I had forgotten just how much I love Patti Smith Group Easter, for some reason it just hadn’t occurred to me to play it for about a year now; that happens sometimes.
When people talk about Patti Smith I am arrogant enough to think they get two things wrong. First off the first four LPs are credited to ‘The Patti Smith Group’ and you can really hear they are a group and not just Patricia Lee Smith’s hired hands. Secondly, people fixate on Horses, ground-breaking, incomparable classic that it is and Easter never seems to quite get its’ dues as the PSGs’ rockingest, stompingest long player.
I am the sword, the wound, the stain.
Scorned transfigured child of Cain.
I rend, I end, I return. (Easter)
Thanks Patti, now where was I? ah yes, rock. Lenny Kaye is all over this Easter wang dang doodle, slathering some great raw, lascivious guitar all over it – just check out the totally rocking ’25th Floor’ which comes on like a tougher Blue Öyster Cult*, before lurching into one of those exhilaratingly pretentious poetic rants on ‘High On Rebellion’. It’s the first PSG LP which caused me to reach for my air guitar, rather than my air mic** and Easter is doubly great for that reason.
What I feel when I’m playing guitar
Is completely cold and crazy,
Like I don’t owe nobody nothing
And it’s just a test just to see
How far I can relax
Into the cold wave of a note (High on Rebellion)
I agree that Easter is the Patti Smith Group’s second best album, but, hey, by definition that still puts Easter up there as one of the very best LPs of the late seventies. Smith gives this album such drive, attitude and strength, laying waste to any idea of the N.Y rock scene being a guys and dolls thing. I have always loved the way she hedges her literary leanings with real grit and spit, if you were looking for a tower of truly righteous female power, then welcome to the mother lode!
Easter kicks off with the confident strut of ‘Till Victory’ which sees the group channelling a great melodic bombast, complete with some very Springsteen-esque key changes and driving pomp – you really can hear the influence of producer Jimmy Iovine on this one. Springsteen was recording next door cutting Darkness On The Edge Of Town and one day he let Iovine, who was working on both LPs, share a song with he was struggling with. The upshot was twofold – Smith put her own lyrics to it and created her biggest ever hit and … the first time I ever heard it was track 1, side 1 of this mixtape the future Mrs 1537 sent me 14 years later.
‘Because the Night’ has been my favourite love song ever since^; it is such an honest aching portrayal of all those emotions, almost too much to listen to sometimes. By cutting out any artifice Smith created real art here, all the joy that comes from all the risk, it’s all here and delivered perfectly.
Which is all a polar opposite of my next favourites ‘Babelogue / Rock n Roll Nigger’. The former is a spoken word rant delivered over a recording of a crowd at a PSG gig, Patricia babbling about gigs, piss and seed, it’s deeply silly in some ways but totally and utterly galvanizing in others – it absolutely electrifies me!
I haven’t fucked much with the past,
But I’ve fucked plenty with the future.
‘ … Nigger’ is just a straight up rocker, it shocked me when I first heard it as a callow youth but listening to it now I just hear an anthemic rocker and Smith just using the N-word so repetitively that it robs it of all meaning – clever arty stuff. It reminds me of being a kid and repeating words, breaking them down into sounds until they just become a noise, I concede I may have been a bit of an odd child. Anyway, any song that namechecks Jimi Hendrix, Jackson Pollock and, umm, grandma is doing just fine by me.
Jimi Hendrix was a nigger.
Jesus Christ and Grandma, too.
Jackson Pollock was a nigger.
Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger,
Nigger, nigger, nigger.
I am also taken with the haunting folk-out of ‘Ghost Dance’ where the band get all faux Native American on our asses, to great effect. The playing on this track is particularly great as it is on the jerky punk funk of ‘Space Monkey’. Hell, it’s all good and when you’re done rocking out to the likes of ‘Privilege (Set Me Free)’, you can sink into the title track’s gently uneasy appropriation of catholic imagery and Arthur Rimbaud^^ and swoon to the really rather gorgeous ‘We Three’.
It’s all here and wrapped up in another fabulous potent image of Smith on the cover, armpit hair, nipples and all – I’ve rarely seen a cover portrait capture the sound and rebellious swagger of a whole album so well; hats off to Lynn Goldsmith. The lyric sheet is as arty and daft as you’d expect – snatches of the lyrics, Mapplethorpe photos, gnomic utterances and biblical quotes-a-go-go.
Look, if you like gnarly rock with arty lyrics – buy Easter. If you like strong women artists who never compromise, or cheapen themselves to get their message across – buy Easter. If you’re left-handed – buy Easter. If you love love – buy Easter. If you love a slice of NY cool served up by skinny boys in tight jeans – buy Easter. If you’re right-handed – buy Easter. Buy Easter. Buy Easter. Buy Easter.
Easter is just flat-out great at times, but don’t just take my word for it ask Jesus Christ, Jackson Pollock, Jimi Hendrix and grandma too, they are all radiating now.
We’re ascending through the hollow mountain.
We are peeking.
We are laughing.
We are kneeling.
We are laughing.
We are radiating at last. (High on Rebellion)
*Allen Lanier being Patti’s boyf (as my daughter would say) at this time, he lends his keys to ‘Space Monkey’. Smith having contributed lyrics to the ‘Cult cause as well.
**if called upon, possibly to save the planet, I could rock a great version of either ‘Piss Factory’ or ‘Gloria’ on a karaoke machine.
^pushing ‘Bathroom Wall’ by Faster Pussycat back into second place.
^^John’s older, far less-military brother.