Horses (album)

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Horses
PattiSmithHorses.jpg
Studio album by Patti Smith
ReleasedDecember 13, 1975 (1975-12-13)
Recorded1975
StudioElectric Lady Studios (New York, New York)
Genre
Length43:26
LabelArista
ProducerJohn Cale
Patti Smith chronology
Horses
(1975)
Radio Ethiopia
(1976)

Horses is the debut studio album by American musician Patti Smith, released on December 13, 1975, on Arista Records. Smith, a fixture of the then-burgeoning New York punk rock music scene, began recording Horses with her band in 1975 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.

Horses has since been viewed by critics as one of the greatest and most influential albums in the history of the 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 post-punk, and alternative rock acts, including Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sonic Youth, Hole, The Smiths, R.E.M. and PJ Harvey.

Background and recording[edit]

John Cale (pictured in 1977) was enlisted by Smith to produce Horses.

By 1975, Patti Smith and her band had established themselves as favorites in the New York underground club scene, and the band eventually caught the attention of industry executive Clive Davis, who was scouting for new talent to sign to his new label Arista Records and later offered Smith a record deal.[1][2] Recording sessions for Smith's debut album Horses began later that year, with Smith retaining her longtime backing band from a lengthy residency at the New York club CBGBJay Dee Daugherty on drums, Lenny Kaye on guitar, Ivan Kral on bass, and Richard Sohl on keyboards.[1][3] Smith enlisted Welsh musician John Cale, formerly of The Velvet Underground, to serve as the album's producer, as she was impressed by the raw sound of his own albums, such as Fear.[1]

According to Smith, Horses was a conscious attempt "to make a record that would make a certain type of person not feel alone. People who were like me, different ... I wasn't targeting the whole world. I wasn't trying to make a hit record."[4] Recording sessions for the album were marked by frequent arguments between Smith and Cale, owing in part to their different work ethics.[1] By the end of recording, and for some years immediately following the album's release, Smith was quick to downplay Cale's contributions and suggested that she and her band ignored his suggestions entirely.[1] In a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone, Smith described the experience:

My picking John was about as arbitrary as picking Rimbaud. I saw the cover of Illuminations with Rimbaud's face, y'know, he looked so cool, just like Bob Dylan. So Rimbaud became my favorite poet. I looked at the cover of Fear and I said, 'Now there's a set of cheekbones.' In my mind I picked him because his records sounded good. But I hired the wrong guy. All I was really looking for was a technical person. Instead, I got a total maniac artist. I went to pick out an expensive watercolor painting and instead I got a mirror. It was really like A Season in Hell, for both of us. But inspiration doesn't always have to be someone sending me half a dozen American Beauty roses. There's a lotta inspiration going on between the murderer and the victim. And he had me so nuts I wound up doing this nine-minute cut that transcended anything I ever did before.[5]

A notecard with handwriting
A cutting card from the studio when Horses was recorded.

Cale would later recall that Smith initially struck him as "someone with an incredibly volatile mouth who could handle any situation", and that as producer on Horses he wanted to capture the energy of her live performances, noting that there "was a lot of power in Patti's use of language, in the way images collided with one another."[6] He described their working relationship during recording as "confrontational and a lot like an immutable force meeting an immovable object".[6] Smith herself would later attribute much of the tension between herself and Cale to her inexperience with formal studio recording, recalling that she was "very, very suspicious, very guarded and hard to work with" and "made it difficult for him to do some of the things he had to do".[6] She expressed gratitude for Cale's persistence in recording and producing the band, noting that he would always leave much of the band's "adolescent and honest flaws" in and ultimately "helped us in the birth of ourselves", calling him "like a brother to me, a brother who gave me a helping hand."[6]

Music and lyrics[edit]

