PATTI SMITH - Horses (Arista Records AL 4066, 1975)
Patricia Lee Smith was born in Chicago to Beverly Smith, a jazz singer turned waitress, and Grant Smith, who worked as a machinist at a Honeywell plant. The family was of part-Irish ancestry and Patti was the eldest of four children. At the age of 4, Smith's family moved from Chicago to the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, before her family moved to Pitman, New Jersey and later to The Woodbury Gardens section of Deptford Township, New Jersey. At this early age Smith was exposed to her first records, including Shrimp Boats by Harry Belafonte, Patience and Prudence's The Money Tree, and Another Side of Bob Dylan, which her mother gave to her. Smith graduated from Deptford Township High School in 1964 and went to work in a factory. She gave birth to her first child, a daughter, on April 26, 1967, and chose to place her for adoption.
In 1967, she left Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) and moved to Manhattan. She met photographer Robert Mapplethorpe there while working at a bookstore with friend and poet Janet Hamill. She and Mapplethorpe had an intense romantic relationship, which was tumultuous as the pair struggled with times of poverty, and Mapplethorpe with his own sexuality. Smith considers Mapplethorpe to be one of the most important people in her life, and in her book Just Kids refers to him as "the artist of my life." Mapplethorpe's photographs of her became the covers for the Patti Smith Group albums, and they remained friends until Mapplethorpe's death in 1989. She went to Paris with her sister in 1969, and started busking and doing performance art. When Smith returned to Manhattan, she lived in the Hotel Chelsea with Mapplethorpe; they frequented Max's Kansas City and CBGB. Smith provided the spoken word soundtrack for Sandy Daley's art film Robert Having His Nipple Pierced, starring Mapplethorpe. The same year Smith appeared with Wayne County in Jackie Curtis's play Femme Fatale. Afterward, she also starred in Tony Ingrassia's play Island. As a member of the St. Mark's Poetry Project, she spent the early 1970s painting, writing, and performing. In 1971 she performed for one night only in Cowboy Mouth, a play that she co-wrote with Sam Shepard. (The published play's notes call for "a man who looks like a coyote and a woman who looks like a crow".) She wrote several poems, "for sam shepard" and "Sam Shepard: 9 Random Years (7 + 2)" about her relationship with Shepard.
Smith was briefly considered for the lead singer position in Blue Öyster Cult. She contributed lyrics to several of the band's songs, including "Debbie Denise" (inspired by her poem "In Remembrance of Debbie Denise"), "Baby Ice Dog", "Career of Evil", "Fire of Unknown Origin", "The Revenge of Vera Gemini" (on which she performs duet vocals), and "Shooting Shark". She was romantically involved at the time with the band's keyboardist, Allen Lanier. During these years, Smith also wrote rock journalism pieces, some of which were published in Rolling Stone and Creem. By 1974, Patti Smith was performing rock music, initially with guitarist, bassist and rock archivist Lenny Kaye, and later with a full band comprising Kaye, Ivan Kral on guitar and bass, Jay Dee Daugherty on drums and Richard Sohl on piano. Kral was a refugee from Czechoslovakia who had moved to the United States in 1966 with his parents, who were diplomats. After the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, he decided not to return. Financed by Sam Wagstaff, the band recorded a first single, "Hey Joe / Piss Factory", in 1974. The A-side was a version of the rock standard with the addition of a spoken word piece about fugitive heiress Patty Hearst ("Patty Hearst, you're standing there in front of the Symbionese Liberation Army flag with your legs spread, I was wondering were you gettin' it every night from a black revolutionary man and his women"). A court later heard that Hearst had been confined against her will, and had been repeatedly threatened with execution and raped. The B-side describes the helpless anger Smith had felt while working on a factory assembly line and the salvation she discovered in the form of a shoplifted book, the 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations. In a 1996 interview which discusses artistic influences during her younger years, Smith said, "I had devoted so much of my girlish daydreams to Rimbaud. Rimbaud was like my boyfriend." Later that same year, she performed spoken poetry on "I Wake Up Screaming" from Ray Manzarek's "The Whole Thing Started with Rock & Roll Now It's Out of Control" album.
