Because The Night

“Because the Night” was released on 1978’s Easter, an album that as a whole seemed to receive either very positive or very negative responses; there was not much of a middle ground, opinion-wise. On the positive end of the spectrum, Rolling Stone columnist Dave Marsh wrote: “ Easter makes good on Patti Smith’s biggest boast–that she is one of the great figures of Seventies rock & roll…More importantly perhaps, it focuses her mystical and musical visions in a way that makes her the most profoundly religious American popular performer since Jim Morrison.” Others held a contrary opinion regarding the religious content of the album with Daisann McLain of Crawdaddy writing, “ It’s as if any minute she’ll come out with ’I am the way and the truth and the light’ over the E chord’”. Others claimed that the album and “Because The Night” in particular was the regrettable culmination of Patti’s “rock goddess” phase, a move away from the rawness and energy that had made her so interesting to begin with . Clinton Heylin’s  opinion comes the closest to being centrist, but even it is somewhat negative in tone: “ As it is, Easter may well be the Patti Smith Group’s definitive rock & roll expression. A relentless catalogue of anthems, it confirmed their place in the rock & roll pantheon. But Easter also proved that Smith was never going to extend herself beyond the boundaries previously set by Horses and Radio Ethiopia.” The duality and direct confrontation that characterizes Patti Smith as a whole seemed to be exemplified in the response to this record.

“Because the Night” , co-written by ( but not with) Bruce Springsteen, went to number 5 in Britain and number 13 in the U.S., the highest spot one of Smith’s songs had reached. Smith claims that she “knew it was gonna be a hit” because of the spirit in which the band performed it: “ chemical, frontal, fast action”. Not to be too easily pinned down however, she mirrored the critics in her comments on the song. In one interview it was “really good. Bruce gave me a structure that really fits the kind of singing I used to do when I was younger” and in another it was “commercial shit”. This is why this song is so important to study: it clearly illustrates the duality and contradiction that lies at the heart of what makes Patti Smith so interesting to me as a listener. Within it and the effect it has had on others, one sees the relationship between artistic authenticity and commerce, the mind and body, doubt and control, solitude and togetherness, and spontaneity and contemplation. These things, which seem to be in such opposition at first glance, achieve a relationship of production and purpose in Patti Smith’s “Because The Night”.


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