In Smith's own words, Horses was conceived as "three-chord rock merged with the power of the word".[7] Steve Huey of AllMusic calls Horses "essentially the first art punk album."[2] Smith and her band's sound, spearheaded by the rudimentary guitar work of Lenny Kaye, drew on the simple aesthetics of garage rock,[8] and the group's use of simplistic chord structures was emblematic of the punk rock scene associated with the band.[9] Smith, however, used such structures as a basis for lyrical and musical improvisation in the album's songs, diverging from other contemporary punk acts who generally shied away from solos.[9] Horses drew on genres such as rock and roll, reggae, and jazz.[10] "Redondo Beach" features a reggae backing track,[1] while "Birdland", which was improvised by the band in Electric Lady Studios, contains jazz and doo-wop elements.[11]

Reflecting Smith's background as a poet, the album's lyrics channel the French Symbolism movement, incorporating influences from the works of Charles Baudelaire, William Blake, and Smith's lifelong idol Arthur Rimbaud,[12] and recall the "revolutionary spirit" of Rimbaud and resonate with the energy of Beat poetry, according to CMJ's Steve Klinge.[13] Several of the album's songs—"Redondo Beach", "Free Money", "Kimberly"—were inspired by moments with members of Smith's family, while others—"Break It Up", "Elegie"—were written about her idols. Smith's sisters provide the lyrical inspirations for "Redondo Beach" and "Kimberly"; the former song, about despairing over a missing lover, was inspired by an incident in which Smith's sister Linda disappeared for the day following an argument with her, and the latter song was named after and dedicated to Smith's sister Kimberly.[14] "Free Money" is a recollection of Smith's childhood in New Jersey.[14]

"Break It Up" was written by Smith about Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, and based on her recollection of her visit of Morrison's grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris,[15] as well as a dream in which she witnessed Morrison stuck to a marble slab, trying and eventually succeeding in breaking free from the stone.[16] "Elegie" was recorded on the death anniversary of rock musician Jimi Hendrix and serves as a requiem to Hendrix, incorporating a line from his song "1983".[1][14] "Birdland" was inspired by A Book of Dreams, a 1973 memoir of Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich by his son Peter, and revolves around a narrative in which Peter, at his father's funeral, imagines leaving on a UFO piloted by his father's spirit.[17] Horses also features two adaptations of songs by other artists: "Gloria", a radical retake on the Them song incorporating verses from Smith's own poem "Oath",[10] and "Land", already a live favorite, which features the first verse of Chris Kenner's "Land of a Thousand Dances".[18] On the latter, Smith fuses the imagery of the Kenner song together with the experiences of the character Johnny, a reference to the homoerotic protagonist of William S. Burroughs' 1971 novel The Wild Boys, while also alluding to Arthur Rimbaud and, less directly, Jimi Hendrix, whom she imagined to be "dreaming a simple rock-and-roll song, and it takes him into all these other realms."[19]

Artwork[edit]

"I think it is one of the greatest pictures ever taken of a woman."

Camille Paglia[20]

The cover photograph for Horses was taken using natural light by American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, a close friend of Smith's, at the Greenwich Village penthouse apartment of his partner Sam Wagstaff.[21][16] Smith is depicted wearing a plain white shirt which she had purchased at the Salvation Army on the Bowery and slinging a black jacket over her shoulder and her favorite black ribbon around her collar.[16] Embedded on the jacket is a horse pin that Smith's friend Allen Lanier had given her.[16] Smith has described her pose on the cover as "a mix of Baudelaire and Sinatra."[22] The record company wanted to make various changes to the photo, but Smith overruled such attempts.[21] The black and white treatment and unisex pose were a departure from the typical promotional images of "girl singers" of the time,[23] but Smith maintains that she "wasn't making a big statement. That's just the way I dressed."[22]

Critical reception[edit]

