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Behind the Cover: Horses by Patti Smith

“Horses” is easily Patti Smith’s most iconic album. Filled with a glorious fusion of poetry and rock n’ roll, her 1975 release is an early punk masterpiece. Her bold feminity adds a sort of mystique that makes “Horses” stand out against similar albums of the time.

The cover is a testament to her bold beauty and authenticity as an artist. It was shot by the legendary Robert Mapplethorpe, one of Smith’s dearest companions and the subject of her memoir “Just Kids.” She always knew Mapplethorpe would shoot the album cover for “Horses;” Their friendship was so extraordinary and his reputation as a photographer was skyrocketing. Smith recalls that she “had no sense of how it would look, just that it should be true.” The only thing Mapplethorpe asked of her was to wear a clean shirt with no stains on it.

After a trip to the Salvation Army, Smith found a pile of white button-downs. The one she chose had an RV embroidered on the breast pocket, which she says reminded her of the movie “Barbarella.” The portrait was taken in their friend’s apartment, bathed in natural light against a blank wall. Smith tried several poses before throwing her jacket over her shoulder “Frank Sinatra style,” leading to the portrait we all know and love today. In total, Mapplethorpe only took twelve photographs.

“When I look at it now, I never see me. I see us.”

Patti Smith, “Just Kids”

The true beauty behind the “Horses” cover is Mapplethorpe and Smith’s connection. After crossing paths in New York during the cultural explosion of the mid-1960s, they formed a life together by exploring art in all its forms. Though they drifted apart as their careers took them down different roads, they always managed to find each other again.

To read more about their relationship, you can read the book review I wrote on “Just Kids.” If you haven’t heard “Horses,” give it a listen!

– DJ Butter

By DJ Butter

A little Butter makes everything better. Part-time WKNC content manager and graphic designer, full-time sludgy surf rock funk master metalhead. Get in touch with ya suggestions n' such at content@wknc.org.