Saturday, November 8, 1975

Patti Smith released Horses

First posted 11/8/2013; updated 5/13/2019.

Horses

Patti Smith


Released: November 8, 1975


Charted: December 13, 1975


Peak: #47 US, #157 UK


Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.1 UK, 0.135 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: punk rock


Quotable: “Essentially the first art punk album” – Steve Huey, All Music Guide


Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)

  1. Gloria (In Exelsis Deo) [5:57] (Patti Smith/Van Morrison)
  2. Redondo Beach [3:26] (Smith/Lenny Kaye/Richard Sohl)
  3. Birdland [9:15] (Smith/Kaye/Sohl/Ivan Kral)
  4. Free Money [3:52] (Smith/Kaye)
  5. Kimberly [4:27] (Smith/Kral/Allen Lanier)
  6. Break It Up [4:04] (Smith/Tom Verlaine)
  7. Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer (De) [9:25] (Smith/Chris Kenner/Fats Domino)
  8. Elegie [2:57] (Smith/Lanier)

Review:

Patti Smith’s debut album, Horses, is “a rock record of overwhelming power” TL built on “Smith’s persona of volume, cunning and exile.” AZ The Observer’s Simon Reynolds called it “the spark that ignited the punk explosion.” WK It isn’t just considered “one of the greatest and most influential albums in…the American punk rock movement, but also of all time.” WK It has “been cited as a key influence on…post-punk, and alternative rock acts” like Hole, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Smiths, and Sonic Youth. WK R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe said Smith was “his primary inspiration for becoming a musician.” WK “Her artistry, honesty and female empowerment paved the way for future femme rockers Liz Phair, Alanis Morrissette and PJ Harvey.” RV

The album’s most important contribution may have been in “bringing together high art and low three-chord rock & roll.” AZ “Lenny Kaye’s rudimentary guitar work” AMG “drew on the simple aesthetics of garage rock” WK and the “use of simplistic chord structures.” WK This is a band which “emerged from the same punk scene as the Ramones, [but this is] a far cry from [their] three-chord jokiness.” RV

“Smith’s background as a rock critic and poet is equally in evidence.” NRR While artists like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and Jim Morrison “approached poetry through rock ‘n’ roll, [Smith] comes to rock ‘n’ roll via poetry.” PS-8 Her “freeform, Beat poetry-infused lyrics” WK “channel the French Symbolism movement,” including William Blake and Arthur Rimbaud, Smith’s lifelong idol. WK

“The loose, improvisatory song structures worked with her free verse to create something like a new spoken word/musical art form.’” AMGThe “brazen hybrid of literary smarts and feral rock” UT make for “the ultimate insider’s album,” EK “a rock critic’s dream” AMG – “Rimbaud with punk guitars.” BL It sounds like it “belongs on a syllabus for a class few people would willingly take.” TL


Clive Davis, John Cale, and the Recording of the Album:

Smith and her band were “a fixture of the then-burgeoning New York punk rock music scene,” WK maintaining a lengthy residency at the legendary CBGB club. “Like a lot of the proto-punk artists, Smith was romanticizing rock ’n roll’s past” EK while also “breaking new ground…the hallmark of great artists.” JM

Her band, which also consisted of drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, bassist Ivan Kral, and keyboardist Richard Sohl, caught the attention of Clive Davis, who was scouting new talent for his just-launched Arista Records label. She enlisted the Velvet Underground’s John Cale as the album’s producer, but she told Rolling Stone in a 1976 interview that she “hired the wrong guy” WK for years afterward said “she and her band ignored his suggestions entirely.” WK Cale described their working relationship as “confrontational” WK and said she struck him as “someone with an incredibly volatile mouth who could handle any situation.” WK Smith would later say much of the tension came from her inexperience in the studio and being “very guarded and hard to work with.” WK To Cale’s credit, his production “respected Smith’s primitivism in a way that later producers did not.” AMG

Smith said “Horses was a conscious attempt ‘to make a record that would make a certain type of person not feel alone. People who were like me, different ... I wasn't targeting the whole world. I wasn't trying to make a hit record.’” WK

“Despite her obvious mastery of rock ‘n roll,” JM the “waif-like poetess” WR was “some what of an anomaly.” JM “It’s a sad fact that pop music has been, and in many ways continues to be, a boys’ club.” EK However, with Horses, “a woman had finally taken the reins of the rock chariot” JM showing “she could beat the boys at her own game.” JM


The Cover:

