Thursday, May 7, 2009

Because The Night

I've been on a Natalie Merchant kick for the last couple of days.

Just because, well, because she's freakin' awesome, that's why.

Because the Night was, of course, made famous by another one of my favorite singers, Patti Smith. The song was written by Smith and Bruce Springsteen and originally recorded by The Boss for his Darkness on the Edge of Town album - but it didn't quite mesh with the rest of the album, so Springsteen gave it to Smith who was recording next door in the same studio. Smith rearranged the song and released it on her album Easter in 1978. It made #13 on the Billboard charts. Springsteen used to perform the song using Smith's arrangement at his live concerts but never released it on an album - which is a shame because it was damned good.

I like Patti Smith's version, but this arrangement by Natalie Merchant and performed by 10,000 Maniacs is the best yet. I love Merchant's voice, she's an incredibly powerful talent. And I love the strings in this version of the song.

And just for comparison's sake, here's the acoustic version by Patti Smith:


  1. Isn't that the "unplugged" version?

    The 10,000 Maniacs - Unplugged CD is one of my all-time favorites.

  2. Sure sounds like it, doesn't it?

    And I absolutely agree, 10,000 Maniacs Unplugged is her best album ever. Maniacs are one of those rare bands who sound better live than in the studio - I think in large part because Merchant's voice is so incredible than it's better without any kind of studio enhancement. Sadly something that's really not true of most modern singers.

  3. I love 10,000 Maniacs! I went to every one of their shows back in college when they came into town. Got to meet them once on their Blind Man's Zoo tour; they were playing in the surreal wonderland of Ft. Worth called the Bronco Bowl, an arcade/bowling alley attached to a rock venue concert stage. The Bronco Bowl was a really small venue so it could only attract medium size acts so you would see the Violent Femmes and then come out and watch kids bowling on a Friday night. Natalie Merchant was really nice and none of the Maniacs had any egos about them. They acted like 30 somethings adults with a mortgage that also happened to be a rock alternative band.

    Unfortunately, the band was never the same after Natalie Merchant left. A real creative spark was lost. There was some small talk about reforming but then Rob Buck, the lead guitarist, tragically passed away.

    Anyway, for new fans, I recommend checking out their latest greatest hits double CD because it includes alot of rare B-side songs that you could only get by tracking singles down back in the day like I did. This makes the music much more accessible. Some of their B-sides are better than the LP songs.



    I hate the 10,000 Maniacs version. It utterly emasculates the song, or de-vaginates it if you want to go with Smith's mother-goddessy goodness.

    The real contest for best official version is between Smith's original or the live version the Boss included on the '75-'85 live boxed set, with the E Street Band burning the house down while the Boss roars out his version of the lyric. The song as it's meant to be--whether you go with Smith's lyrics or Springsteen's--is defiant, pleading, desperate, unyielding. The 10kM version is... nice. Nice. Nice?!? It isn't a nice song. It's a song of raw, unbridled sexual angst, something that's always been a core part of Smith and Springsteen's personas. (I like Natalie Merchant, too, but her persona has always been virginal, and set against Smith and Springsteen--geez, she's like a Skipper doll in comparison.)


  5. P.S.

    Oh yeah: I meant to point out that I chose the word "official" up there on purpose, because there are some damn fine bootleg versions floating around--but it's still a contest between the original writers.

  6. See, in my universe, there's room for both virginal and defiant versions.

    Dr. Phil

  7. Your universe is an strange and eerie place, and your alien customs baffle and frighten us.

  8. Eric,

    Of course, you know this means war? (he says in his best Bugs Bunny impression)

    I think I said in the post that Springsteen never released Because the Night on an album, when I should have said "studio album." You are right that it was included on the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Live 1975-1985 album, it's on Vol II, right after Badlands. I'm listening to it right now and frankly I don't like it all that much - it sounds like the soundtrack to a bad 80's teen flick staring the two Corys. (and I hate that version of Badlands).

    It doesn't suck, but I love 10kM version with the strings instead of the wailing electric guitar in the Springsteen version.

    Honestly I never much cared for Springsteen live, the guy always sounded half plastered to me and about half a beat from suffering an aneurysm - especially in his later years. I think I just got burned out on his working man rock and roll from the factory sound - after a while all of his stuff just started sounding the same to me. It's the same guitar riff in every damned song. I also thought his voice needed serious studio remixing, the guy just isn't that good of a singer. He's a hell of a songwriter though.

  9. Oh my. Those are fighting words indeed, Jim: I consider myself flawed for only having seen Springsteen live a mere four times (and none of those in the '70s, though in my defense I was only born in '72). I think (Un)Plugged is pretty essential listening, Live In NYC made of awesome, but my real live favorites are a booted copy of the justly-famous 1975 live broadcast of the Boss at The Roxy (a chunk of that makes up the first vinyl LP of the five-disc version of '75-'85, can't recall how much of the first disc in the 3-CD version that is) and Love, Tears And Mystery, the 10-disc bootlegged "tour document" that showed up in 2005 after his acoustic tour that year.

    And you, in contrast, don't care for the man live. The man owns a stage live. He's the best performer I've ever seen live, and that was admittedly two and three decades past his prime.

    Maybe you got burned out on Born In The USA--I can dig it, the album got overplayed and it's frankly overrated (and give me the somber acoustic version of the title track over the "original" studio version any day of the week). But considering that not only is Springsteen an exceptional guitarist in his own right (a fact that's frequently overlooked until you see him live), but that the E Street Band's guitar players were/are the talented Little Steven Van Zandt and the just unbelievable Nils Lofgren, I'm having a hard time with the "every riff" statement. (Recommendation on the side: listen to the live version of "Youngstown" on Live In NYC, where Lofgren gets the featured solo and throws himself into it with a staggering series of fast-hammered arpeggios before letting his axe really howl and wail, it is gorgeous work, man.)

    I stand by what I said about "Because The Night". You look at the Springsteen lyrics here or the Smith lyrics here (both pages have transcription errors, but they're minor), and maybe you can see what I mean (or maybe it's just me). Natalie Merchant does a lot of things well, but she just doesn't have the sexual gravity to sell a song like "Night." Sorry. It's like Peter Cetera trying to do Sinatra or something.

  10. I saw Springsteen live twice - and they were good concerts. And I agree with your assessment of the man's guitar playing ability, but I still think that a lot of his live stuff sounds the same - at least it does to me.

    I pulled up the Live in NYC album and listened to Youngstown again. You and I aren't going to ever agree on this subject I suspect - the guitar solo on Youngstown is exactly the kind of Axe strangling that I hate.

    Also, I really dislike the version of Badlands on that album. What the hell possessed him to speak half the lyrics instead of singing?

  11. Though I will give you points for that "Peter Cetera trying to do Sinatra..."

    That is a pretty funny image.

  12. Eric -- this is why I write science fiction.

    Dr. Phil

  13. 10000 Maniacs great group overall, Because the Night my absolute favorite song of theirs http://lyricsmusic.name/10000-maniacs-lyrics/mtv-unplugged/because-the-night.html


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