'Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine'. If there's a more powerful opening line of a Killer Opening Song in a debut album, K.O.S. would love to know. Answers on a postcard, please. This opening salvo from Patti Smith's first album 'Horses' paved the way for punk rock. Although it would be a tad bit unfair to box Patti in this category. This is a performer who has always defied labels. She is a poet, a singer-songwriter, an activist and an artist. Through her music she has married two old American traditions on integrating beat poetry with three-chord rock.
Patricia Lee Smith was born in 1946 in Chicago, Illinois. She was raised in a religious household and as she was growing up she found the world depicted by the Bible too confining. Hence the aforementioned opening line in her version of the Them's Gloria was a response to her theistic upbringing.
Patti has often been called the 'Godmother of Punk', which K.O.S. finds somewhat limiting as Smith's music has always been slightly different from the DIY style favoured by bands like Sex Pistols and The Buzzcocks. Also, Patti's dalliances with poetry and art have placed her musical oeuvre in a more aesthetically position, raw and feisty lyrics notwithstanding. In fact, K.O.S. would go as far as to claim that hers was a more experimental take on rock music that veered more towards the ecclectic British bands from the 70s prog rock movement (minus flowers on heads and flying pigs) than the amateurish attitude of most punk performers of that era.
To back this up, readers and fellow bloggers need only look at the cover of Patti's already mentioned opera prima, 'Horses'. The photo was taken by Patti's long-time friend, Robert Mapplethorpe using natural light in a penthouse in Greenwich Village. It has since become one of rock's iconic images.
Patti continues to tour, compose, paint and her activism shows no signs of abating either. A couple of years ago she curated London's Southbank's Meltdown Festival, where she performed the album 'Horses' in its entirety.
Killer Opening Songs is proud to profile this artist as part of its series about musicians whose introductory tracks have become musical landmarks.
Note: It was hard getting hold of a clip of the song 'Gloria' on youtube. So, on this video Patti Smith performs two songs, 'Gloria' and 'We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together' by The Velvet Underground. I hope you enjoy it.