Horses (Patti Smith) – Album Review

A Classic Of Classics, The Photograph Gracing The Cover Of Horses Was Taken By Robert Mapplethorpe At Greenwich Village.

A Classic Of Classics, The Photograph Gracing The Cover Of "Horses" Was Taken By Robert Mapplethorpe At Greenwich Village.

Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.

What an unrepentant way to start an album and to announce a whole career. Patti Smith’s debut came in 1975, and it was the first piece of vinyl whose surges bristled with the unsurpassed fire that was growing within the walls of the mythic CBGB, and which would gloriously run rife before a year had elapsed.

Patti (who was slightly older than members of most other acts associated with the famed venue) was certainly one of its most articulate participants, in no small part owing to her early explorations of different branches of visual and performance arts. She brought some of the most literate considerations to a scene that was also nurtured by the contributions of artists like Tom Verlaine (with whom she was briefly involved, and who actually added a typical all-or-nothing solo to the song “Break It Up”) and the Talking Heads (a band that I have never been that keen on – and I couldn’t love XTC more. Go figure.) And her actual romantic interest at the time “Horses” was released was photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she had met at Pratt Institute (Brooklyn) and who would make a vital contribution to the album: its actual cover shot.

This androgynous photograph has deservedly gone down in the history of music as an absolute visual achievement. It captured the willingness of punks to transcend the blandness of conventional categorizations as much as the music included on the actual record, which Smith herself defined as “Three chord rock merged with the power of the word”.

You can’t call “Horses” a punk record, mind you. You can (and should) term it a record that set the scene for the arrival of a more vibrant and violent force of expression than what was available before.

In many places, “Horses” is an album that asserts the role of women in rock, what with male characters who are sodomized as in the first segment of “Land” and songs about female characters that defy conventionalisms such as “Kimberly” (a song which Patti wrote to deal with the lingering feelings of the baby she had to give for adoption when she was much younger).

You can’t call really call a record with songs like “Gloria” or “Birdland” a punk album.  “Gloria” references the Them song by the same name, and it was a clear nod to fellow CBGB pioneers Blondie. And “Birdland” is a piece of jazz that might even mar the flow of the disc, but which was actually an important piece for Patti if only because it acted as a symbolization of her mother. Continue reading

Patti Smith – General Introduction

Patti Smith (AKA "The Godmother of Punk") Performing Live

Patti Smith (AKA "The Godmother of Punk") Performing Live

Patti Smith must be one of the clearest examples of evergreen artistry in the history of rock and roll, and I dare say in the whole of the 20th Century. After actively chasing what she termed herself a “career of evil” and releasing some albums that exemplified how music could be noise as organized or disorganized as one wanted and still be music, she settled down into a life of domesticity. And when she surfaced as a performer again, it was no longer as the rampant provocateur of yore. It was as a softer performer with excellent interpretative timing, able to take songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and sing them from a maturity that only emphasized how being tamed by others and resolving to tempter yourself down are entirely different things.

Patti Smith was born on December 30, 1946 in Chicago. She would find a creative outlet in music after having tried mostly everything else: poetry, playwriting, acting, painting…

Her first successes as a musician came well before “Horses” (her epochal debut, released in 1975). Before that, she worked as a lyricist for Blue Oyster Cult, and those collaborations were to result in the sole gold and platinum records of her career. More importantly, they gave her the resolution to carry her own tunes in public. The Patti Smith Group was then born, and this ensemble would become the first punk band associated with the mythical CBGB club to issue an album (well ahead of The Ramones). “Horses” came out in 1975 (preceded by the excellent non-album single “Hey Joe/Piss Factory”), and it fused the sensibilities of French poets like Baudelaire with some of the very first punk mannerisms ever put to tape. The merits of the album are appreciated even better when we realize that her writing style had already reached this maturity by 1972, the year in which she released “Seventh Heaven”, an accomplished collection of poems that blended symbolism and American beat aesthetics in a defiantly convincing way.

“Radio Ethiopia” was the PSG’s sophomore effort, and it was a mostly dissipated album that made the band reconsider what they were doing and come up with the triumphant “Easter” in 1978. Featuring the Bruce Springsteen-penned hit “Because The Night” and the ferocious “Rock & Roll Nigger”, it was to be their most ordered and cohesive collection of songs. Of course, an incident in which Smith fell offstage and fractured her neck vertebrae when touring the preceding album was also a life-changing experience. For a time, it wasn’t clear if she was ever going to even get up and walk again. Continue reading