Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Nov-Dec Contents 16 Rhythms
if you're unable to make the trip to Byron Bay for
2017's Bluesfest, the good news is that quite a few
of the acts will be performing sideshows around the
They include one of Bluesfest's headliners, Patti Smith
who will perform her debut album "Horses" in its entirety
during her set. First released in late December 1975
during the then burgeoning new York punk music scene,
"Horses", a fusion of simplistic rock music and Smith's
freeform, Beat poetry-infused lyrics, is now considered
to be among the greatest and most influential albums of
the American punk rock movement as well as one of the
greatest albums of all time.
Prior to recording "Horses" with guitarist/bassist and
rock archivist Lenny Kaye, guitarist/bassist Ivan Kral,
drummer Jay Dee Daugherty and pianist Richard Sohl,
Smith and her band cut a single, "Hey Joe"/"Piss Factory"
released in late 1974. The A-side was a version of the
rock standard with the addition of Smith's spoken word
piece about fugitive heiress Patty Hearst, on which Tom
Verlaine of Television contributed guitar. The B-side
originated as a poem written by Smith about the time she
spent working in a baby buggy factory and the salvation
she discovered in the form of a shop-lifted book, the 19th
century French poet Arthur Rimbaud's "Illuminations".
Later that year she performed spoken poetry on a track
on Ray Manzarek's album "The Whole World Started
With Rock & Roll now It's Out Of Control". She was
also briefly considered for the lead singer position in
Blue Oyster Cult. While that never happened, she did
contribute lyrics to several of the band's songs.
Prior to recording "Horses", Smith's band honed their
repertoire playing four to five nights a week for nine
straight weeks at CBGB's club on the Bowery in new
York, rehearsed solidly for a fortnight, then headed for
Electric Lady Studios to make their debut album almost
christened "Land". Impressed by the raw sound of his
solo albums particularly "Fear", Smith approached John
Cale of The Velvet Underground to serve as her album's
producer. Early sessions for the album were marked by
frequent arguments between Smith and Cale, owing to
their differing ideas as to how the album should sound.
Kaye remembered it this way: "Patti wasn't trying to make
a hit record, John was into The Beach Boys at the time".
Smith later expressed gratitude for Cale's persistence in
producing the album noting that he would always leave
much of the band's honest flaws in and "helped us in the
birth of ourselves". In Smith's own words, "Horses" was
conceived as "three-chord rock merged with the power of
the word". "Horses" drew on genres such as rock and roll,
reggae and jazz. The opening track, a gender bending
retake on Them's "Gloria", incorporated verses from
Smith's own poem "Oath". "Jesus died for somebody's
sins but not mine" is her response to a confining religious
upbringing, (her mum was a Jehovah's Witness).
Several other songs were inspired by memories of her
family, others by her idols. "Redondo Beach", featuring a
reggae beat, is about a missing lover whose body washes
up on a beach. It was inspired by an incident in which
Patti's sister Linda disappeared for a day following an
argument with her. "Kimberly", a song about the power
of love, was named after and dedicated to her sister
Kimberly. The first half of the song relates to Patti
holding her new baby sister, in the second half she saves
her from danger. "Break It Up" was written about Jim
Morrison and is based on recollections of her visit to
his grave in Paris and a dream in which she witnessed
Morrison breaking free from his headstone.
Improvised by the band, "Birdland", that clocks in
at nine minutes, owing more to jazz, which Smith's
mother enjoyed, than to the influence of punk, features
lyrics based upon Peter Reich's "A Book Of Dreams"
a 1973 memoir of his father, controversial Austrian
psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich who died in a US jail in
The song reflects on the first moments of solitude
after the conclusion of a family funeral. "A Book Of
Dreams" was also the inspiration for Kate Bush's hit
song "Cloudbusting". "Land", another nine minute
track featuring the first verse of Chris Kenner's "Land
Of A Thousand Dances" contains references to Arthur
Rimbaud and Beat poet William S.Burroughs. "Free
Money" finds Smith reminiscing about growing up poor
in new Jersey dreaming of winning the lottery. "Elegie"
with Allen Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult on guitar, was
written about Jimi Hendrix. The lyrics "I think it's sad,
it's all too bad, our friends can't be with us today", reveal
much about Smith's decision to make this the album's
Upon its release, John Rockwell in Rolling Stone
magazine recognized the over-whelming importance of
words in Smith's work that covered a range of concerns
"far beyond what most rock records even dream of".
Michael Stipe of R.E.M. has cited "Horses" as his primary
inspiration for becoming a musician. Courtney Love and
Viv Albertine of The Slits stated that "Horses absolutely
and completely changed our lives". Siouxsie And The
Banshees, The Smiths, Garbage have all cited "Horses" as
a key influence.
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