Johnny fell on his knees: the best of Patti Smith

I had my Patti Smith moment too early — and too late. At twenty I spun Horses for a whole summer after buying an overpriced copy at a Coconuts Music. Smith broke an eight-year silence that year with Gone Again, a mostly acoustic effort that couldn’t possibly compete with Beck, Imperial Teen, Everything But the Girl, Stereolab, and the other queer sounds with which I was taken that quarter, and, indeed, I barely kept up with the rest of her catalog, as noted by the selections below.

Skimpily relistening for the sake of this list, I was reminded of the power of the original Patti Smith Group — Lenny Kaye’s solos in “Pissing in the River” and “Break It Up,” Richard Sohl’s piano on “Land” and “Because the Night.” What a stroke of fortune for her rise to coincide with Bruce Springsteen’s, for the E Streeters and the Group had a similar interest in the dynamics of supporting a garrulous shaman who understood rock history and the required poses. She had no Jon Landau who gave up journalism for Smithian PR, and even if she did it wouldn’t have been enough to get Easter into the top ten; but “Because the Night” hovered just outside the top ten, a bigger hit than co-writer Springsteen had scored to date, and that a woman who cultivated an androgyne pose muscled her album into the album chart close to gold certification in 1978 was impressive enough.

Twenty songs for someone with her voice (which these days has no power to charm me) is just enough. “Dancing Barefoot” heads my list because she and Kaye’s sinuous guitar nail the euphoria that inspires you to dance barefoot after good sex.

1. Dancing Barefoot
2. Gloria
3. Kimberly
4. Break It Up
5. Land
6. Ask the Angels
7. Because the Night
8. Hey Joe
9. Free Money
10. Pumping (My Heart)
11. Redondo Beach
12. People Have the Power
13. Beneath the Southern Cross
14. Radio Ethiopia
15. Frederick
16. Summer Cannibals
17. Glitter in Their Eyes
18. Everybody Wants to Rule the World
19. Free Money
20. Dead to the World

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