A guide to Patti Smith’s 5 most important records

Patti Smith is a rare force of nature. Despite having only one charting hit during her 45-year career, the prolific punk-poet has remained at the forefront of rock n’ roll thanks to the catapulting effect of her debut album, Horses. 

Sounding like nothing that had preceded it, Smith kickstarted the punk rock revolution while remoulding the foundations of rock music on a substructure of intellectual poetry and feminist values.

Predicated upon its deconstructive cultural elements, Smith has built her work on ever-shifting foundations, further elucidated by a string of very well-received memoirs beginning with Just Kids. Despite an impressive string of accolades, the 72-year-old seems entirely void of vanity.

From the monstrous whack of her words to her artistic acuity and the rabble-rousing pummel of her sound, these are the 5 most important albums from Patti Smith.

Patti Smith

The prolific punk-poet that is Patti Smith has produced 11 magnificent studio albums. Before she returns down under this April, we take a dive into five of the best.

5. Banga (2012)

Named after Pontius Pilate’s faithful canine in Mikhail Bulgakov’s classic, The Master and Margarita – a work that also cited as the inspiration for The Stones Sympathy For The Devil – Smith finds herself on a new literary high with a storytelling wit as sharp as a whip.

Despite her age, Smith sounds youthful, with a deep well of inspiration to draw on. Not one instrument attempts to disrupt Smith’s sonorous vocal acumen as she delves into uncharted musical poetry and independent intellect, still managing to tie it up in a bow of accessibility.

That Patti Smith can still write magnificent poetry and deeply unique music four decades after her debut is a testament to the earth-shattering originality of her unalloyed artistry.

4. Gone Again (1996)

MC5’s Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith passed away in 1994, and Gone Again remains a powerful epitaph for a man who was deeply loved. In fact, the record stands as a tribute to the many souls Smith has lost over the years.

Amongst the ranks of her brother Todd, Robert Mapplethorpe, and keyboardist Richard Sohl, are other lost souls such as Kurt Cobain, for whom About A Boy is clearly written. Beneath The Southern Cross even features Jeff Buckley in his last studio recording before his death adds further pangs of poignancy and pain to a record already powerfully moving.

3. Radio Ethiopia (1976)

Significantly more experimental and much heavier than her debutSmith’s second work puts the spotlight on the band working in cohesion to bring an even harder edge to proceedings. Despite its divisive impact upon release, it remains an essential record from the 1970s, distilling the essence of the time.

Equally adored and despised by fans and critics upon release, Radio Ethiopia is now widely praised for being confidently ahead of its time. Just listen to the 10-minute, scatter-gunned epic of the title track. It both signposts the heavier rock of the ’80s as well as the maps out a blueprint for the art-rock of Sonic Youth to come, leaning into the guitar noise with abandon.

2. Easter (1978)

To counterbalance the mainstream success of Because The Night – co-written with Bruce SpringsteenPatti Smith bundled it up with her most shocking album. On one side you have the song most non-fans know, a fist-pumping ballad that provided the framework for rock radio throughout the ’80s.

On the other is Rock ‘N’ Roll Nigger, which, while musically brilliant, is constructed primarily for its shock value. Ultimately the blend between two polarities make for a gripping and endlessly fascinating whole.

Incidentally, Because The Night, has become one of the biggest songs to date for nude memes not sure why, but there you have it.

1. Horses (1975)

In her award-winning memoir, Just Kids, Patti Smith evocatively recounts her romantic escapades around New York and her passionate throes as a lover, muse, and soulmate with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. This turbulent time is sonically captured with crystalline precision on Horses. In 2016, Patti Smith performed Horses in full at Bluesfest to celebrate forty years since its release.

Smith’s poetry takes centre stage from the first line, carefully reassembling Van Morrison’s Gloria – ‘Jesus dies for somebody’s sins, but not mine.’ Meanwhile, Birdland showcases Smith poignant, pointed tact for language on a bed of barely perceptible guitars and piano. The magnificent production from John Cale at Electric Lady Studios is the icing on the cake making for a mesmerising masterpiece in every sense.

We know it can be tempting to school yourself in patty smith greatest hits, but before you give in to temptation, do yourself a solid and give these albums a listen to in their entirety, it will be worth it, we promise.