Monday, December 14, 2015

40 Year Itch: White Shining Silver Studs

Patti Smith : Land

   When you consider Patti Smith's Horses from this side of the punk rock explosion, it's a raw, revolutionary debut - a "catalyst" for punk. But consider the year Horses ( with its defiant cover shot by best friend Robert Mapplethorpe) actually came out: 1975. 
      The Captain and Tennille had the year's biggest pop hit and Elton John's Greatest Hits was  the year's top selling album. It was the year of Kiss, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles and Abba. Of 10cc's "I'm Not in Love", KC and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way ( I Like It)" and Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy".

   Horses was a far different animal. It began with what has been called the greatest opening lines of any album: "Jesus died for somebody's sins /but not mine" and would go on to become one of the most startling debuts in rock history.

   The opening cut reimagines Them's "Gloria" with fragments from a spoken word piece Smith had written called "Oath", performed as early as 1973.

   The band plays garage rock chords around the poet's improvisational, Arthur Rimbaud influenced performance, described later by Bauhaus's Tom Murphy as though she were "possessed and sometimes she goes into hysterical, indecipherable sections which amaze me".

  Guitarist Lenny Kaye was already the professor of garage rock. He helped assemble and wrote the liner notes for Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era and is believed to be one of the first to use the term "punk rock" to describe the music of that era.

   "Kimberly" is a good example of the way Kaye's guitar based pop hooks supported Smith's free-form poetry. My sense had always been that we're hearing of the end of the world and Patti is reaching out to comfort her younger sister. I got the sister right part but as Patti Smith told The Guardian, "Housing developments were a new thing, postwar, they'd build them for poor people in areas that nobody wanted. Ours was literally on a swamp. We lived across the street from an old abandoned barn that got hit by lightning shortly after Kimberly was born. I went outside and I was holding her, watching this barn in fl ames. Hundreds of bats lived in it, and you could hear them screeching, and see bats and owls and buzzards flying out.'"

   So what did the punks really get from Horses? I think it's the bursts of energy you hear in "Gloria" and "Land" and especially in the bonus cut, a live version of The Who's "My Generation", coupled with the sneering vocals--all attitude--from Smith. 
   Horses, produced in fitful weeks of arguments by John Cale,  is the first album to come from New York's punk rock scene. But it's not punk. It's art of the highest order.

1 comment:

  1. An astonishing record. But even now, this side of the punk rock explosion, it's a different animal. This is the time of Adele, Coldplay and One Direction. The X-Factor and The Voice. Daft Punk are considered cutting edge and influential. The best music show on the telly is (still) Later... With Jools Holland. 'Horses' is what I dream all those things would be like.