Patti Smith: Outside Society
One of the few to bring poetry, politics and multi-media into rock and make it work, singer/songwriter Patti Smith also pioneered the development of new wave and punk into rock culture.
Perhaps “punk” is a narrow term for Smith’s music, whose 1974 debut Horses heralded a shift into gritty, edgy realms that begged for a label. The punk moniker refers to an aesthetic that was part ‘50s/’60s girl group, Detroit garage rock and ‘70s East Village NYC street rock – a sound that was making itself up as it went along. And so it went, from there across the Atlantic to the UK and so on.
Smith isn’t a household name, although contemporary with Bruce Springsteen and influential to the mid ‘70s corporate rock upheaval.
For those who aren’t sure where to begin with Patti Smith, Outside Society is the most direct route to an overview of Smith’s work – it’s more of a career retrospective than a “best of “ compilation, because Smith’s hits are few. But like her, they’re important and they go a very long way.
The most popular of these are easy to pick from this 17-song collection: her Springsteen co-write Because the Night (still a stirring ode to angst and love) and her inspired cover of The Byrds’ So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star.
This track brings a primal yearning that the original lacks, and answers the question posed in the title.
A more temperate groove is laid out in 1959 and Summer Cannibals; dark jangly rock that builds on Smith’s sharp, emotional delivery, whose influence can be detected in the work of Grace Slick and Ronnie Bennett of The Ronnettes.
A latter-period ember is the firebrand collaboration of Up There Down There with late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5 – rebel yell, indeed.
As much as Lou Reed, the Ramones, and Bruce Springsteen (ok, he’s from New Jersey), and Patti Smith embody the sound of New York City, and “Outside Society” captures her non-compromising spirit.