Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Patti Smith Horses (1975)


This is regarded as a seminal punk recording from a longtime CBGB’s veteran, dubbed the “punk poetess” for her unique melding of free flowing, poetic lyrics with a basic brand of spare, energetic garage rock.

Produced by the legendary former Velvet Underground member John Cale, her excellent backing band included former rock critic turned guitarist Lenny Kaye, whose primitive guitar stabs anchored the band’s bare boned attack (other band members included drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, bassist Ivan Kral, and keyboardist Richard Sohl).

Starting out with the immortal line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” (does she know how to make an entrance or what?), it was clear from the start that this was something different, and it isn’t until later on that it becomes apparent that this song is actually a distinctive reworking of Them’s classic “Gloria.”

For one thing, with her strange yodels, ticks, and deep pitch Smith makes for a dramatic, wholly unique singer; I for one consider her a great, incredibly passionate singer even though she probably wouldn’t make it out of the first round on American Idol! Delivering literary but genuinely exciting music, Smith became a role model to many subsequent female (and male) rockers (just ask Michael Stipe), but her willingness to take chances will always mark her as a true American original.

True, this album was seen by some as self-indulgent (like Television’s Marquee Moon which this challenges as the best album from the CBGB’s scene, this is far more ambitious than your typical punk rock record and as such it’s really only tangentially related to punk) and it wasn’t exactly a runaway commercial success. Still, songs such as the reggae tinged “Redondo Beach” (the lightest track here along with “Kimberly”) and “Break It Up” (that’s Television’s Tom Verlaine superb on guitar, while its shouted chorus is also memorable) are actually quite catchy.

Meanwhile, the transcendent 9+ minute epics “Birdland” and “Land” (comprised of three separate parts, the middle section of which reprises the soul classic “Land Of A Thousand Dances”) are elevated by her intense, expressive vocals, while musically these surreal, adventurous tracks recall Bob Dylan or John Coltrane more than the Ramones.

The iconic black and white cover photo showed that Patti was a tough, thoughtful, no frills type of woman who meant serious business, a point that’s perhaps best exemplified by the thrilling rocker “Free Money,” one of my favorite songs ever.

Far from being just an “influential” album that’s much beloved by punk rockers, critics, and feminists, Horses is simply one of the best rock albums of all-time, and despite subsequent successes during a sporadic recording career (including the Bruce Springsteen co-penned hit “Because The Night”) she never again quite recaptured the intense beauty and sheer magic of this legendary debut.


December 28, 2013 - Posted by | Patti Smith Horses |

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