There’s nothing like the Godmother of Punk for the holiest day of the Christian calendar, particularly when the first line of this song reads “Jesus died for somebody’s sins / But not mine.” Patti Smith is the kind of person you’d love to have in your family. Not only was she mapping the blueprint for a very loud, messy and offensive genre back in 1975, but she also writes books and creates art. I mean, imagine what birthdays must be like in that house. Moreover, imagine what Christmas must be like in that house. One of my friends who is far more in the know in this area than I am told me to check out Smith’s debut, Horses a few years ago, something I duly did expecting to hate it and being pleasantly surprised. ‘Gloria’, probably one of history’s most covered songs which is indeed a cover itself (of Van Morrison, no less) opens the record and it’s very difficult not to fall in love then and there. There’s a real rawness to Smith’s voice that lets you know that you’re about to have your ass kicked, even when she’s just crooning over the piano introduction. It’s the kind of template that would go onto inspire everyone from Dresden Dolls to PJ Harvey to Lady Gaga. The ‘move the hell out of my way’ voice. The holler that grows and grows into this amazing force so that by the time the time it switches over to the whole band thing, you’re already hooked.
The fact that Horses is over thirty years old but sounds like it came out on an American indie label yesterday is a testament to the kind of influence Smith has had over her contemporaries. Once you hear her, you hear a lot of other things to. But what I really hear, despite the obvious leanings towards the more raucous end of the spectrum, is some real musicality, and moreover, poetry. Next to Leonard Cohen, Smith is perhaps one of rock’n'roll’s most formidable wordsmiths, and her style which would become well-known via her extensive collection of publications is cemented on her debut. The fact that Smith could take what was already moving prose and put a melody to it makes this a joy to hear. It also makes you realise the dearth of artists, at least highly successful artists, doing that kind of thing today. Smith was signed by Clive Davis, the guy who signed pretty much everybody else important at the time including Pink Floyd, Iggy and The Stooges and Earth Wind & Fire. One questions whether anyone would give her kind of sound a look in today, especially a budget to record.
‘Gloria’ has been referenced by numerous other artists, including, as I recently found out, the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the last song they released that I actually liked. At the end of Venice queen, which closes By The Way, Anthony Kiedis has a great time spelling out the name G-L-O-R-I-A. Strangely enough, this was something that started with this track, which kind of makes me feel like together, Smith and Morrison may be collectively responsible for every time The Black Eyed Peas, Snoop Dogg or Fergie spell out their names on their tracks. But then, this ain’t no homogenised bullshit. This is the real deal, and even when I read an interview Patti Smith did with Vanessa Paradis in a recent issue of Interview, she still sounded totally bad-ass. That’s all I need on a day when all my coffee shops are closed.
Patti Smith – ‘Gloria’
More Patti, no Selma here.