Patti Smith didn’t know what to expect when she popped in the cassette that Bruce Springsteen had given her.
Soon after, the godmother of punk poetry wrote a simple love song, punctuated by a big Boss arena-rock chorus.
“Because the Night” became a late ‘70s anthem of sorts, one that introduced many listeners to Patricia Lee Smith – who, like Springsteen, lived in the Garden State.
Smith, 74, will be among two dozen new inductees to the New Jersey Hall of Fame, it was announced Tuesday.
Among those joining Smith -- the former Pitman resident and Deptford High School graduate -- will be her longtime guitarist, Lenny Kaye, a Rutgers University grad formerly of North Brunswick.
There's also Englewood singer/guitarist George Benson (“This Masquerade,” “Give Me the Night”) and ‘60s teen pop star Lesley Gore “(“It’s My Party,” “You Don’t Own Me”), who was raised in Tenafly and was graduated from what was then the Dwight School for Girls in Englewood.
Inductees also include Alexander Hamilton – yes, that one – who was born in the West Indies, lived in New York but died after Aaron Burr shot him in a duel at a landmark city overlook atop the Palisades in Weehawken.
Also being inducted is the late comedian Buddy Hackett, who lived in Fort Lee and Leonia in the ‘50s and 60’s and worked as a security guard at what was then Palisades Amusement Park, also overlooking Gotham, in Cliffside Park.
Then there’s Ron “Jaws” Jaworski, of Voorhees, the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and NFL analyst who still speaks of nightmares involving a 2021 NJ Hall of Fame nominee who didn’t make the cut: the Giants' Lawrence Taylor.
The inductees from music, literature, business, sports and public service will take their places in the hall come fall.
Smith might be the most unique of all.
As “Born to Run” was launching Springsteen’s career in 1975, she was releasing her debut album, “Horses,” punching her lyrics with guitar-driven power chords that helped spawn the downtown Manhattan musical onslaught that became known as punk.
It wasn't what she'd set out to do.
Smith, who described her upbringing as lower middle class, had attended Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) studying to be a teacher when personal circumstances changed. She left college and headed into New York City hoping to reconnect with some friends.
It was there that she met renowned avant-garde photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The two became fast friends and, eventually, soulmates. Mapplethorpe even did the iconic black-and-white cover shoot for “Horses,” capturing Smith standing against a wall in a white shirt, unmade tie and jacket slung over her shoulder, a la Sinatra.
Smith was more a lyricist than a singer. She’d done poetry readings, but they hadn’t gotten her far. So she began singing her poems with small bands, mostly as an opening act. Before long, she’d caught on. And before she knew it, the legendary Clive Davis has signed her to Arista Records.
Produced by John Cale of the Velvet Underground, “Horses” was an auspicious debut – minimal, guttural at times, yet always engaging. It was, as Smith put it, “three-chord rock merged with the power of the word.”
The album opened with a rumination that exploded into a hard-driving reimagining of Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” It helped catapult Smith toward the front of the punk movement.
Some of the country’s most influential music critics not only put “Horses” on their best-of lists for 1975 -- they also included it among the best rock albums ever. It was later selected by the Library of Congress for preservation into the National Recording Registry as a "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" work.
Smith’s aimed to speak for the disenfranchised -- those who, like her, were “a little weird or a little different,” who felt out of place in their small hometowns or “outside of society," as the lyrics of one song put it.
She also wanted to create a bridge between the late rockers of the ‘60s and the less-glamorous cutting-edge musicians who arrived 10 years after – among them, the Ramones, the New York Dolls, Talking Heads and Television. In other words: Joan Jett before there was Joan Jett, only with a little less muscle and a lot less gloss.
Intentional or not, Smith ended up crossing over with her third album, “Easter,” produced by in-demand hitmaker Jimmy Iovine (Springsteen, John Lennon, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, U2, Stevie Nicks, Gwen Stefani, Ladi Gaga).
What immediately drew a much larger audience’s attention was a number that opened with a slow, sensual piano arpeggio and the lyrics:
“Take me now, baby, here as I am / Hold me close, try and understand; Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe / Love is a banquet on which we feed.”
Iovine had told Springsteen that Smith deserved a hit. The Boss wasn’t getting anywhere with “Because the Night,” which had only a chorus. “If she can do it, she can have it,” he reportedly said.
Smith first performed it live at CBGB – with Springsteen -- as a birthday gift for her husband, the now-late onetime MC5 founder Fred “Sonic” Smith, on Dec. 30, 1977.
“Because the Night” became Smith’s first and biggest single. And in a twist on a New Jersey rite of passage, she used some of the money to buy her dad a car.
The NJ Hall of Fame is preparing to move into its first true brick-and-morta home, the American Dream complex in East Rutherford. As with last year’s virtual induction, a remote ceremony of its newest class is planned for Oct. 16.
Among the other inductees:
- Trenton native Sarah Dash, who was among the founding members of Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles and Labelle (“Lady Marmalade”);
- John Forbes Nash Jr., the Princeton University mathematician portrayed by Russell Crowe in the Academy Award-winning film “A Beautiful Mind.”
- Writer Gay Talese, of Ocean City, one of the founders of what became known as literary journalism.
- Sara Spencer Washington, one of New Jersey’s first Black female millionaires, who founded the Apex beauty line in Atlantic City in the early 1919, along with a prosperous beauty school, and was featured 20 years later at the World’s Fair in New York City.
- Former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia of Trenton.
- Baseball Hall of Fame outfielder Monte Irvin, who began his career with the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues.
- Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker of Teaneck.
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