There’s three more days until I leave for Cuba on my much-belated honeymoon, so there’s only three more days of workouts before it’s all sunshine, ocean swims, beaches and margaritas. Today’s training plan is to slip in a quick easy solo spin before I “bring the thunder” by teaching the 6:00pm masters spin class. My album is an oldie but a goodie, the ‘Horses‘ album by Patti Smith.
I grabbed this back at a time where I was absolutely eating up anything that was listed in my now musical Bible (Mojo, August 1995) which ranked it at the lofty position of #10 on their list of the ‘100 Greatest albums Ever Made’. I had no clue who Patti Smith was at the time other than she was pretty emaciated looking and seemed to like her suspenders. Not much to base an opinion on. A buddy of mine at the time picked up the album and if I recall correctly, had some kind of psychotic episode one night while listening to the title track on some psychedelic or other. This makes the album all the more alluring to listen to this evening.
Smith, a fixture of the then-burgeoning New York punk rock music scene, began recording ‘Horses’ with her band in 1975 (marking this year as it’s 30th Anniversary) 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. It has since been viewed by critics as one of the greatest and most influential albums in the history of 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 punk, post-punk, and alternative rock acts, including Siouxsie and the Banshees, R.E.M., and The Smiths.
It isn’t hard to make the case for Smith as a punk rock progenitor based on her debut album, which anticipated the new wave by a year or so: the simple, crudely played rock & roll, featuring Lenny Kaye’s rudimentary guitar work, the anarchic spirit of Smith’s vocals, and the emotional and imaginative nature of her lyrics – all prefigure the coming movement as it evolved on both sides of the Atlantic. Smith is a rock critic’s dream, a poet as steeped in ’60s garage rock as she is in French Symbolism; ‘Land‘ carries on from the Doors‘ ‘The End‘, marking her as a female successor to Jim Morrison, while the borrowed choruses of ‘Gloria‘ and ‘Land of a Thousand Dances‘ are more in tune with the era of sampling than they were in the ’70s. Producer John Cale respected Smith’s primitivism in a way that later producers did not, and the loose, improvisatory song structures worked with her free verse to create something like a new spoken word/musical art form: ‘Horses‘ was a hybrid, the sound of a post-Beat poet, as she put it, “dancing around to the simple rock & roll song”. Yet, despite the “easy” nature of tonight’s spin, there was no “dancing around” to be had…in the saddle or otherwise. It was, however, a great listen.
One has to wonder how my buddy would react these days if he were to listen to this album again. I know I definitely appreciated it more than I did the first time around.