In amidst the 1970’s there was an influx of new musical talent, style, and unrelenting force that overtook the wave of the very strict formation of the 1950’s, to the carefree 60’s. With bands like The Velvet Underground, artists like David Bowie, and rampant experimentation in a field of the now sturdy rock n’ roll foundation; Patti Smith rose to the spotlight.
With her debut record stemming from a personal recommendation from friend Lou Reed, Smith released Horses in 1975and captures the freedom behind spoken word over loose instrumentation. Horses has a powerful stance that still even in a modern setting is a description and living painting of the liberation behind musical settings. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine. Melting in a pot of thieves, wild card up my sleeve. Thick heart of stone, my sins my own, they belong to me.” Smith explains in “Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)”, the reworked Van Morrison/Them track that would become an iconic opening and setting theme for Horses. The disregard for the legislation on Smith as a free-thinking artist that challenges the common law of the land become a figure for controversy for her thoughts, poetic style, and musical works for years to come.
Even before “Rock n’ Roll Nigger” would even grace the paper, Patti Smith would break the barriers on social commentary through her sound as one of the first punk rock icons in the world. Her incredibly minimal cover art with its black and white film grain became famous for being a testament in juxtaposition to the extremely colorful and vivid musical progression behind the album.
With the dance and rhythm focused nearly doo-wop inspired “Redondo Beach”, Smith acts as a muse behind the sunlight and driven instrumentation. As the guitar plays a cheerful-esque background that includes keys that cling and act as accents, the percussion finds its way to clash on the hi-hats and play small cascades on the toms. Smith was the main vocalist and guitarist that would lead Jay Dee Daugherty on the percussion, Ivan Kral on bass, guitar, and backing vocals, Lenny Kaye on bass, guitar, and vocals, and finally Richard Sohl on keyboards into the journey ahead.
Horses also has the moments of immediate slow down that control the rising action and make for the breaks where Smith acts more as a stand up poet than a rock vocalist. Her style however, does not follow much of a structure as she howls, moans, and whispers her way through “Birdland” which is one of the tracks that show the more experimental side of Horses. It can be strange at moments, hard to follow at others, but Horsesis one of the albums that has a strange appeal behind it. The kind of album that works to produce these large landscapes of sound that becomes more and more unraveled through each listen. Smith constantly adapts to different environments and works to form this never broken style that rekindles at the end or beginning of each incoming track; becoming finally collected and processed.
With one of the final tracks, “Break It Up”, Smith uses one of the more beautiful uses of chord progressions and choruses that back her vocals up to form almost tear-bringing glory. The building action, the falling tone, and the endless wave of empathy that comes from Smith’s smooth voice and piano combination creates one of the more beautiful arrangements on Horses. Not only is there this awe-inspiring sense behind the vocalization, but the instrumentation truly adds to the mood and feeling behind the emotional display from Smith and her band.
Smith takesHorses into so many varying directions and makes an effort to create new boundary-destroying styles on each track. The movement and ability behind Smith always keeps this engaged focus, recreating the 1970’s freedom; where Horsesleaves a trail of smoke and slight confusion at the final silence.