Thursday, May 8, 2014

44 Horses (1975) Patti Smith

1. Gloria: In Excelsis Deo;In Excelsis Deo/Gloria
2. Redondo Beach
3. Birdland
4. Free Money
5. Kimberly
6. Break It Up
7. Land: Horses\Land Of A Thousand Dances\La Mer(de)
8. Elegie

Punk is a strange thing isn't it? On one level Punk is amateur musicians playing three chord songs and shouting a lot. It's a lack of pretension and artifice and can be reduced to guys shouting simple lyrics at people who are spitting on them. Punk is a movement obsessed with its own inner workings that views anything other than punk with a sense of deep seated suspicion. But while it's screaming tunelessly into the void punk is also recognising godparents like Patti Smith who stands at that strange junction where poetry meets music.  Smith's attitude might be punk in nature but her music can be anything but. The final track on Horses finds her singing over the top of a mournful piano; and pianos, mournful or otherwise, have no place in Punk music.

Smith is apparently influenced by Punk music and did her part to influence it in return. She's hugely respected in punk circles but her influence also extends far beyond people who happily adopt Punk as a label. She's the idol of almost every woman who has gone into rock and roll since Horses was released and a hero to every girl who ever had the guts to try and front a band. Guys like her too, Bono and Michael Stipe cite her as a huge source of inspiration as does Morissey and many that followed in his footsteps. 

Personally I can't get into her at all. Listening to her nearly forty years after Horses was released it's hard to enjoy her in the same way others did. Her music is a bit too tuneless and non-melodic to grab me. But I can see why lots of vocalists regard her as a hero. Smith's voice is kind of haggard and worn now but back in 1977 it was an incredible instrument. It was capable of beautiful innocence one minute and world weary pain the next. It could be so light it barely impacts the vinyl or so deep and powerful it cuts right through it to bleed onto the other side. Smith uses her voice as a tool to emphasise, and at times counterpoint, her lyrics. She's not just singing a song she's evoking a mood, stating her case and generating a reaction in everyone who hears her. People like Bono, Stipe and Morrissey who were used to hearing polished singers on the radio must have sat up and taken notice. Smith's music opens up a whole world of new musical possibilities for vocalists who use their voice to give their music an extra depth of colour and not just a single predictable tone.

I'm sure Smith's lyrics are great but they didn't move me enough to appreciate or enjoy them which means Horses doesn't really impact me in any of the ways it's intended to. In 1977 it was a bold new statement by a rare talent who had something new to say and a new way of saying it. Forty years later I'm not hearing its message and the method of delivery isn't as unique as it was in the late seventies. I'm glad Horses existed because it had a huge positive impact on music at the time. This list is better for its existence but I don't really need to hear it again thanks all the same.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This release preens personality over songwriting content, making it sound more feminist victory than triumphant recording, with pretentious ramblings over slightly edgy songwriting simplicities creating the embraced illusion of something far less authentically gritty than posited."

-That's all one sentence which is actually kind of impressive

So would you ride these wild horses or turn them into glue? Let me know below


  1. I just want to say that this album was released in 1975, not 1977. Also, Patti Smith is considered to be proto-punk, whatever that means lol.

    On a side note: great album!

    1. Thanks for pointing out the date error. I've corrected it now. (and I have no idea what proto punk is either)