Patti Smith, a rock critic and aspiring Bob Dylan-fixated poet from South Jersey, only truly found herself when she began to sing her intense verse.
Attitude of the “don’t fuck with me” variety had been conspicuously missing from rock for years, and Smith challenged the prevailing mood of bloated self-indulgence with a look and sound that fanfared the emerging punk aesthetic.
Already responsible for two volumes of poetry (Seventh Heaven and Witt), and a regular contributor to Creem magazine, her debut album Horses (1975) sounded primitive but reached the Top 50.
Produced by ex-Velvet Underground guitarist John Cale and featuring Lenny Kaye (guitar), Richard Sohl (piano), Ivan Kral (bass), and Jay Dee Daugherty (drums) with a guest appearance from fellow CBGBs activist and Television main man Tom Verlaine (on Break It Up) Smith summoned her disparate inspirations – Blake, Baudelaire, beat poetry, Dylan, Hendrix, The Doors – to fashion a wild, part-improvised punk poetry.
With her off-kilter delivery, Patti had a catch in her voice that made her sound as if she was permanently on the verge of breaking down into tears or erupting with rage. Horses was championed by critics and became a moderate commercial hit, peaking at #47 on the Billboard charts.
Three subsequent LPs did reasonably well. Easter (1978) included a surprise hit single in Because The Night (co-written with Bruce Springsteen) and is widely regarded as her best work.
Wave appeared to suffer from a lack of preparation but taking Dylan and Jim Morrison as her inspirations, Smith expanded the palette of poetic rock with the singer as wide-eyed guide, her female perspective amping up the intensity.
In Dorset, a young PJ Harvey would later take notes.