Classic Album: Patti Smith Group - Easter

“Rumours were that the label was concerned her career would stagnate if there was not a marked progression with the third album.”
Classic Album: Patti Smith Group - Easter

Patti Smith’s third album, ‘Easter’, hits the ripe old age of thirty-five this year, but is still as vital - in both sound and prominence - as it was in 1978.

In early ‘77, while touring the sophomore album ‘Radio Ethiopia’, Patti fell from a stage in Tampa, Florida, breaking her neck in several places. A life reassessment later, there was a conspicuous shift in her creative output.

‘Horses’ (the first album) and ‘Radio Ethiopia’ had cemented the group’s position as visionary cult punk poets, but the breadth of music offered with her next album, ‘Easter‘, facilitated an international crossover to pop star status. Mainly due, in fact, to one song - ‘Because The Night, a composition originally slated for Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’.

Springsteen was unhappy with his own versions of the song, so producer Jimmy Iovine, best known these days as head of Interscope Records and as a partner in headphones company Beats By Dr Dre but who was working at the time in New York’s Record Plant Studios on both recording sessions, brought a tape of the song to Patti, who promptly went and made it her own.

Until this point, the ‘Easter’ sessions were yielding more of the same from Patti - wonderful songs, with a limited appeal to the existing fan base. While Smith has always denied it, the rumours were that the label was concerned her career would stagnate if there was not a marked progression with the third album.

Inspired by the positive reactions to ‘Because The Night’, the recordings took on a new impetus, and the other songs started to gel. ‘Easter’ has the expected awkwardness and literary quality of the previous two albums, but now see-sawed between a more traditional rock sound and folk, with strong pop elements.

The album’s opening track, ‘Till Victory’, launches listeners into a direct call to action, while the subtle folk accompaniment of ‘Ghost Dance’ (still a live favourite) allows you a forum to take in the song’s stirring poetry. It is ‘Rock n’ Roll Nigger’, however, that is the key to understanding the album’s brilliance. The song bristles with unflinching belief.

Smith likes to challenge authority and social expectations and often explored the reclamation of words from specific negative connotations, none more so than with ‘Rock n’ Roll Nigger’. Although not a new idea (Lenny Bruce tried and failed during the Sixties to bring attention to the disarming power of vulgar language) ‘Rock n’ Roll Nigger’ is still perceived as racially inflammatory and insensitive by those unwilling to look at the intellectual argument for its re-appropriation of words. Rather than being offensive, their use is intended to promote a collective unity. The song is still one of the boldest moments of Smith’s career, grouping as it does Jackson Pollock, Jesus and Jimi Hendrix together as social outcasts.

It’s a feeling that’s all too familiar to Smith. The paradoxical nature of the appearance of such a confrontational moment on the group’s biggest pop album is something that isn’t lost on her global fan base. They would expect nothing less from a woman who has consistently defied categorisation.

Words: Adam Foster

PATTI SMITH GROUP 'EASTER'

RELEASED: March 3rd 1978
PRODUCER: Jimmy Iovine
MUSICIANS:
PATTI SMITH VOCALS, GUITAR
LENNY KAYE DRUMS, BASS, VOCALS
JAY DEE DAUGHERTY DRUMS, PERCUSSION
IVAN KRAL BASS, GUITAR, VOCALS
BRUCE BRODY KEYBOARDS

TRACKLIST
1. ‘TILL VICTORY’
2. ‘SPACE MONKEY’
3. ‘BECAUSE THE NIGHT’
4. ‘GHOST DANCE’
5. ‘BABELOGUE’
6. ‘ROCK N’ ROLL NIGGER’
7. ‘PRIVILEGE (SET ME FREE)’
8. ‘WE THREE’
9. ‘25TH FLOOR’
10. ‘HIGH ON REBELLION’
11. ‘EASTER’

1978: IN THE NEWS
• CHINA LIFTS ITS BAN ON THE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE.
• CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S COFFIN IS STOLEN FROM A SWISS CEMETERY AND LATER FOUND NEARBY.
• THE GARFIELD COMIC STRIP MAKES ITS DEBUT.
• THE WORLD’S FIRST TEST TUBE BABY IS BORN IN MANCHESTER.
• THE WHO’S DRUMMER KEITH MOON DIES.

1978: THE ALBUMS
BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS - ‘KAYA’
THE BAND - ‘THE LAST WALTZ’
KRAFTWERK - ‘THE MAN MACHINE’
THE ROLLING STONES - ‘SOME GIRLS’
BLONDIE - ‘PARALLEL LINES’

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