Her boyfriend, Robert Mapplethorpe, “took the sleeve photo, which showed Smith a creature beyond gender, the music’s perfect pictorial analogue.” WR She wears a plain white shirt she bought at Salvation Army and has a black jacket slung over her shoulder, decorated by a horse pin given to her by Allen Lanier of Blue Ă–yster Cult. WK While “the black and white treatment and unisex pose were a departure from the typica promotional images of ‘girl singers’ of the time,” WK Smith said she “wasn’t making a big statement. That’s just the way I dressed.” WK


“Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)”

“The album’s most memorable words are its first: ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.’” TL The song, an early favorite in her live sets at CBGB’s, PS-102 is “a complete reinvention of Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria,’” TL in which she incorporates her poem “Oath.” “Nothing takes a single shape for long: not the tempo, the instrumentation, her accent, or the song’s idea of gender.” NPR The original, sung “from the perspective of a cocksure male protagonist,” PS-102 “relies on rhythmic dynamics to convey the excitement of sexual attraction.” PS-102 Smith highlights the religious context of “Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)” and “Glory to God in the Highest”) to question the connection between desire and authority and whether rejection of “the male savior figure has anything to do with the subversion of gendered identity that follows.” PS-102 Some listeners speculated that the song was a lesbian fantasy, but Smith isn’t necessarily singing the song from a female perspective. PS-102

“This song sets the tone of an alienated woman striving for catharsis with naked lyrics and vigorous guitar riffs.” RV “You realize you are in the presence of a master, someone who can take the poetic pretensions of the Lizard King and do them up right. Someone with the same blend of lasciviousness and aloofness as Jagger in his prime.” EK It makes for “one of the greatest side one/track ones of all time.” EK


“Redondo Beach”

Smith has said the song was inspired by an incident in which her sister Linda “disappeared for the day following an argument” between the two. WK Smith had a dream in which her sister died; the song details the disappearance of a girl who washes up on the shores of Redondo Beach, a victim of suicide.

However, choosing Redondo Beach as the location instead of New York’s Coney Island, where the song was conceived, PS-108 suggests some significance. The city in the greater Los Angeles area known for its gay and lesbian community. PS-106 When Smith laments at the end of the song how the song’s subject, a woman, will never return to her arms, it evokes the same questions of gender identity as “Gloria.”

Like some of Smith’s songwriting, the song “gets buried in its stylistic affectations;” AZ in this case, the fake reggae sound. AZ The upbeat nature of the soung contrasts with the levity of the circumstances.


“Birdland”

The song ran four minutes on stage, but producer John Cale pushed for Smith to improvise more, leading to the nine-minute, spoken-word/sung version on Horses. It “was inspired by A Book of Dreams, a 1973 memoir of Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich by his son Peter.” WK Reich was an exile from Nazi Germany who was investigated by the FBI for his left-wing politics and unorthodox scientific claims about the function of the orgasm. He became a counterculture figure. PS-111

The song keyed in on “a narrative in which Peter, at his father’s funeral, imagines leaving on a UFO piloted by his father’s spirit.” WK In the song, the son “is mutilated by a flock of birds, abducted by said aliens, and transported to another dimension.” NPR The son’s departure on the ship suggests a return to the womb, subverting the more traditional male and sexual roles. The song also addresses “the wish to transcend the limitations of the human, to convert death…to a higher plane of existence.” PS-113


“Free Money”

This is the album’s “most conventional rock song” and “arguably the song on Horses that is most closely rooted in social reality.” PS-114 It “is a recollection of Smith’s childhood in New Jersey” WK and the ability of Smith’s mother “to transform the mundane, by, for example, converting a pot of potatoes into a ‘mountain of French fries,’ which enables Smith, and her siblings, to overlook their material circumstances.” PS-114

The lyrics emphasize the “relations between money and criminality.” PS-115 “Musically, the song relies on Daugherty’s impressive command of rhythm and texture to convey the sense of a narcotic ascent into the delirious heights of capitalist consumption.” PS-115 “The song ends with a shouted insistence on the relations between freedom, money, and dreams, but also with an anxiety that, as a result of capital, it may no longer be possible to conceive of freedom or of dreams outside of a system of exchange.” PS-116 The song “offers a perfect illustration of how rock music can celebrate even as it challenges the intoxicating effects of money and power.” PS


“Kimberly”

The song which opens side two “was named after and dedicated to Smith’s sister Kimberly” WK and is based on a storm which occurred shortly after her birth in 1959. It “addresses the relations between art, individuation, and the divine,” PS-117 using the storm to represent “the point at which Smith…rejects religion in favor of art.” PS-117 Smith was “sick of being a Jehovah’s Witness, because they said there was no place for art in Jesus’ world.” PS-117