Upon initial release, Horses was met with near-universal acclaim from music critics and publications.[24] In a contemporary review for Rolling Stone, John Rockwell wrote that Horses is "wonderful in large measure because it recognizes the over-whelming importance of words" in Smith's work, covering a range of themes "far beyond what most rock records even dream of", and highlighted Smith's adaptations of rock standards as the most striking songs on the record.[25] In Creem, Lester Bangs wrote that Smith's music "in its ultimate moments touches deep wellsprings of emotion that extremely few artists in rock or anywhere else are capable of reaching", and declared that with "her wealth of promise and the most incandescent flights and stillnesses of this album she joins the ranks of people like Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, or the Dylan of 'Sad Eyed Lady' and Royal Albert Hall."[26] Robert Christgau gave Horses an A− grade in The Village Voice and remarked that while the album does not capture Smith's humor, it "gets the minimalist fury of her band and the revolutionary dimension of her singing just fine."[27]

Horses' mix of philosophical lyrics and rock and roll music did, however, attract some polarizing reactions, particularly from the British music press.[24] A review of Horses from Melody Maker dismissed the album as "precisely what's wrong with rock and roll right now."[24] Conversely, Jonh Ingham of Sounds published a five-star review of Horses, naming it "the record of the year" and "one of the most stunning, commanding, engrossing platters to come down the turnpike since John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band".[28] Charles Shaar Murray of NME called it "an album in a thousand" and "an important album in terms of what rock can encompass without losing its identity as a musical form, in that it introduces an artist of greater vision than has been seen in rock for far too long."[29]

Commercially, Horses performed modestly, managing to peak at number 47 on the United States Billboard 200 albums chart despite receiving virtually no airplay.[30] At the end of 1975, Horses was voted the second best album of the year, behind Bob Dylan and The Band's The Basement Tapes, in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics nationwide, published in The Village Voice.[31] NME placed it at number thirteen on its year-end list of 1975's best albums.[32] In 1979, Robert Christgau ranked it at number 38 on his list of the best albums of the 1970s.[33]

Legacy and influence[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic5/5 stars[34]
Chicago Tribune4/4 stars[35]
Christgau's Record GuideA[36]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music5/5 stars[37]
Mojo5/5 stars[38]
NME9/10[39]
Q5/5 stars[40]
Rolling Stone5/5 stars[41]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide5/5 stars[42]
Spin5/5 stars[43]

Following its release, Horses further cemented Smith's reputation as one of the biggest names of the New York punk rock scene, alongside contemporary acts such as the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads,[44] and it has since been cited as the first significant punk rock album.[45] Horses is considered one of the key recordings of the early punk rock movement[46] and a landmark for punk and new wave music in general, inspiring a "raw, almost amateurish energy for the former and critical, engaging reflexivity for the latter," according to writer Chris Smith in his book 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music.[30] The Observer critic Simon Reynolds wrote, "Pipping the Ramones' first album to the post by five months, Horses is generally considered not just one of the most startling debuts in rock history but the spark that ignited the punk explosion."[1] In Variety, David Sprague wrote that "Horses—which became the first major-label punk-rock album when Arista unleashed it in 1975—not only helped spread the gospel of Bowery art-punk around the world, it set the tone for smart, unbending female rockers of generations to come."[47]

Various recording artists have specifically named Horses as an influence on their music.[44] English post-punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees acknowledged that the song "Carcass" from their 1978 album The Scream was inspired by Horses.[48] Michael Stipe of R.E.M. bought the album as a high school student and says that it "tore [his] limbs off and put them back on in a whole different order," citing Smith as his primary inspiration for becoming a musician.[24] Morrissey and Johnny Marr shared an appreciation for the record, and one of their early compositions for The Smiths, "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle", is a reworking of "Kimberly".[49] Courtney Love of Hole stated that Horses helped inspire her to become a rock musician,[50] while Viv Albertine of The Slits stated that Horses "absolutely and completely changed [her] life", adding: "Us girls never stood in front of a mirror posing as if we had a guitar because we had no role models. So, when Patti Smith came along, it was huge. She was groundbreakingly different."[3] PJ Harvey stated in 1992 at the beginning of her career: "I heard Horses once and it was brilliant – not so much her music as her delivery, her words, her articulation. Her honesty."[51]

