As far as debut albums go, few have been more of an enduring statement than Patti Smith’s Horses. The John Cale-produced 1975 album was considered one of the first pioneering punk rock full-lengths and placed the New Jersey-raised Smith firmly at the forefront of New York City’s ‘70s rock elite. With her Rimbaud-inspired poetry, adventurously personal songwriting, abrasive alien-like voice, and her impressive Lenny Kaye-featuring band, few were making music as daring as Smith. She could’ve solidified her status as the “Godmother of Punk” just by opening her album with the line “Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine” but Horses is a front-to-back stunner full of harsh noisy experiments, as well as a ton of immediately palatable songs, all done with a magnetic intensity.
It’s been regularly placed in the top 50 of several “Best Albums of All-Time” lists and inspired countless musicians to combine their poetry with an unmistakably punk attitude. In fact, Horses has resonated so much that its impact can be still felt today. Just this week at the Tribeca Film Festival, after a sold-out screening of director Steven Sebring’s new concert film Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band, which documented two dates of Smith’s 40th anniversary tour in 2015, Smith performed a mini-concert for the Beacon Theatre crowd and was joined by her lifelong friend Bruce Springsteen and Michael Stipe. Patti Smith has always been a force to be reckoned with and well after 40 years after her debut, she is still just as strong of a presence.
Even though Smith is one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most important figures, as with all icons, there are people out there who have never encountered her music. One of those people is Sophie Allison, who performs inviting and relatable indie rock as Soccer Mommy. Because of this, at a recent Soccer Mommy show at Chicago’s Schubas Tavern where she was promoting her excellent debut album Clean, an album that firmly solidifies Allison as one of the most exciting young voices in the genre, Noisey chilled with her in the green room and had her listen to Horses all the way through. “A lot of my friends love this record,” she explains. “I already know Patti Smith is cool but I’ve just never listened to her. I don’t know too much about her but I just know of here as this iconic rock chick. I’ve heard really amazing things specifically about Horses so I’m excited to dive in.”
Read Allison’s song-by-song reaction below.
1. "Gloria" (Part I: "In Excelsis Deo"; Part II: "Gloria (Version)")
Noisey: I remember first hearing this album when I was like 14 or 15 and just being blown away by how badass the opening line of this song was.
Sophie Allison: Oh yeah, I’ve definitely heard that “Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine” lyric. I definitely like it so far but not enough to formulate an informed opinion just now. It’s too early to tell. It has a good vibe though.
The most important thing to know about the song is that it interpolates Van Morrison’s Them song “Gloria” with her own poetry.
That’s interesting. Was she considered a beatnik?
She was definitely inspired by the Beat Generation. She was more ingrained in the ‘70s New York City poetry art-rock scene. She was friends with Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and Andy Warhol.
Who? I’m just kidding.
You almost had me for a second! Is what you’re hearing now kind of like the music you grew up on?
When I was a very young child my dad would always play stuff like Bruce Springsteen and the Who. But when I started listening to music by myself it was like Avril Lavigne, Coldplay, and every related artist because I’d be finding all this stuff on iTunes. I listened to a lot of Coldplay and a little pop punk. I always loved pop music. But then in high school I was really getting into the Cars, Sonic Youth, Velvet Underground (who I got into right at the end of high school). Then later stuff was like Mitski, Alex G, and in college I got into Liz Phair, and Yo La Tengo.
2. "Redondo Beach"
Track two. It’s called “Redondo Beach?” let’s do it.
This one came out of an argument Smith had with her sister. She was living with Robert Mapplethorpe, her best friend who shot the album cover, and her sister Linda. Her and Linda had a big blowout fight and after her sister stormed out, Patti left to decompress at Coney Island. According to Smith, she wrote that song there.
I feel that. She needed to vent. I’m not loving the reggae vibe, to be honest. It’s not bad but I was much more digging the bluesy rocker-vibe on the last one.
What are your thoughts on her voice?
I love her voice but I think it works a bit better with the rock arrangements. Her voice gives the songs kind of this soulful, almost southern, and androgynous thing. I think it’s interesting hearing a song like the last one and thinking about why all my dude friends in Nashville play me shit that sounds just like it but I haven’t heard a single Patti Smith song in full. They’d constantly play the Troggs and The Velvet Underground or whatever but they’ve never played this.
That’s weird. I wonder why.
It’s because they hate women. That’s why. That’s what I’m implying. Even picking this album, I consulted the Rolling Stone 500 and something like the top 25 were all dudes.
Yeah, the list is pretty wack and outdated.
I was reading through it and I was just curious why it seems like pretty much every Bob Dylan and the Beatles album is on there and Blue is like 30. Good God, not every Beatles album is that good. They’re all pretty good but they’re not all that good.
I totally get what you’re saying. They should definitely be up there but there is a lot to the argument that not every single album is as groundbreaking as the “rock canon” makes it out to be.
I kind of feel like a lot of those band dudes who still worship their classic rock god dudes who are in bands who aren’t doing very well currently. It’s not the crusty, Rolling Stone 500 album-reading bros making the boundary-pushing art. That might be why so many non-white dudes who make that kind of music are doing better because that shit is kind of old. It’s been done before! There’s better stuff that’s being made.
I just feel like people who pay too much attention to the old shit are out of touch and are not paying attention and haven’t heard any of the new shit. I just hate when people put themselves into musical boxes and can’t adapt to new things. There have been so many significant cultural moments that have affected art and music since classic rock.
Listening to the same thing over-and-over again is never great.
Yeah, and I just feel like bands who are doing now what the Velvet Underground did, like Radiohead, are doing that because they’re experimenting with new sounds and electronics and not just making rock ‘n’ roll. If you’re just reviving the past, how can you really embody the groundbreaking spirit of those bands?