"Horses" was the debut studio album by American musician Patti Smith, released on December 13, 1975, on Arista Records. Smith, a fixture of the then-burgeoning New York punk rock music scene, began recording "Horses" with her band in 1975 after being signed to Arista Records, with John Cale being enlisted to produce the album. With its fusion of simplistic rock and roll structures and Smith's freeform, Beat poetry-infused lyrics, "Horses" was met with widespread critical acclaim upon its initial release. Despite a lack of airplay or a popular single to support the album, it nonetheless experienced modest commercial success, managing a top 50 placing on the US Billboard 200. "Horses" has since been viewed by critics as one of the greatest and most influential albums in the history of the American punk rock movement, as well as one of the greatest albums of all time. "Horses" has also been cited as a key influence on a number of succeeding post-punk, and alternative rock acts, including Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Smiths, R.E.M. and PJ Harvey.
By 1975, Patti Smith and her band had established themselves as favorites in the New York underground club scene, and the band eventually caught the attention of industry executive Clive Davis, who was scouting for new talent to sign to his new label Arista Records and later offered Smith a record deal. Recording sessions for Smith's debut album "Horses" began later that year, with Smith retaining her longtime backing band from a lengthy residency at the New York club CBGB, Jay Dee Daugherty on drums, Lenny Kaye on guitar, Ivan Kral on bass, and Richard Sohl on keyboards. Smith enlisted Welsh musician John Cale, formerly of The Velvet Underground, to serve as the album's producer, as she was impressed by the raw sound of his own albums, such as "Fear". According to Smith, "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". Recording sessions for the album were marked by frequent arguments between Smith and Cale, owing in part to their different work ethics. By the end of recording, and for some years immediately following the album's release, Smith was quick to downplay Cale's contributions and suggested that she and her band ignored his suggestions entirely. In a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone, Smith described the experience:
"My picking John was about as arbitrary as picking Rimbaud. I saw the cover of Illuminations with Rimbaud's face, y'know, he looked so cool, just like Bob Dylan. So Rimbaud became my favorite poet. I looked at the cover of Fear and I said, 'Now there's a set of cheekbones.' In my mind I picked him because his records sounded good. But I hired the wrong guy. All I was really looking for was a technical person. Instead, I got a total maniac artist. I went to pick out an expensive watercolor painting and instead I got a mirror. It was really like A Season in Hell, for both of us. But inspiration doesn't always have to be someone sending me half a dozen American Beauty roses. There's a lotta inspiration going on between the murderer and the victim. And he had me so nuts I wound up doing this nine-minute cut that transcended anything I ever did before".
John Cale would later recall that PattiSmith initially struck him as "someone with an incredibly volatile mouth who could handle any situation", and that as producer on "Horses" he wanted to capture the energy of her live performances, noting that there "was a lot of power in Patti's use of language, in the way images collided with one another." He described their working relationship during recording as "confrontational and a lot like an immutable force meeting an immovable object". Smith herself would later attribute much of the tension between herself and Cale to her inexperience with formal studio recording, recalling that she was "very, very suspicious, very guarded and hard to work with" and "made it difficult for him to do some of the things he had to do". She expressed gratitude for Cale's persistence in recording and producing the band, noting that he would always leave much of the band's "adolescent and honest flaws" in and ultimately "helped us in the birth of ourselves", calling him "like a brother to me, a brother who gave me a helping hand."