Horses has been considered by music critics to be one of the finest albums in recorded music history,[52] attaining high levels of critical success and influence in the years following its release despite modest sales figures.[19] The album has been included in various publications' lists of the greatest albums of the 1970s and of all time.[53] In 1992, NME ranked Horses at first place on its list of "20 Near-as-Damn-It Perfect Initial Efforts".[53] Q magazine included it in its 2002 list of the 100 greatest punk albums.[54] In 2003, the album was ranked number 44 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[55] In 2006, Time named it as one of the All-TIME 100 Albums,[56] and three years later, it was preserved by the Library of Congress into the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[57] In 2013, Rolling Stone ranked Horses number 10 on its list of the 100 best debut albums of all time, describing it as "a declaration of committed mutiny, a statement of faith in the transfigurative powers of rock & roll."[58]

30th anniversary edition[edit]

For the 30th anniversary of Horses, a live version was recorded by Smith on June 25, 2005 in the Royal Festival Hall at the Meltdown festival, which Smith curated.[59] It followed the same running order as the original release of Horses, and featured accompaniment by original band members Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty, as well as Tony Shanahan on bass guitar and piano, Tom Verlaine on guitar, and Flea on bass guitar and trumpet.[59][60] The live set was released on November 8, 2005 as the second disc of a double CD titled Horses/Horses, with the digitally remastered version of the original 1975 album, along with the bonus track "My Generation", on the first disc.[60] The album was recorded and mixed by Emery Dobyns.

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Gloria" (Part I: "In Excelsis Deo"; Part II: "Gloria (Version)")
5:57
2."Redondo Beach"3:26
3."Birdland"
9:15
4."Free Money"
  • Smith
  • Kaye
3:52
Side two
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Kimberly"
4:27
2."Break It Up"4:04
3."Land" (Part I: "Horses"; Part II: "Land of a Thousand Dances"; Part III: "La Mer(de)")
9:25
4."Elegie"
  • Smith
  • Lanier
2:57

Personnel[edit]

Band

Additional personnel

Charts[edit]

Chart (1976) Peak
position
Dutch Albums (MegaCharts)[61] 18
US Billboard 200[62] 47
Chart (2007) Peak
position
UK Albums (OCC)[63] 157

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[64] Gold 35,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[65] Gold 100,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

Date Label Format Catalog no.
December 13, 1975 Arista LP 4066
June 18, 1996 CD 18827
November 8, 2005 Sony BMG 671445
June 30, 2007 CD, LP 37927
October 8, 2007 Arista LP 15972

