He saw horses, horses, horses, horses
Horses, horses, horses, horses
Before efore we get to the end of Horses, we have to navigate some disparate terrain. After the pure rock and roll blast of “Gloria,” Patti takes left turns into reggae, free jazz, more rock and gives fellow traveller Tom Verlaine room to blast notes skywards two years before he put out Marquee Moon.
For the longest time, I had trouble navigating the mood shifts of Horses, because I wanted every single song to sound like “Gloria,” which would have been exhausting, of course, but eventually, I got there, at least not in part because my reward for listening to the whole record was the awesome “Land,” which combined “Gloria’s” trick of intertwining a classic 60s song with her own poetry with vocals overdubs that came from the Velvet Underground’s “The Murder Mystery.
And so, from the very beginning, there are two Pattis singing, chanting and reciting in and out and around each other, except for when there aren’t, the most crucial of which is the early build, where we establish that Johnny — after being attacked at school — is seeing all the horses, and suddenly, out of nowhere, she breaks out into Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances.”
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
It’s so jarring: the sacred and the profane jostling against each other in a way that gets to so many questions about how even something seemingly as mindless as dancing can be a spiritual, healing act, which of course is one of the things that always came across in Patti’s live performances: knowing how to do the Watusi — hell, just attempting to do the Watusi — is an equal and valid part of life as seizing your possibilities in the sea of possibilities.
Or not, of course: you can try to parse “Land” as an intellectual triumph of mixing “high” and “low” art, or you can enjoy it as just a visceral, pounding rock and roll song. It doesn’t matter to the multiple Pattis who are circling each other during the back half of the song, a long wind-down, chill out that eventually just drops into a single, slow beat.
One of the things that made “Land” work — indeed made all of Horses work — was the incredibly sympathetic production by John Cale, who of course co-founded The Velvet Underground, so he was no stranger with mixing experimental art and pulse-pounding rock and roll. And while Cale didn’t produce either of the first two Velvets albums — at least officially — he had produced records by The Stooges, Nico and The Modern Lovers, and the way that “Land” sounds is definitely part of the attraction: always moving, guitars wailing in the background and bouncing around the speakers, piano swelling and falling and drums always supporting, never overpowering.
And upfront, always up front: one, two, maybe even three Patti Smiths cajoling and preaching, ranting and raving, aiming for your heart, your crotch and your brain.
“Land” live on The Old Gray Whistle Test, 1976
“Land” live in Stockholm, 1976