In Smith's own words, "Horses" was conceived as "three-chord rock merged with the power of the word". Steve Huey of AllMusic calls "Horses" essentially the first art punk album. Smith and her band's sound, spearheaded by the rudimentary guitar work of Lenny Kaye, drew on the simple aesthetics of garage rock, and the group's use of simplistic chord structures was emblematic of the punk rock scene associated with the band. Smith, however, used such structures as a basis for lyrical and musical improvisation in the album's songs, diverging from other contemporary punk acts who generally shied away from solos."Horses" drew on genres such as rock and roll, reggae, and jazz. "Redondo Beach" features a reggae backing track, while "Birdland", which was improvised by the band in Electric Lady Studios, owed more to jazz, which Smith's mother enjoyed, than to the influence of punk.
Reflecting Smith's background as a poet, the album's lyrics channel the French Symbolism movement, incorporating influences from the works of Charles Baudelaire, William Blake, and Smith's lifelong idol Arthur Rimbaud, and recall the revolutionary spirit of Rimbaud and resonate with the energy of Beat poetry, according to CMJ's Steve Klinge. Several of the album's songs, "Redondo Beach", "Free Money", "Kimberly", were inspired by moments with members of Smith's family, while others. "Break It Up", "Elegie", were written about her idols. Smith's sisters provide the lyrical inspirations for "Redondo Beach" and "Kimberly"; the former song, about despairing over a missing lover, was inspired by an incident in which Smith's sister Linda disappeared for the day following an argument with her, and the latter song was named after and dedicated to Smith's sister Kimberly. "Free Money" is a recollection of Smith's childhood in New Jersey.
"Break It Up" was written by Smith about Jim Morrison, deceased lead singer of The Doors, and based on her recollection of her visit of Morrison's grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, as well as a dream in which she witnessed Morrison stuck to a marble slab, trying and eventually succeeding in breaking free from the stone. "Elegie" was written about deceased rock musician Jimi Hendrix. "Birdland" features lyrics based upon A Book of Dreams, a 1973 memoir of Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich by his son Peter, and Smith has said that she imagined the spirit of Hendrix watching her while she and her band recorded the song. Horses also features two adaptations of songs by other artists: "Gloria", a radical retake on the Them song incorporating verses from Smith's own poem "Oath", and "Land", already a live favorite, which features the first verse of Chris Kenner's "Land of a Thousand Dances". On the latter, Smith fuses the imagery of the Kenner song together with the experiences of the character Johnny, a reference to the homoerotic protagonist of William S. Burroughs' 1971 novel The Wild Boys, while also alluding to Arthur Rimbaud and, less directly, Jimi Hendrix, whom she imagined to be "dreaming a simple rock-and-roll song, and it takes him into all these other realms."
The cover photograph for "Horses" was taken using natural light by American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, a close friend of Smith's, at the Greenwich Village penthouse apartment of his partner Sam Wagstaff. Smith is depicted wearing a plain white shirt which she had purchased at the Salvation Army on the Bowery and slinging a black jacket over her shoulder and her favorite black ribbon around her collar. Embedded on the jacket is a horse pin that Smith's friend Allen Lanier had given her. Smith has described her pose on the cover as a mix of Baudelaire and Sinatra. The record company wanted to make various changes to the photo, but Smith overruled such attempts. The black and white treatment and unisex pose were a departure from the typical promotional images of girl singers of the time, but Smith maintains that she wasn't making a big statement. That's just the way I dressed.
Upon initial release, "Horses" was met with near-universal acclaim from music critics and publications. In a contemporary review for Rolling Stone, John Rockwell wrote that "Horses" is wonderful in large measure because it recognizes the over-whelming importance of words in Smith's work, covering a range of concerns far beyond what most rock records even dream of, and highlighted Smith's adaptions of rock standards as the most striking songs on the record. In Creem, Lester Bangs wrote that Smith's music in its ultimate moments touches deep wellsprings of emotion that extremely few artists in rock or anywhere else are capable of reaching, and declared that with her wealth of promise and the most incandescent flights and stillnesses of this album she joins the ranks of people like Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, or the Dylan of "Sad Eyed Lady" and Royal Albert Hall. Robert Christgau gave "Horses" an A- grade in The Village Voice and remarked that while the album does not capture Smith's humor, it gets the minimalist fury of her band and the revolutionary dimension of her singing just fine.
