By Erin Harrington
Patti Smith is probably one of the most unrecognized artists for her revolutionary work. She made a huge contribution to the punk-rock movement in the 1970s when she brought her own unique female voice to the genre. Rolling Stone Magazine placed her at number 47 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Her influential contribution to our music culture is apparent, and yet most young adults of our generation have no idea who she is. And on April 17, most people didn’t notice it when she came out with her latest brilliant and inspired album titled “Twelve” .
With her usual wailing and impassioned vocal stylings, Smith has created twelve cover versions of some classics from our musical culture’s past. The album pays homage to voices such as The Beatles, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones and, oddly enough, Nirvana. The art form of the “cover song” can be a challenging feat. Often, the cover comes up short and just can’t capture the essence of the original while simultaneously creating something new. However, Smith has accomplished this task with sparkling success.
As a hardcore Beatles fan, I have found that cover versions of their songs often fail miserably (the few notable successes to date are Joe Cocker’s version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” and Fiona Apple’s rendition of “Across the Universe”). Smith’s cover of “Within You Without You” is a successful interpretation of George Harrison’s creation. With gutsier vocals than the Beatle’s brainchild (no offense, George) and the clever use of piano and rhythm guitar in place of the sitar solo, the piece is indeed unique. And yet, it is able to maintain the true Beatles essence, and the traditional Indian tablas sounds and chord progressions.
Smith’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” starts out with a riff reminiscent of a classic Neil Young folk song. She takes the classic style of folk music and combines it with the psychedelic essence that is Jimi Hendrix to create a fresh, new sound to this song. There are enough digital effects and trippy echoes to rival the original.
Since Nirvana is my second-favorite band of all time, I was excited and reticent all at once to listen to Patti Smith’s cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The interpretation was beautiully genius. Smith opted to replace the traditional grunge instrumental choices of Nirvana with bluegrass-influenced banjo, stand-up bass, and violin. The whole song is slightly quirky and melancholy. Smith adds new meaning to the word “blue” in “bluegrass.” Smith’s choice to slow the song’s tempo significantly was indeed a good one, allowing Kurt Cobain’s beautiful (and oftentimes so slurred as to be unintelligible) lyrics to really shine through.
Such an influential and creative music force should not be ignored. If you’ve never heard of Patti Smith before, I’ve just given you twelve reasons to go listen to her.