Musically, the song is “disarmingly light, a welcome relief…from the heaviness of ‘Birdland’ and ‘Free Money.’” PS-119 Lyrically, though, the adolescent narrator sings of a coming apocalypse in which “the sky will split and the planets will shift.” She holds her baby sister, or “living doll,” in her arms – a symbol of the awakening of the narrator’s artistic awakening. PS-118


“Break It Up”

Despite the album’s “fierce declaration of independence from the Judeo-Christian tradiiton, it is a record that remains in thrall to the crippling power of divine judgment,” PS-121 and perhaps never more so than here. “‘Break It Up’ offers what is, perhaps, the purest distillation of Horses’ transcendental aspirations.

Smith was inspired to write this based on a visit to the grave of Doors’ lead singer Jim Morrison – and a dream she had in which Morrison was stuck to a marble slab and freed himself from the stone. WK Morrison is painted as a “god-like hero, condemned and tortured by a conservative establishment intent on quashing the spirit of youthful rebellion.” PS-122 He and the narrator “tear their skin off, turn into angels, and fly away from their hellish, earthly existence.” NPR


“Land”

Smith related that this grew out of the days when she and guitarist Lenny Kaye were auditioning second guitarists. “Lenny would keep the same three chords going, louder and louder…If the guy auditioning dropped out first, that meant he wasn’t any good.” SF When Ivan Kral came in, they did Chris Kenner’s “Land of a Thousand Dances” and Ivan wouldn’t stop. As Smith said, “We figured that was really cool. He ain’t no genius, but he’s got a lotta heart.” SF

Smith eventually added her own “provocative and unflinching lyrics” NRR from the title poem of her Witt collection to create “a three-part suite comparable to The Doors’ ‘The End.’” RV In the story about “the relationship between a murderer and victim,” SF she touched on “themes of sex, sacrifice, and identity,” PS-129 and, in homages to the songs referenced in “Land of a Thousand Dances,” infused the idea to “keep on laughing, …keep on dancing” PS-129 even in the face of sexual predators and assault. NPR

The song centers on Johnny “and the subsequent surrealist journey he experiences” CS when he “is raped, gets addicted to cocaine, and commits suicide.” NRP The character, who Smith said is a “pre-punk rock kid…entering the world, ready to take it on” SF and serves as a “metaphor for the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.” SF He is a based on “the homoerotic protagonist of William S. Burroughs’ 1971 novel The Wild Boys.” WK Smith also name checks poet Arthur Rimbaud and alludes to the deaths of rock musicians like Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison, PS-126 and the resurrection of these “stallions” as they “rise from the watery depths to be resurrected as ‘sea horses,’ potent symbols of sexual energy.” PS-128


“Elegie”

“From a musicological point of view, [this is] the first true tune on the album” PS-136 with Smith “inflecting the lyrics with a rich harmonic diversity not encourntered elsewhere on the album.” PS-136

It was recorded on the sixth anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death and even incorporates a line from his “1983” song. WK It serves not just as “a farewell offering to the record…[but] to Hendrix, Morrison, Rimbaud, et al.” PS-136 From the beginning line of “I just don’t know what to do tonight” the song “suggests the futility of our attempts to come to terms with loss…So-called closure is as perilous and fragile as the experience, death, that it seeks to comprehend and contain.” PS-136 It also brings up the uncomfortable reality that one can profit from the dead, specifically the celebrities she mourns.


Conclusion:

“The anarchic spirit of Smith’s vocals” AMG are “an acquired taste” EK and her “somewhat casual relationship with phonics can make for a challenging listen if you don’t have a lyric sheet right handy.” EK She also deserves “props for her flair for the theatrical.” JM “The melodies carry the influence of Van Morrison, Wilson Pickett and The Doors.” RV “The music is at times a jarring mix of ’60s Nuggetry (thank you Lenny Kaye) and free-form avant-garde” EK fused with “classical verse, feminism, [and] punk.” TL “Art, bohemia, poetry, rock ‘n’ roll, reggae, sex, and salvation crash and burn together.” VB

In the end, Horses is about “thinking, or rather it is about allowing oneself to be thought, in the sense of a general, abstract principle, and of being thought, in the sense of an object of cognition. But above all, perhaps, it is about giving way to the violent impulses of the shadow self.” PS-129


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