Monday, November 14, 2022

Song of the Day: 'You Light Up My Life' by Patti Smith


Not sure what's better, seeing Patti Smith awkwardly interviewed by aggressively upbeat (and sexy) Michael Young on "Kids Are People Too" or her performing "You Light Up My Life" with a serial rapist! Read WSJ's take HERE.

"Don't go away, because there's still more to come ... we've got Count Dracula and Adam Rich."

Debby Boone sang the 1970s smash hit with God in her heart. The punk diva’s version was truer to the life of the song’s shady composer.

By Rich Cohen

In 1979, Patti Smith, at the peak of her outsider punk fame, went on the ABC television show “Kids Are People Too”—the viewership was made up almost entirely of tweens—and, given the choice of any song, belted out a weirdly moving rendition of Debby Boone’s smash hit “You Light Up My Life,” the song that spent 10 weeks at number one in the summer of 1977, breaking records set by Bobby Darin (“Mack the Knife”) and the Beatles (“Hey Jude”).

The tune had been written by ad man Joseph Brooks for the soundtrack of Brooks’s self-produced, self-directed film of the same name. Brooks made an inspired choice in Boone. She was young (21), pretty in a generic West Coast sort of way, operatic and the inheritor of a great schlock tradition. Her father Pat Boone’s cover versions of R&B hits by Fats Domino and Little Richard are what people really mean when they denounce cultural appropriation. Elvis singing Big Mama Thorton is a revelation. Pat Boone singing Little Richard is a crime.

Debby Boone, a devout Christian, later said that though the song is about a one-night-stand—that is the subject of the movie—she sang it with God in her heart. That is, the you in “You Light Up My Life,” played by Michael Zaslow in the film, is played by the Almighty in the song.

In choosing it for her network TV appearance, Patti Smith was doing something akin to Andy Warhol and the Campbell soup cans. She was fishing a piece of detritus from the trash, cleaning it off and putting it on a pedestal, letting us see it for the achingly weird object it is.

Great art is a drug. It changes the font in your brain so you can read the world in a new way. As with other brilliant works of interpretation, Smith’s performance has aged in ways that resonate, that touch depths that even she couldn't have anticipated.

Brooks, the song’s composer, accompanied Smith on piano on the show, staring from the bench with great, big sensitive eyes. This might have been the best moment of his life, the apex of the Ferris wheel. There was only one direction from there, a descent made of failed sequels and duds, the money swimming away in great minnow-like schools. By the Aughts, the composer, who’d morphed from springy-haired 70s dude to skeletal ghoul, retained a single relic from the halcyon days: the Best Original Song Oscar he’d won for “You Light Up My Life.” But it was all he needed to lure wannabe starlets, via Craigslist, to his dank Manhattan office, where, as reported in the New York Times, he’d say, “This could be you holding this Oscar. If you do what I say.” At the time of his death by suicide in 2011, Brooks had been indicted on 91 counts of rape, sexual abuse and assault.

Unlike Debby Boone, Joseph Brooks had not been singing for God. In this one song, which defined 1977 as surely as Star Wars and Arthur Fonzarelli—that was the year Fonzy jumped the shark—you have both the good and the bad, the garden and the fire. Which is just what attracted Patti Smith, even if she didn’t know it. (She probably did). Every rocker knows the biggest hits are touched by both God and the Devil.


You may recall that rival "Queen of Punk" Debbie Harry appeared on the kids' show too. Watch HERE.

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