Listened to now, three decades after its release, Horses still sounds like one of the top rock albums of all time. But I wonder if anyone who didn't hear it in the context of its 1975 release can fully appreciate just how pioneering it was. After all, '75 is the year that brought us Born to Run, Blood on the Tracks, Katy Lied, Fleetwood Mac, Wish You Were Here, and Barry White's Greatest Hits. Few people had noticed the New York Dolls' two albums, and the Ramones' debut wouldn't come out until 1976; not until 1977 did we get Blank Generation, Marquee Moon, and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols.
So Horses was starkly different from everything around it, even after producer John Cale (Velvet Underground) removed the rougher edges. That's not a criticism of him, either; between the crystalline engineering and guitarist/songwriter Lenny Kaye's stripped-down vision of rock, the sound has a brilliant focus that now sounds timeless. Is it punk? Not exactly, but punk hadn't been born yet, or was just on the cusp of existence and certainly couldn't be contained by definitions and codifications yet to come. Instead, it's Kaye and Smith returning to the lean origins of rock, touching on and transforming such milestones as Van Morrison's "Gloria," Cannibal and the Headhunters' "Land of a Thousand Dances" and -- slightly -- Huey "Piano" Smithâ's "We Like Birdland." And for the full scruffy effect of Smith's band, there's the concert cover of the Who's iconic "My Generation," originally released as the B-side of the first single from Horses, "Gloria" (with Cale playing bass) and carried over as a bonus track from the previous upgrading on the first disc of this 30th Anniversary Legacy Edition. And lyrically, Smith's poetry offered a scathing, disturbing, yet invigorating new vision.
So, what's up with the double title? Earlier this year, Smith curated the 2005 Meltdown Festival, which culminated in a June 25 concert at Royal Festival Hall in London where she played all of Horses -- including its pendant "My Generation" as an encore -- with original band members Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty, longtime bassist/keyboardist Tony Shanahan (who replaced the late Richard Sohl), ex-Television guitarist/ex-Smith boyfriend Tom Verlaine (who's on "Break It Upâ" on the original album), and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea (mostly on bass, but playing trumpet on "Elegie"). That performance makes up the second disc of this package. Of course, it should've been issued separately, but Legacy's got a format it's committed to and it's better to have the concert available than not, because it's pretty thrilling. The nine 1975 tracks total 47 minutes; in concert, they add up to 67, and it's not just from applause. There are such crucial gems as the spoken introduction to "Break It Up," revealing its origins in a dream about Jim Morrison, and the growing list of the departed in "Elegie." "Land" becomes even more epic, aggressive, and chillingly nightmarish. "My Generation" doubles in length, including an updating rant that doubles as warning and baton-passing: "My generation, we had dreams, we had dreams, man, and we fucking created George Bush. New generations, rise up, rise up, take the streets. Make change. The world is yours. Change it." Musically, the added energy of playing "live" and the excitement of the occasion are transformative. The result is a fully welcome new perspective. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based former editor of Creem magazine and CDNow.com, editor of the acclaimed MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide, and contributor to The Big Takeover, Early Music America, and many other hip periodicals. He is a buyer at Sound Fix, a hot new record store in Williamsburg.
This CD changed my musical tastes forever.