In the fall of 1975, Patti Smith gathered her band in Electric Lady Studios in New York City to record her debut album, Horses. Released on November 10 of that year by Arista Records, it has come to be regarded as a seminal and landmark recording that continues to have resonance and relevance for succeeding generations of musicians and artists.
Now, forty plus years later, Smith will honor the longevity and lasting influence of the album with a series of special shows centered around the album.
“It will be a true, proud celebration,” Patti says of her intent to perform Horses in its entirety. She will be accompanied by two members of the original group, Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty, along with bassist / keyboardist Tony Shanahan, who has been a part of Her Band for twenty years.
Horses was conceived to be, in her description, “three chord rock merged with the power of the word.” A performance poet and visual artist, Patti had begun improvising her unique blend of song and hallucinatory imagery two years before, appearing on cabaret stages and small clubs with the support of guitarist Kaye and pianist Richard Sohl. She honed her songs in this live setting, allowing them to expand at will, garnering an ever-growing audience within the Manhattan underground. By the time she launched a seven week residency at the then barely-known Bowery club, CBGB, in winter of 1975, her band had expanded to include guitarist Ivan Kral and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty. It was during this time that she was seen and signed by Arista president Clive Davis. John Cale was chosen by the band to produce the album, and it was released on November 10, the death date of one of Patti’s most important influences, the poet Arthur Rimbaud.
Opening with an anthemic declaration of personal responsibility – “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” – folded within Van Morrison’s classic “Gloria,” Horses presented a return to rock’s primal instincts, seeking to awaken the spirit and promise of the music at a time when it seemed as if this sensibility was at risk of being forgotten. The album’s artistic reach took shape in the free-form flights of “Birdland” and “Land,” where the expansive soundscapes of free jazz and propulsive rhythms and incantatory lyrics intermingled to provide a sonic landscape where anything might happen. More structured songs, like “Redondo Beach,” “Free Money,” “Kimberly,” and “Break It Up” presented a worldview both idealistic and romantic. With the album’s final cut, “Elegie,” rock’s past and future were entwined within the “sea of possibilities” that became the present. The music was infused with poetry, in an uncompromising artistic exploration that helped lay the groundwork for what would become known as the upheaval of “punk,” though Smith and her band always attempted to avoid categorization: “beyond race gender baptism mathematics politricks,” as Patti wrote in the liner notes, adding “…as for me I am truly totally ready to go.”
Robert Mapplethorpe’s iconic front cover photograph of Patti with her jacket slung over her shoulder perfectly captured this moment of becoming, and indeed, Horses was the beginning of a long musical career that resonates even greater today. The album has achieved many notable recognitions over the years, included on many all-time best album lists, and by the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry. It has been followed by another nine albums of original material, books of poetry and a best-selling memoir, Just Kids; world tours and personal appearances, as well as induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.