Patti Smith

Arista, 1975

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Calling Patti Smith's 1975 debut a 'punk' album is a stretch. After all, it was about two years before the punk explosion of 1977 established the Bible of punk ethics. So, it's fortunate that Smith released Horses in 1975, because its ambition and heavy leaning toward the art world would have pissed off many a safety pin-wearing punk purist.

First off, there's a reason that The Hipster Handbook listed Horses as an album that people are proud to have in their collection yet rarely listen to. It's an album that is far easier to admire than to love, unlike those scruffy Ramones or passionate Clash guys. The music and even the packaging of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Horses immediately gives off a chilly, detached vibe for the listener.

The photography for the album was done by Robert Mapplethorpe, whom Smith lived with during this record's recording. The album was produced by John Cale, one of the most avant-garde figures in rock and, for many punks who despised bookish elitism, the rallying cry "Go Rimbaud!" during the song "Land" had to be a tad off-putting.

Still, that's what punk is all about, right? And Smith opens Horses with one of the most shocking lines in rock (considering this was about 30 years ago): "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine." The song is, of course, Smith's radical revamping of Van Morrison's "Gloria." It is a perfect introduction to Horses as it is an uneasy blend between urban grittiness and New York art pretense.

If punk is about stripping music down to its essential core, then purists would have surely frowned on a punk band inserting a nine-minute epic with free-form poetry in their album. But that's exactly what Smith did with "Land." Thirty years before "Jesus of Suburbia," Smith fractured "Land" into three pieces and let loose with some of the most incendiary guitar riffs of that time.

It may be overly ambitious and one may need a master's degree in some sort of obscure literary theory to truly 'get' Horses, but don't let it stop you from giving it a listen. Smith recorded the album while she was barely scraping by in New York, probably surviving on crackers and generic peanut butter. That "so close to starvation" hunger permeates Horses. Unlike almost any other pioneering punk album, Horses remains a landmark album for the sole reason that it stands alone in its originality. Few artists have been brave enough to even attempt to copy its blueprint.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B+


© 2005 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Arista, and is used for informational purposes only.