Patti Smith - Horses (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Patti Smith

Horses (1975)


So while I wait for a package from Scott bursting at the seams with more CDs to review, I decided to try my hand at reviewing a classic album, specifically the 1996 reissue of a classic album. I decided upon this album after I searched around Punknews. I found reviews of essential early punk albums from the Ramones, The Clash and the Sex Pistols (although the last was quite poorly reviewed), as well as important lesser-known albums from Richard Hell and Television. We even have some reviews of important "proto-punk" albums by the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls and the Stooges. But we do not have a single Patti Smith review. Blasphemy! So maybe her more recent records haven't seemed quite so punk, but this album is a classic: a raw yet poetic slice of the CBGB's scene from a woman who beat the Ramones in releasing the first "punk" record.

Patti Smith had an equal love for poetry and 60's garage rock. She drew from both, showcased in her amazing lyrics (the best of any artist from the early punk days; compared to Bob Dylan's) and teamed them up with a three-chord rock and roll backing. The music shows the most dynamic range of the newborn genre, from songs with lengthy quiet sections with expressive spoken word vocals, to pounding rock and roll with Smith snarling, jabbering and yelping overtop. Smith shows intelligence and raw energy throughout, a deserving inspiration to generations of female rockers through her songwriting, performance, and by remaining androgynous, never relying on her gender to gain appeal (shown by the cover photo, taken by Robert Mapplethorpe). She was the first person to write a punk song with movements (no it wasn't Green Day) and the first female rocker- I believe- to fall off a stage while rocking out (no it wasn't Karen O).

Every track is great and it's inevitable that this review will be long, but I'll try my best. "Gloria" the opener pulls the chorus from the song of the same name made popular by Them, an early band of Van Morrison, and the rest is by Smith. It starts with the incredible opening line, "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine". "Redondo Beach" is a song mourning a girl who committed suicide, masked by the happy reggae tune supporting it. "Free Money" would be one of my favorites for being one of the most catchy and straight-forward rockers on the album. It starts with a quiet intro of twinkling piano with gentle bass and vocals, which soon takes off into a toe-tapper with a great ending full of back-up vocals and the title repeated rapid-fire.

"Land" is the focus of the album for sure, a 9 1/2 minute song with three connected movements. It starts with a powerful beat poetry section about a boy being attacked who, in terror, imagines as if he's surrounded by horses, and "Horses" also being the name of this first movement. The tempo builds up steam and then bursts into the second movement, another nod to Smith's love for old rock and roll with her take on "Land of a Thousand Dances." It seems like an odd transition, but it just seems to make sense here moving from chants of "Horses! Horses! Horses! Horses!" to "Do ya know how to pony like Bony Maroni? Do you know how to twist? Well it goes like this, it goes like this." By this mood change the song is in full swing and you will stomp your foot and sing along every time. The song winds down and returns to a possibly violated Johnny ("his sperm coffin") in the final movement "La Mer (De)" with dances reappearing occasionally ("Do the Watusi!"). It all ends with the word slowing to a halt, preaching what it seems Smith is all about: "There was a man… dancing… around… to the simple… rock & roll… song."

The original album ends with the subdued piano-based "Elegie", but this release adds one more track. No it's not a waste-of-space demo version of a song on the album like on so many re-released classics, it's a worthy track – The Patti Smith group live in Cleveland in 1976. They perform a punk-as-hell version of The Who's "My Generation" complete with added profanity by Smith (rather than "Things they do look awful cold, Hope I die before I get old", she screams "I don't need that fuckin' shit, Hope I die because of it!" It ends with Smith chanting over top of the feedback, "I'm so young, I'm so goddamn young!" which later reappears as a lyric from "Privilege" on 1978's Easter. Also, it seems that John Cale from VU (also the producer of this album) is playing with them, because she yells "John Cale!" right before the bass solo. The song is a worthy addition and also works well to end the disc. As far as the album as a whole in reissued form, it looks great and sounds great so I have no complaints other than I wish the lyrics were included since they're so fantastic. Lyrics can be found easily online however.

Whew! That was quite a mouthful, and if you made it all the way you either already have this amazing album or you were hopefully convinced to go get it immediately. It takes a little patience to warm up to, but you will be paid back tenfold. It may be disputed, but I say punk started here, and I also say that very little punk music has been this ambitious since. Easiest score I've ever had to give.