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On Sept. 20, 1978, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were about halfway through their grueling 151-show Darkness on the Edge of Town tour when they played the second of three nights at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, N.J. This hometown stretch would go down in history among the greatest performances of Springsteen’s career, with a besotted local crowd savoring every note and word of the anthemic music overflowing from 1975’s Born to Run and Darkness, which had just come out in June.
Springsteen truly was turning a corner in 1978. His shows were getting longer and more intense, his band was getting tighter, and he was experimenting with creative ways to expand and enhance favorites like “Backstreets” and “Prove It All Night.” Fans who saw the 1978 tour were also treated to a few new songs that hadn’t found their way onto any recordings, and would ultimately become huge hits for other musicians.
Springsteen wrote and recorded “Fire” during the sessions for Darkness on the Edge of Town, but opted not to include it when it came time to sequence the album. The playful soul song wasn’t really in line with the album’s hues and themes, and anyway Springsteen had dozens of demos to choose from. He eventually set “Fire” free and it was scooped up by singer Robert Gordon, who put it on his 1978 album Fresh Fish Special. Gordon’s version was quickly usurped by the Pointer Sisters’ recording, which climbed to No. 2 on the U.S. charts in 1978.
On this night, the Capitol Theatre clapped and whooped along, drunk on Springsteen’s charisma and Garry Tallent’s pouncing bass line. Watch the Boss freeze the room at the 1:47 mark with a full 20-second pause that all but unhinges the fans from the space-time continuum, before dropping back in with “Romeo and Juliet…”
“Because the Night” was another love song Springsteen had written for Darkness on the Edge of Town and ultimately decided not to include on the album. Meanwhile, in an adjacent studio at the Record Plant in New York City, Patti Smith was working on her new album with producer Jimmy Iovine. Iovine was also working as an engineer with Springsteen, and Springsteen wound up giving the song to Smith, who changed some of the lyrics but kept the structure. Her “Because the Night” became the lead single from 1978’s Easter and reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart—the biggest hit of Smith’s career.
Watch Springsteen serenade Passaic with “Because the Night,” with its familiar piano intro courtesy of Roy Bittan.
Both “Fire” and “Because the Night” would become recurring characters in Springsteen shows for years to come. The studio recordings would idle for three decades before finally being released as part of 2010’s The Promise, a collection of unreleased recordings from the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions of 1977 and 1978.