaming guitars add an almost storm like ambiance to the song. As though the lovers are facing turbulence in their lives, but they are not afraid because they have each-other.
The Protomen Version (2015):
The Protomen version of “Because the Night” use the Springsteen lyrics. The energy is just as high as the Springsteen version as well. However – The Protomen made the song a duet. Their male vocalist, Raul Panther III, sings the verses, while their female vocalist, Gambler Kirkdouglas, sings the bridges. Both vocalists sing the choruses, as well as the coda. Honestly – as much as I love this version, The Protomen do not bring any new meaning to the song. However, their version of “Because the Night” really does rock! I still recommend you play it….at high volumes if you can.
So – which version of Because the Night wins?
Before I start to compare, I have to admit that I am not a real Springsteen fan. Furthermore, I feel Patti Smith’s Lyrics really complete the song. So Springsteen is out. And while I feel The Protomen version rocks hard and is a really fun version, again – I feel like it offers no new meaning. That’s not to say The Protomen version isn’t good, it’s really good! It just is not the better version.
This leaves us with the hard rocking Garbage / Screaming Females version, the acoustic 10,000 Maniacs version, and the original Patti Smith version. Comparing the three seems like a case of apples and oranges. The song works well in all three cases: as a ballad, as a power ballad, and as a rock song. If I have to choose a clear winner, It’s the Patti Smith version. Having said that, the Smith version wins only by a hair, and only because it feels as an “averaging” of the other two versions. Again – this does not mean the other two versions of “Because the Night” are substandard. In actuality, the world needs all three versions. Why? Because the night belongs to lovers. Because the night belongs to us.