Classic & Current Contemporary Non-Schlock-Rock Metropolitan Music
Horses (November 1975) - Patti Smith Group
The first time I heard of Patti Smith that I can still remember is when I bought Todd Rundgren's A Wizard/A True Star in February 1974 (almost a year after it was released). Inside was a glossy piece of paper in the shape and design of a band aid with some writing printed on it signed by Patti Smith. Not original ink of course, but a repro of a little poem she had written.
My next recollection of Patti Smith was in December 1975. I was staying in Sarasota, Florida, for a few days on my way down to Captiva Island. I was 16 years old and halfway through my junior (and what turned out to be my last) year of high school.
Whenever I traveled out of town, I was always on the lookout for record stores. It seemed a lot of the records I wanted at the time were out of print, so I would track down record stores with used record bins. I also liked scanning the radio dial for cool radio stations. I don't remember the call letters but I found a good album station in the area.
The day was hot and sunny and I was navigating through Christmas traffic in downtown Sarasota in my light metallic blue Mazda RX4. Not the sports car - the sedan with the new "rotary engine."
"Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen came on the radio and I turned it up loud. A Night at the Opera had just come out and I was a big Queen fan at the time. This was before the song became a hit.
So the radio is up real loud, my window is down, "Bohemian Rhapsody" ends, I come to a stop light and out from my speakers comes:
"Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine" delivered by this captivating deep female voice.
You probably know the rest of "Gloria" so you can understand why I was so taken with it. I decided I had to pull over and listen to the whole thing and find out who was singing. Patti Smith from her new album Horses.
I found a record store but it did not have Horses so I bought some other stuff.
A couple of weeks later I was back in North Carolina where I worked at the Record Bar. I don't ever remember seeing that record there because surely I would have bought it. By now I had read a lot of press about Horses and I was hearing songs from it on Deaconlight. But I had a lot going on at that time so for some reason or the other, I didn't buy a copy.
When I got to Wake Forest and started doing Deaconlight on WFDD, I do remember the station did not have a copy of Horses. Perhaps the songs I had heard previously were played from someone's personal copy. My friend Jim Cornwell loaned me his to play at the station along with his copy of the Sex Pistols' Great Rock and Roll Swindle. Jim graduated and left town before I could return his records. The last time I saw Jim was in the late 80s when I was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I saw a familiar face and it was Jim, who worked there at the time. I told him I had his Patti Smith record, but of course I didn't have it with me. So it's still here with me along with The Great Rock and Roll Swindle.
Somewhere around here I have the CD as well. One of the first CDs I bought when I got my CD player was Patti Smith's Radio Ethiopia and Horses followed on the little disc shortly thereafter. It has been one of my most played CDs. I recently pulled out the case and the CD was missing so last night I pulled out Jim's record and listed to it on vinyl.
One reason I prefer vinyl in addition to the sound is the large format cover you don't get with a CD. It has been a long, long time since I had looked at the cover.
The front of Horses - a black and white photograph taken by Robert Mapplethorpe - is one of the coolest album covers of all time. I love that shot. The new CD has the same shot but the title is placed slightly different to accommodate the second "Horses." But I like the Horses/Horses because I hear Patti Smith singing "Horses! - Horses! - Horses! - Horses!" from "Land" rather than me just reading the words.
I flipped over the cover and started reading the back. I had completely forgotten this record was produced by the Velvet Underground's John Cale. And that Tom Verlaine of Television played guitar on "Break It Up," which he co-wrote with Patti Smith. Verlaine plays guitar on the live version of Horses recorded in summer 2005 that is included in the 30th Anniversary Edition. (Also in that performance - Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty from the original album, Tony Shanahan, and the Chili Peppers' Flea. Original keyboardist Richard Sohl died in 1990 and last I heard bassist Ivan Kral was back in Czechoslovakia.)
Meanwhile, the vinyl record still sounds great. It is amazing how rich and textured three-chord songs can sound. "Land" has got to be one of the best pieces of musical art created. I have probably heard "land of a thousand dances" a thousand times and I think with each listen the impact of it gets more intense. It is impossible to keep still as the song progresses into this brilliant sonic masterpiece. I would love to hear the live version. I noticed when I posted the iTunes today that the live version of "Land" - which is 17 minutes long - is NOT on iTunes so I will have to get the CD to hear it. Santa, are you listening?
More Patti Smith Group at Deaconlight.com