#651: 1976, Patti Smith Group, Pissing in a River

by Jackie_South on March 24, 2013

George‘s and Ray‘s most recent song choices stemmed from an online dialogue we had about the small and select group of artists whose first two albums were classics.

In that discussion, I proposed Patti Smith, only to have George strike it down.  Her debut Horses, he agreed, was a masterpiece (indeed possibly my personal favourite album of all time, but these things are in continual flux).  Not so, he said, the follow-up Radio Ethiopia.

That is probably a fair judgement.  Yet there is some brilliant stuff on her second album (more inclusively named for the band rather than just her), including this track.

It is a track that builds magnificently, from the opening simple piano chords, via soaring guitar solos to a massive, blistering, feedback-drenched, crescendo.

Like the best of Patti Smith, there is a punk poetry to her lyrics.  This is about the excruciating pain of love (Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you/ Oh I give my life for you), where she has no more control over her heart than her bladder (Patti has a thing abour urination).  And the opening line:

Pissing in a river, watching it rise,

all about a woman adding to her own troubles and being immersed in them, is one of the most powerful metaphors in song.  As the song’s power grows, the lyrics later reference Julie London’s classic Cry Me A River:

Should I pursue a path so twisted ?
Should I crawl defeated and gifted ?
Should I go the length of a river - 
The royal – the throne – the cry me a river?

Radio Ethiopia might not be a classic, but Pissing in a River most certainly is.

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