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Reynolds, Simon (May 22, 2005). "'Even as a child, I felt like an alien'". The Observer. London. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Patti Smith". AllMusic. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Williams, Holly (May 30, 2015). "Patti Smith's Horses: Lenny Kaye, Viv Albertine and more pay homage to the iconic album". The Independent. London. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  4. ^ "Intersections: Patti Smith, Poet Laureate of Punk". NPR. April 12, 2004. Retrieved October 8, 2015.
  5. ^ Marsh, Dave (January 1, 1976). "Patti Smith: Her Horses Got Wings, They Can Fly". Rolling Stone. New York. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d O'Brien, Lucy (August 25, 1996). "How We Met". The Independent. London. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  7. ^ Shaw 2008, p. 93.
  8. ^ Tarr 2008, p. 98.
  9. ^ a b Perone 2012, p. 42.
  10. ^ a b Barton, Laura (April 17, 2015). "Patti Smith: punk's poet laureate heads back on the road for her sins". The Guardian. London. Retrieved October 8, 2015.
  11. ^ Johnstone 2012, p. 59.
  12. ^ Shaw 2008, p. 4.
  13. ^ Klinge, Steve (April 1999). "Patti Smith Complete: Lyrics, Reflections, & Notes For The Future". CMJ New Music Monthly. New York (68): 59. Retrieved October 8, 2015.
  14. ^ a b c Reynolds, Simon (December 2005). "Patti Smith: Horses". Uncut. London (103).
  15. ^ Johnstone 2012, p. 74.
  16. ^ a b c d Smith 2012, pp. 249–53.
  17. ^ Johnstone 2012, p. 58.
  18. ^ Paytress 2006, p. 260.
  19. ^ a b DeLano, Sharon (March 11, 2002). "The Torch Singer". The New Yorker. New York. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  20. ^ Paglia 1992, p. 45.
  21. ^ a b Thorgerson & Powell 1999, p. 74.
  22. ^ a b Kot, Greg (24 October 2014). "Patti Smith on literary heroes, role models and Sinatra". Carroll County Times. Westminster. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  23. ^ "The Image: Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe". A First Class Riot. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  24. ^ a b c d Wendell 2014, pp. 37–38.
  25. ^ Rockwell, John (February 12, 1976). "Patti Smith: Horses". Rolling Stone. New York. Archived from the original on March 25, 2008. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  26. ^ Bangs, Lester (February 1976). "Stagger Lee Was a Woman". Creem. Detroit.
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  30. ^ a b Smith 2009, p. 120.
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  33. ^ Christgau, Robert (December 17, 1979). "Decade Personal Best: '70s". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
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  35. ^ Kot, Greg (June 17, 1996). "Back For More". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 12, 2016.
  36. ^ Christgau 1981.
  37. ^ Larkin 2011.
  38. ^ "Patti Smith: Horses". Mojo. London (159): 124. February 2007.
  39. ^ "Patti Smith: Horses". NME. London: 45. July 20, 1996.
  40. ^ "Patti Smith: Horses". Q. London (122): 154. November 1996.
  41. ^ "Horses: Patti Smith". Rolling Stone. New York. January 21, 1997. Archived from the original on November 11, 2007. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  42. ^ Abowitz 2004, pp. 751–52.
  43. ^ Marchese, David (September 2008). "Discography: Patti Smith". Spin. New York. 24 (9): 108. Retrieved October 8, 2015.
  44. ^ a b Dowling, Stephen (June 17, 2015). "Behind rock's finest album cover: A timeless friendship". BBC Music. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
  45. ^ Schindler 1996.
  46. ^ Jeffrey, Don (May 13, 2000). "Patti and Melissa". Billboard. New York. 112 (20): 52. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
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  48. ^ Birch, Ian (October 21, 1978). "Scream and scream again". Melody Maker. London.
  49. ^ Goddard 2006.
  50. ^ "Courtney Love". Behind the Music. June 22, 2010. VH1.
  51. ^ Blandford 2004.
  52. ^ Brandle, Lars (August 20, 2015). "Patti Smith Sings 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force' Elegy: Listen". Billboard. New York. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
  53. ^ a b "Horses". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved February 28, 2008.
  54. ^ "100 Best Punk Albums". Q. London (190): 141. May 2002.
  55. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. New York. November 18, 2003. Retrieved February 28, 2008.
  56. ^ Tyrangiel, Josh (November 2, 2006). "Horses". Time. New York. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  57. ^ "The Sounds of Fighting Men, Howlin' Wolf and Comedy Icon Among 25 Named to the National Recording Registry". Library of Congress. June 23, 2010. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  58. ^ "The 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time: 'Horses'". Rolling Stone. New York. March 22, 2013. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  59. ^ a b Cooper, Tim (June 26, 2005). "Meltdown: Patti Smith's Horses, Royal Festival Hall, London". The Independent. London. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
  60. ^ a b Jurek, Thom. "Horses [30th Anniversary Legacy Edition] – Patti Smith". AllMusic. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
  61. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Patti Smith – Horses" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  62. ^ "Patti Smith Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved February 28, 2008.
  63. ^ "Chart Log UK: DJ S – The System Of Life". Zobbel.de. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  64. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 2017 Albums". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  65. ^ "British album certifications – Patti Smith – Horses". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved March 5, 2018. Select albums in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type Horses in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.

Works cited

External links[edit]