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Horses - Patti Smith
Member Name: Mauri
Horses - Patti Smith
Date: 02/08/02, updated on 02/08/02 (266 review reads)
Advantages: Powerful lyrics, Groundbreaking songs
Patti Smith has been called the high priestess of Punk. I'm not sure how useful these labels can be but she was part of the early 70's New York Punk scene and she has always displayed what later would be identified as the punk ethos in her music.
After years earning a living as a music critic, playwright, songwriter, poet and actress
She joined forces with guitarist and friend Lenny Kaye, Richard Sohl and Tom Verlaine to record a single 'Hey Joe' an adaptation of the old Jimi Hendrix hit. This is by many considered to be the first Punk Indie single.
With the departure of Tom Verlaine they were joined by lead guitarist and Czech exile Ivan Kral, the group followed the single by recording an album 'Horses' in 1976.
2. Redondo Beach
4. Free Money
6. Break It Up
7. Land [Medley]: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer (De)
'Horses' is a landmark album of the 70's. Partly produced by John Cale (ex- Velvet Underground) it is a high-energy proto-punk record with an amazing vocal/lyrical performance by Patti Smith herself.
In order to understand the concept behind the record it is important to know a little of Patti Smith own concepts in relation to music.
She famously described the record as
"Three chord rock merged with the power of the word".
This illustrates the importance of words to Smith. She had always been an admirer of the beat writers such as Kerouac and Ginsberg and had experimented with writing free form or spontaneous poetry herself. The idea behind making a record was to adapt the concepts embodied in the poetry she loved into a musical form. In doing this she also wanted to reflect the feeling that existed at the time amongst musicians and youn
g people generally, so a political dimension also had to be integrated in to the music
From the very first line of the very first song 'Gloria' on this record we know where Patti Smith is coming from.
"Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine"
This one line seems to vocalize the angst and aggression that later was to be transformed in to the nihilism of the English punk movement.
'Gloria' had been covered by Van Morrison when he was the lead singer of Them in the mid 60's and also by The Doors a few years later. Both these versions were filled with sexual energy but Patti Smith's version (both lyrics and musical arrangement were subtly changed) made an even greater impact firstly because a woman was singing it and thus the sexual tone of the song was seen from a lesbian perspective and secondly from the aggressiveness of the vocal performance, which in a female singer had not been seen since the days of Janis Joplin.
Redondo Beach is another notable track on the record. It is essentially a Reggae track, which was quite unusual for it's time since the concept of 'White Reggae' that groups like The Clash and The Police were to popularise later in the decade, had not yet been developed. Reggae had been brought to a mass audience in the early 70's by the success of Bob Marley and had always had a political dimension this is possibly the reason why the punk movement in general later developed strong links with reggae artist and music. As far as I know 'Redondo Beach' is the first example or at least a very early example of this association.
My own personal favourite track on Horses must be 'Birdland'. The lyrics evoke some powerful visual images and Patti Smith's voice starting off just talking then building up to a violent crescendo still sends a shiver down my spine. The small boy in the song, that is standing in a corn field on a hot sum
mers day is supposedly the young, French 19th century poet Arthur Rimbaud who has always been a iconic figure to many songwriters (Jim Morrison, Morrissey) who over the years have explored the idea of alienation in their songs. 'Birdland' sets up a surreal situation as the small boy is mesmerised by the circular flight of some black birds above him and then whether in his imagination or in reality, he is slowly lifted up by them and dragged up in to the sky.
'Free Money' is a more traditional driving rock track in which the whole band really cranks things up to a fever pitch while light relief is presented in the form a 'Kimberly' a melodic ballad.
The record is rounded off by the epic track 'Land' with its disturbing insights in to high school angst and suicide. Clearly Patti wasn't a very happy bunny at this time.
'Horses' really launched Patti Smith's musical career, it made it in to the US top 50 album chart and cemented her reputation as the first of a new breed of Rock Poets, artist for whom lyrics were just as important as the music. Musically 'Horses' cannot be said to be recognisably Punk, at least not the English version of Punk, which was to develop in the next few years but it did contain all the elements that we have come to associate with that form of music.
On this album we can clearly see that Patti Smith's attitude to her music and her vocal performances borrowed much from earlier artist like Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger. John Cale's co-production on the record is noticeable on many of the tracks, which have a 'Velvet Underground' slightly unhinged quality to them. The musicianship of the band although full of energy at times doesn't excel technically, but as we were to later find with many punk bands it doesn't matter what the guitar playing is like as long as its loud!
'Horses' is an important album in the developm
ent of female artists in a mainly male dominated world of rock music. We have to set in to context in order to understand the impact that it had. Today we are used to female artist holding their own with their male counterparts in Rock music, artist like PJ Harvey, Courtney Love and before them Chrissie Hynde, Siouxsie Sioux, Debbie Harry have all managed to be taken seriously as song writers and lead vocalist but in the mid 70's when Horses was first released rock music was dominated by the almost exclusively macho male groups like Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Pink Floyd, The Who and the list goes on.
With 'Horses' Patti Smith led the way for countless female artist that followed her. Her devotion to the purpose in her music and the importance of the lyrics made many people start to take female rock artist seriously for the first time and trend, which was to be developed further and expanded through Punk and New Wave music.
'Horses' still remains to this day a blueprint for what a 'Rock Chick' with attitude should sound like. Considered along with the rest of her records 'Horses' is not the best that Patti Smith has made but it certainly is the most important.
The CD is videly available at most record shops and can be bought online from Amazon UK for £6.66(+ P&P).
Thanks for reading and rating this opinion
© Mauri 2002