Horses (album)

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Studio album by Patti Smith
Released December 13, 1975
Recorded 1975
Studio Electric Lady Studios in New York City, New York
Length 43:10
Label Arista
Producer John Cale
Patti Smith chronology
Radio Ethiopia
Singles from Horses
  1. "Gloria"
    Released: January 26, 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 early New York underground 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 poetic lyrics, Horses was met upon its initial release with widespread critical acclaim. It has since been viewed by critics as a seminal album in the history of American punk rock movement, as well as one of the greatest albums of all-time. Horses was also a key influence on a number of succeeding punk, post-punk, and alternative rock acts, including Siouxsie and the Banshees, R.E.M., The Smiths, and Garbage.

Background and recording[edit]

At the time she recorded Horses, Patti Smith and her band were favorites in the New York club scene along with Blondie and The Ramones. The former's influence can be best heard in the track "Gloria", a radical retake on the Them song. "Birdland", in particular, owed more to jazz, which Smith's mother enjoyed, than to the influence of punk. When recording this song, which was improvised by the band in Electric Lady Studios, Smith has said she imagined the spirit of Jimi Hendrix watching her. The lyrics of "Birdland" are based upon A Book of Dreams, a 1973 memoir of Wilhelm Reich by his son Peter. 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. "Land" was already a live favorite and featured the first verse of Chris Kenner's "Land of a Thousand Dances" and contains a tribute to her long-time idol Arthur Rimbaud."[8] Guest musicians included Tom Verlaine of Television and Allen Lanier of Blue Öyster Cult.


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The cover photo was taken by Robert Mapplethorpe using natural light in a penthouse in Greenwich Village.[9] The triangle of light on the wall (too blurry to discern as a geometric figure on the above low resolution image) was the product of the afternoon sun. The record company wanted to make various changes to the photo, but Smith overruled such attempts.[9] Smith has described the pose as "a mix of (French poet Charles) Baudelaire and (Frank) Sinatra."[10] The black and white treatment and unisex pose was a departure from the typical promotional images of "girl singers" of the time,[11] but Smith maintains that she "wasn't making a big statement. That's just the way I dressed."[10]

Writer Camille Paglia described the album's cover as "one of the greatest pictures ever taken of a woman."[12]

The jacket Smith has wrapped around her shoulder has a pin in the shape of a horse.

Critical reception[edit]

Upon initial release, Horses was met with near-universal acclaim from music critics and publications.[13] 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 concerns "far beyond what most rock records even dream of", and highlighted Smith's adaptions of rock standards as the most striking on the record.[14] Robert Christgau gave Horses an A– grade in The Village Voice and remarked that while Horses does not capture Smith's humor, it "gets the minimalist fury of her band and the revolutionary dimension of her singing just fine."[15] He later ranked it at number 38 on his list of the best albums of the 1970s.[16]

Horses‍ '​ mix of philosophical elements in Smith's songwriting and rock and roll elements in the music attracted some polarizing reactions.[13] Reaction to the album from the British music press, in particular, was mixed.[13] A review of Horses from Melody Maker dismissed the album as "precisely what's wrong with rock and roll right now."[13] On the other hand, John 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".[17] 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."[18]

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.[19]

Legacy and influence[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[20]
Christgau's Record Guide A[21]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars[22]
NME 9/10[23] 5/5 stars[2]
Q 5/5 stars[24]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[25]
Sputnikmusic 4.5/5[26]

Horses is often cited as one of the greatest albums in music history. In 2003, the album was ranked number 44 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[27] NME put Horses at first place in its list of "20 Near-as-Damn-It Perfect Initial Efforts".[28] Q magazine included it in its list of the 100 greatest punk albums.[29] In 2006, Time named it as one of the All-TIME 100 Albums,[30] and three years later, it was preserved by the Library of Congress into the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[31]

Horses has often been cited as the first punk rock album, with Smith's influence leading her to earn the honorific nickname "godmother of punk rock".[1][32] AllMusic's William Ruhlmann said that it "isn't hard to make the case for Patti Smith as a punk rock progenitor based on Horses",[20] while David Antrobus from PopMatters chose Horses as his favorite album and considered it a life-changing classic.[33] Of Horses‍ '​ impact, Chris Jones of BBC Music wrote that the album was a "shock to the system" at the time of its release and still "retains its power to this day."[34]

A number of acts have cited Horses as an influence on their music. English post-punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees have said that "Carcass", one of the first songs from their album The Scream, was inspired by Horses.[35] 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.[13] 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".[36] Courtney Love of Hole has stated that Horses helped inspire her to become a rock musician.[37]

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Gloria" (Part I: "In Excelsis Deo"; Part II: "Gloria (Version)") Patti Smith (Part I), Van Morrison (Part II) 5:57
2. "Redondo Beach"   Smith, Richard Sohl, Lenny Kaye 3:26
3. "Birdland"   Smith, Sohl, Kaye, Ivan Kral 9:15
4. "Free Money"   Smith, Kaye 3:52
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Kimberly"   Smith, Allen Lanier, Kral 4:27
2. "Break It Up"   Smith, Tom Verlaine 4:04
3. "Land" (Part I: "Horses"; Part II: "Land of a Thousand Dances"; Part III: "La Mer(de)") Smith (Parts I and III), Chris Kenner (Part II), Fats Domino (Part II) 9:25
4. "Elegie"   Smith, Lanier 2:57
CD bonus track
No. Title Writer(s) Length
9. "My Generation" (live at the Agora, Cleveland, Ohio, on January 26, 1976) Pete Townshend 3:16


Additional personnel

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1976) Peak
Dutch Top 40[38] 18
US Billboard 200[39] 47
Chart (2007) Peak
UK Albums Chart[40] 157

Release history[edit]

Date Label Format Catalog
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

30th anniversary edition[edit]

For the 30th anniversary of the original album, a live version was recorded on June 25, 2005 in the Royal Festival Hall at the Meltdown festival, which Smith curated. It followed the same running order as the original release of Horses, and featured Tom Verlaine on guitar and Flea on bass guitar. The live set was released November 8, 2005 as the second disc of a double CD titled Horses/Horses, with the digitally remastered version of the original 1975 album (with the bonus track "My Generation") on the first disc. The album was recorded and mixed by Emery Dobyns.

  1. "Gloria: In Excelsis Deo / Gloria (version)" –7:01
  2. "Redondo Beach" – 4:29
  3. "Birdland" – 9:52
  4. "Free Money" – 5:29
  5. "Kimberly" – 5:28
  6. "Break It Up" – 5:24
  7. "Land: Horses / Land of a Thousand Dances / La Mer(de)" – 17:35
  8. "Elegie" – 5:08
  9. "My Generation" – 6:59



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External links[edit]