"Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine." Patti Smith's debut - from that devastating opening line forward - is a unique rock & roll document; its ambitious musical primitivism, anybody-can-do-it-attitude and casual androgyny laid down a blueprint for punk. Twenty-nine years old when the album was released, Smith was a natural, if unlikely, avatar of rock. A published poet and rock critic, she set her beat-tribute "babelogues" to the inspire din of Sixties-style garage rock. On "Horses," metaphorical visions coincide with dance-floor calls to action: the title refers both to stallions as a psychosexual image and to "doin' the pony." Patti doesn't so much sing the oldies "Gloria" and "Land of 1000 Dances" as chant them like a shaman with the hots. She expands the words yet stays grounded by the band's furious pounding; the liberating power of those classic three-chord riffs is never obscured.
"It's time to figure out what happened in the Sixties," Smith told Rolling Stone in 1976. "I'm working on a link - to keep it going." But there's no trace of sentimentality here; behind the lilting reggae of "Redondo Beach" lies a resort where "women love women" and a suicide is shrugged off. "Free Money" isn't about burning dollars; its about a lover putting them to use "to buy you all the things you need." As "Free Money," "Kimberly" and "Elegie" all attest, Smith was also capable of stark, passionate romanticism and actual singing, too. Yet she thrived on confrontation, as exemplified by her choice of John Cale, a former member of the Velvet Underground, as producer.
"All I was really looking for was a technical person," Smith said in that
interview. "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." "Horses" is the strange, beautiful fruit of such inspiration.
Copyright © Rolling Stone 1987