Patti Smith is without a doubt one of the best-loved and most influential women in rock. But I know almost nothing about her or her work.
My one exposure to Smith came on R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi album, where she provides haunting background vocals on the first single, ‘E-Bow the Letter.’ When I first heard that song, I thought she was a man. Then I read that it was Patti Smith, Michael Stipe’s idol.
So that was the extent of my knowledge of her, aside from a vague understanding that her album Horses shows up on just about every “Best Ever” list, just as its cover photo (see picture to the right) shows up on lists of best album covers.
Her best-known song is probably ‘Because the Night,’ co-written with Bruce Springsteen and memorably performed by him and later by 10,000 Maniacs. But the song I saw mentioned the most in my research was ‘Gloria,’ the opening track of Horses.
‘Gloria’ is a cover of the classic Them song (written by Van Morrisson), which is about as simple a song as you can imagine. Smith’s version retains the chorus (“G-L-O-R-I-A… Gloria!”) but little else. She completely rewrote the lyrics, weaving a provocative, sensual tale and leading off with the memorable line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”
The performance is pretty exciting, building to a punk rock shoutfest. As the first song on Smith’s first album, I can see how this served as a wake-up call to the music world about a ferocious new talent on the scene.
As with many “classic” albums, I don’t know often I’d play Horses if I owned it, but now I’m curious enough to want to hear it through at least once.
meltin’ in a pot of thieves
wild card up my sleeve
thick heart of stone
my sins my own
they belong to me, me
people say “beware!”
but I don’t care
the words are just rules and regulations to me
I walk in a room, you know I look so proud
I’m movin’ in this here atmosphere, well, anything’s allowed
and I go to this here party and I just get bored
until I look out the window, see a sweet young thing
humpin’ on the parking meter, leanin’ on the parking meter
oh, she looks so good, oh, she looks so fine
and I got this crazy feeling and then I’m gonna ah-ah make her mine
ooh I’ll put my spell on her
here she comes
walkin’ down the street
here she comes
comin’ through my door
here she comes
crawlin’ up my stair
here she comes
waltzin’ through the hall
in a pretty red dress
and oh, she looks so good, oh, she looks so fine
and I got this crazy feeling that I’m gonna ah-ah make her mine
and then I hear this knockin’ on my door
hear this knockin’ on my door
and I look up into the big tower clock
and say, “oh my God here’s midnight!”
and my baby is walkin’ through the door
leanin’ on my couch she whispers to me and I take the big plunge
and oh, she was so good and oh, she was so fine
and I’m gonna tell the world that I just ah-ah made her mine
and I said darling, tell me your name, she told me her name
she whispered to me, she told me her name
and her name is, and her name is, and her name is
and her name is G-L-O-R-I-A
I was at the stadium
There were twenty thousand girls called their names out to me
Marie and Ruth but to tell you the truth
I didn’t hear them I didn’t see
I let my eyes rise to the big tower clock
and I heard those bells chimin’ in my heart
going ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong.
ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong
counting the time, then you came to my room
and you whispered to me and we took the big plunge
and oh. you were so good, oh, you were so fine
and I gotta tell the world that I make her mine make her mine
make her mine make her mine make her mine make her mine
and the tower bells chime, “ding dong” they chime
they’re singing, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.”
I hadn’t heard this version of Gloria before, and i too am not all that familiar with Smith’s work.
I’m actually not a big fan of punk, although some of my favorite artists, including of course Costello, have their roots in the punk movement. But even with Costello, I prefer his later work (or really at this point his 80’s and 90’s work) to the more punk stuff of the 70’s. So, while Smith may well be punk at its finest….I’m fine leaving it behind.
Toto, I don’t think we’re in Laura Branigan territory anymore.
Smith is one of those artists I’ve managed to hear of hundreds of times without ever actually hearing at all. This may be the first time I’m listening to a Patti Smith song (at least while being aware of such a fact). And… eh.
No doubt there is a palpable intensity to the music and the delivery of the lyrics, which must be at least part of punk’s point (say that three times fast). Still, I’m with Clay. I’m not sure how often I’d find myself reaching for this album. Fiona, on the other hand…