The only Patti Smith album I ever bought, and probably the reason was due to Todd Rundgren producing it. Rundgren had his hands on many albums in this era, some he improved and others compromised. Smith was coming off of a very successful album Easter, which had the hit “Because the Night,” a song co-written with Bruce Springsteen. [Scroll to the bottom for the video.]
In this case, Rundgren’s contribution was a plus, he gave the songs and sound a tightness and clarity that made it powerful but melodic. Smith was punk royalty, enigmatic in her lyrical impact and energetic in her vocals. In the right hands, first Jimmy Iovine and now Rundgren, she was polished enough to appeal to a larger crowd without losing the gale force of her personality and rage. Many of those passionate about Smith were less than happy with her more commercial sound.
Smith was more of a poet than lyricist, and more of a stylist than a songwriter. Her band and Rundgren shape and give life to her poetry, much like the Doors did for Jim Morrison. Smith’s not a bad lyricist and she emotes great feeling in her performance.
“Dancing Barefoot” was a favorite of mine, and “Frederick” a close second. Smith’s band included Ivan Kral and Lenny Kaye were good players and co-wrote many of her songs. Smith’s solo songs, with the exception of “Frederick” are quite basic, relying on her band to make things interesting, which they mostly accomplish
Side one This is the rock and roll side of the album
“Frederick” (Patti Smith) – 3:01 This is an uptempo ballad, great piano driven song. Rundgren smooths the edges and provides some great harmony vocal. This is a song Smith wrote for soon-to-be husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith.
“Dancing Barefoot” (Smith, Ivan Kral) – 4:18 An acoustic, folk-flavored song with a great groove. Nice electric guitar fills on the chorus. Rundgren on bass. For an angry punk poet, this is a haunting, melodic song. A really good song.
“So You Want to Be (A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star)” (Jim McGuinn, Chris Hillman) – 4:18 A hard-rocking version of the Byrds’ anthem. Smith wasn’t really a rock and roll star, so the deeper meaning of the song is not there. Overall, musically, a very nice version.
“Hymn” (Smith, Lenny Kaye) – 1:10 A bit of a confessional by Smith with just a single instrument as her accompaniment.
“Revenge” (Smith, Kral) – 5:06 Slow, ringing guitars turning into a crashing blend of guitars, organ, bass and drums. A bluesy song, almost a remake of the Beatles “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” The guitar work is heavy and bluesy.
Side two This is the more somber, less music and more poetry on this side.
“Citizen Ship” (Smith, Kral) – 5:09 A hard rocker, a bit like what the Alice Cooper Group used to write. Every once in awhile, Smith in that full voice sounds like Debbie Harry. The guitars really work it on this song.
“Seven Ways of Going” (Smith) – 5:12 A slower, bluesier whaling effort. Jim Morrison and Doors might have done something like this in concert.
“Broken Flag” (Smith, Kaye) – 4:55 I think this proves that a song about what’s wrong, doesn’t have have to be screaming noise, as punk music frequently is. This could be a church hymn, with the organ and marching-type beat. A rather stirring song.
“Wave” (Smith) – 4:55 A song that has Smith reciting a poem over what sounds like an orchestral tune-up. The music is a bit spacey, not really like a structured song. Only in the last minute does she sort or sing. An interesting sound piece.
After this album, Smith would be absent from the music scene for almost a decade, content in her married life. After the death of her husband, she reemerged. Patti Smith, for many, is an acquired taste. For others, not at all. The mix of Smith and Rundgren worked out quite well here, though it might not have met with approval by hardcore Patti Smith fans.