At the time it was a shock to the system – it retains its power to this day.
Chris Jones 2007
In retrospect, of course, it’s a dream line-up. An album by punk’s numero uno poet/priestess, produced by the coolest member of the Velvets (John Cale) with a Robert Mapplethorpe cover and even featuring CBGB-era legend Tom Verlaine on guitar. But then you look at the release date and realise how groundbreaking Horses really was. Talk about getting there first…
Smith was, by 1975, an acquired taste around the hipper clubs of New York. A post-Beat anomaly with a background in journalism (there’s probably another book to be written about the East Coast ur-punk’s literary heritage) who somehow pulled off the remarkable feat of melding free verse with garage rock sensibility. It also helped that her band featured Lenny Kaye on guitar who actually coined the term ‘punk rock’ when compiling the awesome Nuggets compilation in 1972.
In the studio Cale did the best thing he could as a producer, and captured the raw essence of Smith’s live performances at the time – the raw combination of poetry, shamanistic chant and rock ‘n’ roll thrills. First track, “Gloria”, was part-Jim Morrison (still a hero in those far-off days), part-Kerouac and part-Electric Prunes. Naturally, critics lapped it up.
But while Horses stands as a defining statement in the run-up to 1976 and punk’s year-zero it’s also unafraid to wear its art on its sleeve. Both “Land” and “Birdland” clock in at around 10 minutes ( a perversely prog trick that Verlaine’s Television also used on Marquee Moon) – this was something that The Ramones et al were to utterly reject and as such marks Smith as more of a spiritual mother and inspiration rather than a core player.
Whatever, Horses remains a towering masterpiece of bile and beat. At the time it was a shock to the system – it retains its power to this day.