“Horses” by Patti Smith - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1975Album Chart of the Decade: 1970s1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die external-link.png

TJR says

The debut album from the 28-year-old arrived at the very tail end of ‘75. ‘Til recently, Patti’s work had been played out via street busking, coffee shops, book shops, churches and small theatres. She had been a spoken-word artist, a poet, an actor, a performance artist, a painter and had even dabbled in a bit of rock journalism. After hooking up again with Lenny Kaye at the tail end of ’73 (the pair had first met and played together in ’71) Patti came to the conclusion that, like Jim Morrison before her, fronting her own rock band was the best way to get her prose out there and, with Lenny’s help, this duly came to be. They garnered quite a street-level reputation for themselves in New York ’74, culminating in a well-received debut single, “Hey Joe” b/w “Piss Factory”. Clive Davis of Arista Records sensed an opportunity for his new label, and signed them up for an album, with Patti entrusting the production duties to John Cale, hoping that he could capture the happening sound of mid-70s New York. As a rock n roller, Patti was arriving fully formed; she knew her mind, she knew her music history, and she certainly knew her poetry. There’s no doubt that she was in the right place at the right time to take it all to another level. Her band are really great – they are firmly camped in with the agitators of the underground, lining up for a musical square-go with the Eagles, Genesis and their ilk. In tune with this sense of agitation, Patti’s vocal delivery bristles with all the energy of a caged and coiled bird, finally released to the wild. This powerful force of nature may not have come as such a great surprise to the street punks of CBGBs – but her intellectual lyrics were something else altogether; the whole was a real heady cocktail.

Patti liked to shock – and here on her debut, the great taboos of sex and religion were high on the agenda. We don’t have to wait long for the first “blasphemous” act. “Gloria: In Excelsis Deo / Gloria (Version)” begins with a softly played piano, over which Patti quotes from “Oath”, one of her early poems: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”. Rock n Roll is the new religion – and so the sermon begins with a rip-roaring version of Them’s lust-laden classic. The group then deliver an unexpected, but nevertheless stupendous, reggae bed for “Redondo Beach”, upon which the singer regales the tragic tale of a broken lover turned to suicide: “Down by the ocean it was so dismal, I was just standing with shock on my face, The hearse pulled away and the girl that had died, it was you, You'll never return into my arms 'cause you were gone, gone.” Death is, again, to the fore on “Birdland”, an improvised piece which begins with a little boy who’s lost his Daddy, and goes on to hallucinate about his father’s fantastical return via UFO’s which turn out to be no more than a flock of blackbirds. Patti’s delivery reflects the inner-turmoil and portrays an incredible intensity, as she positively wails phrases such as “You are not human”, “I am not human” and “we are not human”. She would later reveal: “that's really talking about myself. From very early on in my childhood - four, five years old – I felt alien to the human race. I felt very comfortable with thinking I was from another planet, because I felt disconnected – I was very tall and skinny, and I didn't look like anybody else, I didn't even look like any member of my family.” “Free Money” is another fantasy song. Patti’s mum always dreamed about winning the lottery for the benefit of the family – even though she never ever bought a ticket! Bless. At least her heart was good!

It’s a dumb little New Wave Rock n Roller which steals my heart next: “Kimberly” was Patti's youngest sister by ten and a half years. It sounds to me like the bambini was well looked after: “The palm trees fall into the sea, It doesn't matter much to me, As long as you're safe, Kimberly, And I can gaze deep into your starry eyes, baby.” Gorgeous. “Break It Up” is probably the albums one true Rock song – and tastefully shows the hairy brigade exactly how it should be done; togetherness with no showboating. “Land: Horses / Land Of A Thousand Dances / La Mer(de)” then proceeds to steal the show; a near 10 minute journey that veers between hell and heaven. It’s Patti’s paean to Jimi Hendrix which, after a wild opening narrative, revels in the simplistic and hedonistic joys of a rock n roll past. Alas, there is no happy ending as a 27-year-old ghost rises from his death bed: “in the sheets, there was a man, dancin’ around to a simple, rock n roll, song”. Ironically, the song fades away rather than burning out. It’s one of thee greatest moments in the 70s Rock n Roll story. As if seizing the moment, poignant album closer “Elegie” – deliberately recorded on the 5th anniversary of Jimi’s death – finishes with lines borrowed from the man himself: “I think it’s sad, it’s much too bad, that our friends can’t be with us today.” And so Patti ended her incredible 1975 sermon. Suddenly, Rock n Roll had a future again…

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [05:57] 8.9.png Patti Smith - Gloria: In Excelsis Deo / Gloria (Patti Smith - George Ivan Morrison) Proto-Punk
A2 [03:26] 9.8.png Patti Smith - Redondo Beach (Patti Smith, Richard Sohl, Lenny Kaye) Reggae
A3 [09:15] 9.0.png Patti Smith - Birdland (Patti Smith, Richard Sohl, Lenny Kaye, Ivan Kral) Trance Rock
A4 [03:52] 9.2.png Patti Smith - Free Money (Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye) Proto-Punk
B1 [04:27] 10.0.png Patti Smith - Kimberly (Patti Smith, Allen Lanier, Ivan Kral) New Wave
B2 [04:04] 8.6.png Patti Smith - Break It Up (Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine) Rock
B3 [09:25] 10.0.png Patti Smith - Land: Horses / Land Of A Thousand Dances / La Mer(de) (Patti Smith - Patti Smith - Chris Kenner) Proto-Punk
B4 [02:57] 7.9.png Patti Smith - Elegie (Patti Smith, Allen Lanier) Moodcore

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