The "Horses" mix of philosophical elements in Smith's songwriting and rock and roll elements in its music did, however, attract some polarizing reactions, particularly from the British music press. A review of Horses from Melody Maker dismissed the album as precisely what's wrong with rock and roll right now. On the other hand, Jonh Ingham of Sounds published a five-star review of "Horses", naming it the record of the year and one of the most stunning, commanding, engrossing platters to come down the turnpike since John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band. Charles Shaar Murray of NME called it an album in a thousand and an important album in terms of what rock can encompass without losing its identity as a musical form, in that it introduces an artist of greater vision than has been seen in rock for far too long. Commercially, "Horses" performed modestly, managing to peak at number 47 on the United States Billboard 200 albums chart despite receiving virtually no airplay. At the end of 1975, "Horses" was voted the second best album of the year, behind Bob Dylan and The Band's "The Basement Tapes", in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics nationwide, published in The Village Voice. NME placed it at number thirteen on their year-end list of 1975's best albums. In 1979, Robert Christgau ranked it at number 38 on his list of the best albums of the 1970s.
Following its release, "Horses" further cemented Smith's reputation as one of the biggest names of the New York punk rock scene, alongside contemporary acts such as the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads, and it has since been cited as the first significant punk rock album. "Horses" is considered one of the key recordings of the early punk rock movement and a landmark for punk and new wave music in general, inspiring a raw, almost amateurish energy for the former and critical, engaging reflexivity for the latter, according to writer Chris Smith in his book 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music. The Observer critic Simon Reynolds wrote, Pipping the Ramones' first album to the post by five months, "Horses" is generally considered not just one of the most startling debuts in rock history but the spark that ignited the punk explosion. In Variety, David Sprague wrote that "Horses", which became the first major-label punk-rock album when Arista unleashed it in 1975, not only helped spread the gospel of Bowery art-punk around the world, it set the tone for smart, unbending female rockers of generations to come.
Various recording artists have specifically named "Horses" as an influence on their music. English post-punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees acknowledged that the song "Carcass" from their 1978 album "The Scream" was inspired by "Horses". Michael Stipe of R.E.M. bought the album as a high school student and says that it tore his limbs off and put them back on in a whole different order, citing Smith as his primary inspiration for becoming a musician. Morrissey and Johnny Marr shared an appreciation for the record, and one of their early compositions for The Smiths, "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle", is a reworking of "Kimberly". Courtney Love of Hole stated that "Horses" helped inspire her to become a rock musician, while Viv Albertine of The Slits stated that "Horses" absolutely and completely changed her life, adding: "Us girls never stood in front of a mirror posing as if we had a guitar because we had no role models. So, when Patti Smith came along, it was huge. She was groundbreakingly different." PJ Harvey stated in 1992 at the beginning of her career: "I heard "Horses" once and it was brilliant, not so much her music as her delivery, her words, her articulation. Her honesty".
"Horses" has been considered by music critics to be one of the finest albums in recorded music history, attaining high levels of critical success and influence in the years following its release despite modest sales figures. The album has been included in various publications' lists of the greatest albums of the 1970s and of all time. In 1992, NME ranked "Horses" at first place on its list of 20 Near-as-Damn-It Perfect Initial Efforts" Q magazine included it in its 2002 list of the 100 greatest punk albums. In 2003, the album was ranked number 44 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2006, Time named it as one of the All-TIME 100 Albums, and three years later, it was preserved by the Library of Congress into the National Recording Registry for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. In 2013, Rolling Stone ranked "Horses" number 10 on their list of the 100 best debut albums of all time, describing it as a declaration of committed mutiny, a statement of faith in the transfigurative powers of rock & roll.