Hear a Complete Chronological Discography of Patti Smith’s Fiercely Poetic Rock and Roll: 13 Hours and 142 Tracks

Pat­ti Smith has always aligned her­self with artists who were out­siders and exper­i­men­tal­ists in their time, but who have since moved to the cen­ter of the cul­ture, where they are often reduced to a few bio­graph­i­cal notes. Arthur Rim­baud, Vir­ginia Woolf, William Blake…. As much moti­vat­ed by art and poet­ry as by the aggres­sion of rock and roll, Smith’s 1975 debut album reached out to peo­ple on the mar­gins of pop­u­lar cul­ture. “I was speak­ing to the dis­en­fran­chised, to peo­ple out­side soci­ety, peo­ple like myself,” she says, “I didn’t know these peo­ple, but I knew they were out there. I think Hors­es did what I hoped it would do. It spoke to the peo­ple who need­ed to hear it.”

It’s hard to imag­ine who those peo­ple were. In the process of its can­on­iza­tion, unfor­tu­nate­ly, punk has come to be seen as a rejec­tion of cul­ture, a form of anti-art. But Smith’s amal­gam of loose, rangy garage rock brims with arti­ness, mak­ing it “the nat­ur­al link between the Vel­vet Under­ground and the Ramones,” writes Jil­lian Mapes at Pitch­fork, “in the con­tin­u­um of down­town New York rock.” Pitch­fork sit­u­ates Smith’s first record at the top of their “Sto­ry of Fem­i­nist Punk in 33 Songs,” more “influ­en­tial in its atti­tude” per­haps than in its par­tic­u­lar style. “Her pres­ence at the fore­front of the scene was a state­ment in itself,” but a state­ment of what, exact­ly?

One of the fas­ci­nat­ing things about Smith was her sub­ver­sion of gen­dered expec­ta­tions and iden­ti­ties. In the epic med­ley “Land: Horses/Land of a Thou­sand Dances/La Mar (De),” her pro­tag­o­nist is an abused boy named John­ny. She slides into a sin­u­ous androg­y­nous vamp, por­tray­ing a “sweet young thing. Hump­ing on a park­ing meter” with the dan­ger­ous sex­u­al ener­gy she appro­pri­at­ed from idols like Mick Jag­ger. Yet in her twist on the per­for­mance of a clas­si­cal­ly mas­cu­line sex­u­al­i­ty, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty becomes dan­ger­ous, sur­vival a fierce act of defi­ance: “Life is filled with holes,” she sings, “Johnny’s lay­ing there, his sperm cof­fin, angel looks down at him and says, ‘Oh, pret­ty boy, can’t you show me noth­ing but sur­ren­der?”

John­ny shows the angel, in a grit­ty West Side Sto­ry-like scene that illus­trates the razor edges at the heart of Smith’s musi­cal poet­ry. He gets up, “takes off his leather jack­et, taped to his chest there’s the answer, you got pen knives and jack knives and switch­blades pre­ferred, switch­blades pre­ferred.” Hors­es is so foundational—to punk rock, fem­i­nist punk, and a whole host of oth­er coun­ter­cul­tur­al terms that didn’t exist in 1975—that it’s unfair to expect Smith’s sub­se­quent albums to reach the same heights and depths with the same raw, unbri­dled ener­gy. Her 1976 fol­low-up, Radio Ethiopia, dis­ap­point­ed many crit­ics and fans, though it has since become a clas­sic.

As William Ruhlmann writes at All­mu­sic, “her band encoun­tered the same devel­op­ment prob­lem the punks would—as they learned their craft and com­pe­tence set in, they lost some of the unself-con­scious­ness that had made their music so appeal­ing.” The music may have become man­nered, but Smith was a pro­found­ly self-con­scious artist from the start, and would remain so, explor­ing in album after album her sense of her­self as the prod­uct of her influ­ences, whom she always speaks of as though they are close per­son­al friends or even aspects of her own mind. Who is Pat­ti Smith speak­ing to? Her heroes, her friends, her fam­i­ly, her var­i­ous selves, the men and women who form a com­mu­ni­ty of voic­es in her work.

We get to lis­ten in on those con­ver­sa­tions, and we find our­selves torn out of the famil­iar through Smith’s detourn­ment of clas­sic rock swag­ger and beat­nik pos­es. You can hear her many voic­es devel­op, refine, and some­times stum­ble into cre­ative mis­steps that are far more inter­est­ing than so many artists’ suc­cess­es in the playlist above, a com­plete 13-hour chrono­log­i­cal discog­ra­phy (save some rar­i­ties and live albums that aren’t on Spo­ti­fy) of Smith’s work—a life­time of what her father called a “devel­op­ment of the coun­try of the mind” as she remarked in a 1976 inter­view. “He believed that the mind was a coun­try, and you had to devel­op it, you had to build and build and build the mind.”

These are not the kinds of sen­ti­ments we might expect to hear from the so-called “God­moth­er of Punk.” Which might speak to how lit­tle we under­stand about what Smith and her mot­ley com­pa­tri­ots were up to amid the grime and squalor of mid-sev­en­ties down­town New York.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

33 Songs That Doc­u­ment the His­to­ry of Fem­i­nist Punk (1975–2015): A Playlist Curat­ed by Pitch­fork

Hear Pat­ti Smith Read the Poet­ry that Would Become Hors­es: A Read­ing of 14 Poems at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, 1975

Pat­ti Smith’s New Haunt­ing Trib­ute to Nico: Hear Three Tracks

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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