October 30, 2009. Electricity was in the air at the second evening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden. In a crowning irony, quintessential downtown icon Patti Smith had taken the uptown stage in this most mainstream of venues. She was on hand to sing her 1978 hit “Because the Night” with its co-writer and the unofficial ringleader for the two marathon shows, Bruce Springsteen, and pianist Roy Bittan. The song required a couple of takes to get it right for the broadcast, but take it from one who was there: the first try was raw, unvarnished, imperfect rock and roll. And who better to embody that spirit than Patti Smith, often recognized as the godmother of punk?
Her story is the stuff of legend. An intense affair with controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. A residence at the Chelsea Hotel (where else?). Performance art on the streets of Paris. A play co-written with notorious “bad boy” Sam Shepard. Gigs at CBGB’s. A singer, musician, poet, artist, writer and activist, Patti Smith can’t be boxed into one category. But a great place to start exploring the many sides of Smith just might be the upcoming release of Outside Society from Legacy Recordings. This 18-track anthology (available in 1-CD or 2-LP configurations) is the first single-disc compilation to explore the entirety of Smith’s recording career on both Arista and Columbia Records, from 1975’s debut Horses through 2007’s Twelve. (A previous collection, Land, was a two-disc affair current as of 2002.)
Chronologically, Smith’s career begins and ends with pure rock. The first track on Outside Society (and first on 1975’s Horses) is her cover of Van Morrison’s “Gloria,” maybe the quintessential garage anthem. 2007’s Twelve revisited more songs influential to Smith, and Outside Society picks its reinvention of Kurt Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” underlining the lasting power of primal primitivism in music. Along the way, Outside Society collects highlights from all ten of Smith’s studio albums which feature her singular mix of rock, jazz, poetry and improvisation. (The singer has always defied easy classification despite those hanging “art rock” or “punk” tags on her albums.) She hasn’t been particularly prolific as a recording artist, but her influence has been immense. One song included is Smith’s take (from 1979’s Todd Rundgren-produced Wave) on Roger McGuinn’s withering “So You Want To Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star?” Whether or not she intended to become one, Patti Smith certainly did.
The compilation features the contributions of her bandmates, with original Nuggets creator Lenny Kaye (guitar) and Jay Dee Daugherty (drums) the longest-serving members. Kaye, Daugherty, Richard Sohl (keyboard/piano) and Ivan Kral (bass) formed the Patti Smith Group, which hit its commercial peak in 1978 with Easter and “Because the Night.” Smith contributes track-by-track liner notes for the new release, and says this of her enduring hit: “Bruce Springsteen gave me a great gift in allowing me to lend verses to his beautifully constructed anthem. My contribution was written for my future husband, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith. Though we have performed it hundreds of times, the strong response it draws always makes it fresh and exciting to sing.” Springsteen finally released his original take on “Because the Night” on 2010’s The Promise, and Natalie Merchant’s 10,000 Maniacs, of course, took it back up the charts in 1993. But for many, it remains Patti Smith’s song.
Hit the jump for more, including the complete track listing with discographical annotation and pre-order link!
The release of Outside Society precedes the awarding of the prestigious Polar Music Prize to Smith on August 30, at which time she’ll be welcomed into illustrious, eclectic company including Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Burt Bacharach, Isaac Stern, Pierre Boulez and Springsteen. Recent acclaim has also come for Smith thanks to the publication of the gripping Just Kids, her best-selling 2010 memoir reflecting on the struggle to create art in the tumultuous 1970s.
Greg Calbi and Tony Shanahan of Smith’s current band have remastered every track on Outside Society. It’s in stores on August 30 from Columbia, Arista and Legacy, and we’ve got a pre-order link below!
Patti Smith, Outside Society (Columbia/Arista/Legacy 88697 94315-2)
- Free Money
- Ain’t It Strange
- Pissing in a River
- Because the Night
- Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger
- Dancing Barefoot
- So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
- People Have the Power
- Up There Down There
- Beneath the Southern Cross
- Summer Cannibals
- Glitter in Their Eyes
- Lo and Beholden (Radio Edit)
- Smells Like Teen Spirit
Tracks 1-2 from Horses (Arista AL 4066, 1975)
Tracks 3-4 from Radio Ethopia (Arista AL 4097, 1976)
Tracks 5-6 from Easter (Arista AB 4171, 1978)
Tracks 7-9 from Wave (Arista AB 4221, 1979)
Tracks 10-11 from Dream of Life (Arista AL 8453, 1988)
Tracks 12-13 from Gone Again (Arista ARCD 8747, 1996)
Track 14 from Peace and Noise (Arista 07822 18986-2, 1997)
Track 15 from Gung Ho (Arista 07822-14618-2, 2000)
Track 16 from Lo and Beholden (Arista promo CD ARPCD-3855, 2000)
Track 17 from Twelve (Columbia 82876 87251-2, 2007)
Track 18 from Trampin’ (Columbia CK 90330, 2004)