Top 100 Album Review: #44 – Horses, Patti Smith (1975)

An Album to Make Intellectuals Feel Good.

Trying to sort out my confusion, my Aunt pegged the reason people “like” Patti Smith’s Horses. 


Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #44/100
My Rating:cropped-smooth-star

This stream-of-consciousness beat poetry album with three chord progressions is awful. AWFUL. 

It is so bad, you could be guaranteed that its rise in the minds of music critics and fans came from either two sources: social justice or elitism. This dive into the Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Albums has taught me the lengths people will go to defend awful, avant-garde art. Worst yet, it’s operates on a negative correlation where the worse the art, the more people defend it.

In Patti Smith’s Horses, the defense is primarily elitism with some flourishes of social justice. How Aunt Mandy puts it:

There isn’t anything good about it, just people wanting to be cool so they say it’s great to try to make you think “if you were an intellectual like me you might get it. Buuuuut you’re too stupid to know how great it is.”

Publicity photo donated to the Rock Hall Archives[OVERVIEW]

Patti Smith has been labeled the punk poet laureate. She is viewed as the creator of punk rock which is defined as:

They typically produced short, fast-paced songs with hard-edged melodies and singing styles, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics. (Wikipedia)

Her creative background before the album is as checkered as you would expect: she did a spoken word soundtrack for “Robert Having His Nipple Pierced,” performed in self-written plays such as Cowboy Mouth, and was a rock journalism for the Rolling Stone.

Putting all these experiences together, she wanted the album to be “three-chord rock merged with the power of the word.” The purpose of punk rock is to be the antithesis to mainstream music. Having just recently reviewed an Eagles album, I picture them being the target of her opposition. Where the Eagles have tightly-wound, understandable lyrics with musical depth, she wanted off-kilter and disjointed words with simple music.


1.“Gloria” (Part I: “In Excelsis Deo”; Part II: “Gloria (Version)”) 5:57
2.”Redondo Beach” 3:26
3.“Birdland” 9:15
4.“Free Money” 3:52
5.“Kimberly” 4:27
6.“Break It Up” 4:04
7.“Land” (Part I: “Horses”; Part II: “Land of a Thousand Dances”; Part III: “La Mer(de)” 9:25
8.”Elegie” 2:57

[BEST SONG NOT ON THE ALBUM: Because the Night]

Not wanting you to leave thinking everything Patti Smith did was rat poison, here is a collaboration with Bruce Springsteen. Released in 1978, it’s a shame that Patti Smith couldn’t make a full album of this kind of music: coherent and musically interesting while still being poetic.

Take me now, baby, here as I am
Pull me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed


Fast forward to mark 6:10. Not only can you not hear it, understand it, or enjoy it, you have to convince the world that you like this and must listen to it. Good luck. 

The mother standing in the doorway letting her sons
No longer presidents but prophets
They’re all dreaming they’re gonna bear the prophet
He’s gonna run through the fields dreaming in animation
It’s all gonna split his skull
It’s gonna come out like a black bouquet shining
Like a fist that’s gonna shoot them up
Like light, like Mohammed Boxer


Or how about 3:10 here. She ends the song while screeching the same lyrics over and over. What beautiful nails on the chalkboard, recorded and distributed for our pleasure.

So break it up, oh now I’m coming with you.
Break it up, now I’m gonna go.
Break it up, oh, feel me, I’m coming.
Break it up, break it up, break it up,
Break it up, break it up, break it up,
Oh, break it up, break it up, break it up
Break it up, break it up, break it on up
Break it up, break it on up, up, up
Break it, break it, break it, break it
Break it on up, break it up,
Break it up, break it up, break it up 


Another trash song, picture my confusion when she starts singing lyrics from “A Land of a Thousand Dances” by Wilson Pickett. Such genius.

Do you know how to pony like bony maroney
Do you know how to twist, well it goes like this, it goes like this
Baby mash potato, do the alligator, do the alligator
And you twist the twister like your baby sister


Smart people sometimes really believe wild things. The desire to have an anti-establishment, innovative movement succeed can supersede the necessity for it to be any good. Patti Smith’s Horses is not good and no matter what it started or who it inspired, this isn’t a Top 100 output of human creativity in the format known as the album.

Other People’s Takes: 

  • My Windows Look: “Horses is a work of art, a piece of perfection that should always be remembered for it’s impact on music.”
  • Odd Man Out: “I was under-whelmed by Patti Smith’s landmark debut album Horses (1975), mostly because her voice was a mess and because I thought punk rock, stylistically, was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing musical.”
  • Breakfast with Words: Will I listen to it while I vacuum floors and study for tests? Maybe not. It’s a little too intense for regular listening.”


      1. It’s not wrong at all. Other than the last track, which is the one that does not do much for me, I do.

        I quite like the melodies and I feel it has a good combination of punk roughness with more artistically challenging tracks, like Birdland and Land. And even in those cases, the punk spirit appears in Patti’s singing.

        But it is certainly not a unanimity. I recommended the album to a friend who was seeking female rock artists a while back, and she dropped it right after Gloria (the very first track!) because she thought it was “too messy and noisy”. I personally think it is one of the best songs and performances of the era; Patti really transforms the original Them tune into something else that is entirely hers. But different strokes for different folks, I guess.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Ahhh this warms my heart. I read her book just kids, and liked it a lot. Then sat down to listen to her music for the first time….unlistenable. She has voice quite unsuited to singing. After listening to her music I am at a loss to explain how she has made a career out of music. Certainly if she started again in 2019 she wouldn’t be quite so fortunate

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think even people who like it always talk about it in terms of culture or genre or influence never really about the songs. For me is almost anti music….every thing I like about music is missing from the songs I listened to.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Nothing to explain. You already explained it to yourself. Lots of “baffling albums” on that list. I don’t get the majority of them (same as the films). Not to pick on some of your recent album takes but you could explain away and slip me 10 bucks and i still wouldn’t get it. My ear has a mind of it’s own.


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