Forty-two years later: the indelible markings of Patti Smith's 'Horses'
One of the most pivotal albums in rock history, Horses by Patti Smith, will have circled around the sun 42 times tomorrow.
It has influenced countless magicians and artists alike and has left lasting impressions on music admirers of all tastes. For me, Horses has influenced the way I hear music, the way I identify with art and the way I choose to release myself into the world.
I’ve only had the chance to spend four short years of my life with the album, but its emotional pull has made every listen count. Sixteen-year-old me was busy with the abrasive sounds of Powerslave by Iron Maiden, along with other variants of metal and their opposites, namely Pavement.
But nothing hit me the way Horses did with its poetic lyrics and igniting instrumentals. Smith’s voice and her ability to make everything personal made my entire body melt, leaving my nakedness to stand on its own for the first time in my life.
The experience started in the key of E with an introductory rendition of Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” Smith’s honey voice starts to speak with backing instrumentals that explode into waves of sexuality. With each note, Smith’s voice echoed through my ears and shook my lungs with an unapologetic strength I never knew existed, and this feeling persisted for the entirety of the album.
Listening to the whole record can be an emotionally taxing experience, as Smith pushes through uneasy emotions that come with the exploration in gender and sexuality including the neglect, the confusion and the internal struggle of self-acceptance. And she did this all with an underlying influence of the sexual liberation movement during the ’60s and the people who felt rejected by it.
Smith moves from telling the world about a lesbian suicide in “Redondo Beach” to speaking about a homosexual rape in “Land,” all with a strong tone that forces a listener to hear her out, to be aware of the grotesque side of society.
She sings about death, despair and dehumanization. Her voice damns the world and lets everyone know that she’s angry. She’s angry about the disgusting acts in humanity. She’s angry about war, about liberation movements that fought only for a white and straight kind of equality, and she wants the world to know that she has become strong enough to begin fighting for those who were left behind.
Horses has stamped a trace of ethereal emotion into the Earth that will never be lost. It will be heard in every song influenced by its authenticity, including songs by Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Smiths, R.E.M and bands that can’t even decide on their name yet.
It has become such a timely record regarding the inequalities our world is ridden with today, and will continue to be a timeless work of art that strums against our deepest emotions and calls attention to the world’s deepest failures.
For me, Horses became a spiritual experience of dissociation. It felt like Smith’s evocative lyrics carried me to Jupiter, where I felt the gravitational pull of 16 moons hold me in place. It was extremely heavy, and I’d give anything to anyone if I could listen to Horses for the first time again.