Bert Berns’ “Here Comes the Night” is teenage envy and despair. Like Claudine Clark’s “Party Lights,” the song takes what should be a source of pleasure for its teenage singer—a party, or a weekend night—and makes it a brutal humiliation.
Berns was a producer and songwriter (“Twist and Shout”) who had once run a nightclub in Cuba, fleeing after the rise of Castro. He went to London in 1964 as one end of a cross-Atlantic producer swap engineered by his label, Decca (the Americans got Mike Leander). There he gave the fledgling Scot singer Lulu a new composition, “Here Comes the Night,” and arranged the song as a Roy Orbison-esque mood piece, with the darting melody of its verses crushed against the pathos of its chorus, in which a guitar tolls like a funeral bell. Lulu sang it beautifully but with resignation, her verses slowly sinking into the chorus: “here it is,” she sings, without surprise or fear, as though she’s so low already, what worse could the night do? Gorgeous and bleak, the single was a florid downer in the Beatles/Stones-heavy atmosphere of ’64, and it flopped.
Still in London in early 1965, Berns began producing a quarrelsome Northern Irish band called Them and offered Them “Here Comes The Night.” His new arrangement was faster and guitar-heavy, with session player Jimmy Page’s lead guitar spurring the verses and beefing up the tolling chorus riff. Van Morrison’s vocal starts jumpy and soon descends into malice. He chokes out words in the verses, as though building himself up to commit murder, and he sings the title line as though it was the death of the world. Morrison’s “Here it comes!” signals the arrival of the chorus as well as his further debasement. The single was a smash in the UK (#2) and cracked the US Top 40 in the summer of ’65.
Berns went back to the US soon afterward and, once Them collapsed, sent Morrison a plane ticket. So Morrison found himself in Cambridge, Mass., calling DJs all night to request Howlin’ Wolf records, and writing Astral Weeks. Teenage drama like “Here Comes The Night” seemed a lifetime behind him. Then in 1973, while Morrison was divorcing his wife and moving out of his exile in Woodstock, he crafted a series of concerts as a way to recompose himself, to assess his work to date. The best performances were captured on the great It’s Too Late To Stop Now, his equivalent to Neil Young’s Decade, assembled a few years later.
On stage, Morrison reclaimed “Here Comes the Night,” making a reel of its verses, singing the lines at twice their old speed, twining sounds into each other, and finding further dimensions of pain in the chorus. His new arrangement, with a string section central to the performance, moved the song back towards the Lulu original, striking a compromise between the somberness of the Lulu single and the agitation of the Them track.
Around the same time, Bowie covered “Here Comes the Night” for Pin Ups. Why he picked the song remains a mystery: maybe his work with Lulu in the same period inspired him (though I can’t imagine Lulu had much love for the song). Erupting out of its preceding track “Rosalyn,” Bowie’s “Here Comes the Night” is mostly camp, Bowie swooning over the title phrase like a vampire. The arrangement’s close to the Them track, with the addition of Ken Fordham’s baritone saxophone (“we got a real Atlantic horn sound,” Bowie rather ambitiously claimed in ’73). A gaudy burlesque of a performance, it wouldn’t have been out of place in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which isn’t a compliment.
Recorded July-early August 1973.
Top: Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) leads the festivities, The Wicker Man, 1973.