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
Genre Punk rock, art punk, garage rock
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 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 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., 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 underground club scene along with acts such as Blondie and the Ramones.

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."[1] Guest musicians on the album included Tom Verlaine of Television and Allen Lanier of Blue Öyster Cult.

Music and lyrics[edit]

Smith's reworking of Them's song "Gloria" is representative of the album's garage rock and poetry influences.

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In Smith's own words, Horses was conceived as "three-chord rock merged with the power of the word".[2] Steve Huey of AllMusic calls Horses "essentially the first art punk album."[3] Smith and her band's sound, spearheaded by the rudimentary guitar work of Lenny Kaye, drew on the simple aesthetics of garage rock,[4] and the group's use of simplistic chord structures was emblematic of the punk rock scene associated with the band.[5] 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.[5] Horses drew on genres such as rock and roll, reggae, and jazz.[6] "Redondo Beach" features a reggae backing track,[7] while "Birdland" owed more to jazz, which Smith's mother enjoyed, than to the influence of punk. When recording the latter song, which was improvised by the band in Electric Lady Studios, Smith has said she imagined the spirit of Jimi Hendrix watching her.

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 long-time idol Arthur Rimbaud,[8] and recall the "revolutionary spirit" of Rimbaud and resonate with the energy of Beat poetry, according to CMJ‍ '​s Steve Klinge.[9] 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. The lyrics of "Birdland" are based upon A Book of Dreams, a 1973 memoir of Wilhelm Reich by his son Peter. Horses features two adaptations of songs by other artists: "Gloria", a radical retake on the Them song incorporating verses from Smith's own poem "Oath",[6] and "Land", already a live favorite, which features the first verse of Chris Kenner's "Land of a Thousand Dances" and contains a tribute to Arthur Rimbaud.[10]


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.[11][12] 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.[12] Embedded on the jacket is a horse pin that Smith's friend Allen Lanier had given her.[12] Smith has described her pose on the cover as "a mix of Baudelaire and Sinatra."[13] The record company wanted to make various changes to the photo, but Smith overruled such attempts.[11] The black and white treatment and unisex pose were a departure from the typical promotional images of "girl singers" of the time,[14] but Smith maintains that she "wasn't making a big statement. That's just the way I dressed."[13]

Writer Camille Paglia described the album's cover as "one of the greatest pictures ever taken of a woman."[15]

Critical reception[edit]

Upon initial release, Horses was met with near-universal acclaim from music critics and publications.[16] 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 songs on the record.[17] 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."[18] He later ranked it at number 38 on his list of the best albums of the 1970s.[19]

Horses‍ '​ mix of philosophical elements in Smith's songwriting and rock and roll elements in its music attracted some polarizing reactions, however.[16] Reaction to the album from the British music press in particular was mixed.[16] A review of Horses from Melody Maker dismissed the album as "precisely what's wrong with rock and roll right now."[16] 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".[20] 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."[21]

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.[22] NME placed it at number thirteen on their year-end list of 1975's best albums.[23] Commercially, the album performed modestly well, managing a top 50 peak on the Billboard 200 chart despite receiving virtually no airplay.[24]

Legacy and influence[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[25]
Christgau's Record Guide A[26]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars[27]
Mojo 5/5 stars[28]
NME 9/10[29] 5/5 stars[30]
Q 5/5 stars[31]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[32]
Spin 5/5 stars[33]
Sputnikmusic 4.5/5[34]

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."[35] Horses established Smith as one of the biggest names of the New York punk rock scene, alongside contemporary acts such as the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads,[36] and it has since been cited as the first significant punk rock album.[37] Horses is considered one of the key recordings of the early punk rock movement[38] 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.[24] 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",[25] while Greg Simpson of called the album a "raw yet poetic slice of the CBGB's scene from a woman who beat the Ramones in releasing the first 'punk' record."[30]

Q magazine included it in its list of the 100 greatest punk albums.[39] NME put Horses at first place in its list of "20 Near-as-Damn-It Perfect Initial Efforts", and it has also ranked on various lists of the greatest albums of the 1970s.[40] In addition to these accolades, Horses has also been considered one of the finest albums in recorded music history.[41] In 2003, the album was ranked number 44 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[42] In 2006, Time named it as one of the All-TIME 100 Albums,[43] and three years later, it was preserved by the Library of Congress into the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[44]

Various recording artists have specifically named Horses as an influence on their music.[36] English post-punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees said that the song "Carcass" from their album The Scream, was inspired by Horses.[45] 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.[16] 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".[46] Courtney Love of Hole has stated that Horses helped inspire her to become a rock musician.[47]

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[48] 18
US Billboard 200[49] 47
Chart (2007) Peak
UK Albums Chart[50] 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]