This album was pretty groundbreaking for its time with Smith’s poetry and attitude mixed with the beginnings of punk rock and the New York City ‘70s-scene.
Yeah, I can tell. It’s not too classic rock sounding.
I read in an interview with Smith that this song was totally improvised in the studio. It was inspired by Peter Reich’s Book of Dreams and the song’s title is in reference to an old New York jazz club.
That’s interesting. I really like this one. A lot of bands try out stuff like this and it just sounds like shit. It’s just not as good. I’ve seen so many bands try to do this grandiose, faux-improved set piece and it always ends up being this weird thing. I don’t know. Obviously noise stuff and improvisionational stuff doesn’t need to sound pleasing to the ear but there has to be some intention to it like on this song. I think I’ve just seen too many shitty versions of this. That said, I really do like this. This isn't weird for the sake of being weird. It’s implemented well.
4. "Free Money"
This one of my favorite songs on the album. This one’s vaguely about her childhood growing up poor in South Jersey. There’s a lot of references to lottery tickets and wanting a better life.
You just know all the deets. I like this one a lot so far too.
It’s really immediate.
It’s very rockin.’ It almost reminds me of Fleetwood Mac.
This one is about her youngest sibling Kimberly. Patti was the oldest of four.
You have siblings?
I have two. I’m the middle child. But four is a lot!
That’s not too bad.
I really like this one. This one’s less deep. It’s much more airy and light.
Compared to something as heady “Birdland,” I see what you mean. One of the problems that comes with this interview series is that some records are totally headphones records. Patti Smith’s poetry and songwriting are really fascinating and it’s tough to hear those nuances and make out what she’s saying in a crowded green room. To me, it’s still immediate though.
Yeah, but you can tell that she’s saying stuff through her train of thought. It feels much more out there and free-spirited than something like a Leonard Cohen song. It’s much more Beatnik.
6. "Break It Up"
Fun fact: I also like this one!
Great! This is one of the last three songs on the record. She wrote it with Tom Verlaine from Television.
Whoa! This is an extremely short record,
You say that now but the next song is over nine minutes long.
Oh yeah, that’ll do it.
This one deals with a dream Smith had about The Doors’ Jim Morrison.
I wonder what was happening in the dream.
Oh, I can tell you. I have the quote from her book Patti Smith Complete !
Let me read it. “I had this dream. I came in on a clearing. There were natives in a circle bending and gesturing. I saw a man stretched across a marble slab. Jim Morrison. He was alive with wings that merged with the marble. Like Prometheus, he struggled, but freedom was beyond him. I stood over him chanting, break it up break it up break it up…The stone dissolved and he moved away. I brushed the feathers from my hair, adjusted my pillow, and returned to sleep. Tom Verlaine and I composed these words.”
What do you think?
That’s pretty crazy. I don’t have dreams like that. All of my dreams are where I’m running from a murderer or fighting someone trying to murder me. They’re all like death scenarios or ones where I’m fighting a guy, kill them, and the dude gets back up again. I also have ones where I kill a bad guy and another bad guy pops out. It’s exhausting!
Mine are really hyper-realistic and aren’t nearly as exciting. Like, I recently had one where a family member didn’t like a girlfriend and that was the whole dream.
Every once and a while I’ll have a chill dream but mostly it’s just death. It’s dark but I love it. Is this album about death? Because I feel like everyone writes about death: Death itself, impending death, fear of death, other people dying, a lot of artists just write about death.
Definitely. The last song is called “Elegie” and you can hear a ton of lyrics that deal with it throughout.
7. "Land" (Part I: "Horses"; Part II: "Land of a Thousand Dances"; Part III: "La Mer(de)")
This is a three-part song. This is actually one of her most iconic songs and features this interpolation of this pop song from the ‘60s Wilson Pickett’s "Land of a Thousand Dances,” which you’ve probably heard before. There’s this darkness to it. It’s really epic.
That’s really the best kind of music. Dark, brooding poetry over pop hits. That’s basically what all indie rock is now.
Do you hear a lot of your peers using things from this album?
Maybe in some stuff like Phoebe Bridgers. For some reason, I definitely hear this guitar style in a lot of country-infused rock bands from Nashville. I don’t know if I hear it in like Jay Som or Snail Mail. This is definitely more poetry-focused. It sounds like she’s a poet. It sounds like she writes lyrics and puts it to a song rather than a person who writes songs first. She’s not a hook girl.
Listening to this, do you now have the urge to write a nine-minute set closer?
No. Never! I don’t think I could ever pull that off. I do kind of long songs sometimes but if I did a longer one, it wouldn’t have this vibe. I can’t write or perform and have it sound off-the-cuff like this. I also have a ridiculously short attention span. Also by performing a song that long, I’d just get in my head and think the audience was getting bored.
I love this already. Oh, it sounds like it’s going to be dark.
You mentioned death earlier. This closer is actually a requiem for Jimi Hendrix, which has some added resonance because this whole album was recorded at Electric Lady Studios.
I want to take this one in. I really love the way she phrases things with her voice. It’s so brooding and sad.
There’s such a really heavy line coming up, “but I think it's sad, it's much too bad/That our friends can't be with us today.”
There it is. You’re right. That’s really depressing.
I liked it. It was really cool. It reminded me of a lot of classic songwriters from that period. It felt like it came out of the folk-rock world but with a punk attitude. It also had this Bob Dylan gone electric, Neil Young swagger with the guitars. It was pretty much what I expected. I expected some real Beatnik poet-vibes. It was very New York but when you mentioned that she was from New Jersey it made sense but it felt very down to earth and not that kind of mod-New York vibes. I think my favorite song was the last one. The chords were really interesting and it was had a really dark mood. But I also loved the more pop-oriented ones.