As a singer, songwriter and poet, few artists have been as influential or iconic as Patti Smith.
Launched into the wider consciousness with her legendary record Horses, she played a huge part in defining the punk rock movement of the mid-70s. Since then she has worked with a variety of artists, inspired another generation and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
To celebrate her contributing to the soundtrack of the epic new movie Noah, we spoke to Patti to discover her Ultimate Playlist. Read on for some great selections, and the fascinating stories behind them.
Noah is in cinemas April 4th
Favourite Movie Soundtrack Song
"Well that I had trouble with because I tend to like the music in a song and I had to really go back to think of songs that I like - like Shenandoah or something from old movies, or High Noon - Do Not Forsake Me O My Darlin, but in modern soundtracks maybe like the Naked Lunch soundtrack or Philip Glass Mishima, or the soundtrack to Melancholia which is a lot of music from Tristan and Isolde. So I quite like instrumental tracks. Either one of those. The Mishima soundtrack is, I think, one of his great pieces. I'm friends with Philip and I often perform with him but the Mishima, just as a fan, is the one that I'd listen to the most."
Favourite Sad Song
"Well there's so many beautiful sad songs, but I think Skeeter Davis' End of the World...[sings] - to me it expresses all young girls' heartbreak, that we've all experienced. I'm just speaking as a female, but there's something so plaintive and so sincere about her delivery and I used to listen to it when I was a young girl, probably crying over a boy that I liked in 11th grade, but even when I hear it now it produces a pain. So I would say that."
Favourite Dance Track
"Again I would have to go back...I think Heatwave by Martha and The Vandelas. I love to dance to that. I love to dance, y'know - all different eras - I just have to find the right rhythm, but if I find the right rhythm I can just dance all night. But that's a song when I think of, just total abandon as a teenager, that was a great song to dance to."
Favourite Song That No One Else Has Heard Of
"More obscure songs...two songs come to my mind. One is a song by a Scottish girl, it's called John Anderson [sings] - it's a little song that a woman is singing about her husband who is now old, but was once beautiful. The other song that I think of is If I Can't Have You by Etta & Harvey. Etta James used to sing with Harvey Fuqua and it's an awesome song. No one knows about it - I've asked a million people, do you know this song by Etta & Harvey? And there's just something so...it's a very sensual...it's a badass song!
"And another, it's called Today's the Day by Maureen Gray. This song is, for me, one of the greatest songs...a young teenage girl singing it, it's just the exhuberance of this song, I used to dance to it when I was like 15 [sings] 'Today's the day that you're going away'. When I hear that song, I have to stop and dance, it's incredible. Every once in a while - I forget about it for years and then...I recently told my daughter about it, I said 'wanna hear a great song?' and I found it on YouTube and I leapt up and started dancing and she went 'Mommy!' I was just so excited to hear it. What's beautiful about this song is she's singing about her boyfriend, who is leaving - I don't know if he was drafted or what, because there were a lot of songs when I was a teenager about boys going off to Korea or then Vietnam - but she's singing it - 'today's the day that you're going away' - with such exuberance, but she's heartbroken."
Favourite Wedding Song
"I was thinking about that and I could say something more esoteric...at my wedding we played very classical things like the music to Tristan and Isolde... but Today I Met The Boy I'm Gonna Marry is such a great song - I think Darlene Love sings it...[sings]...it's such a nice little song. When I think about it, those are the kind of songs...all those Darlene Love songs or a song like He's a Rebel. Because for me, when I think of my husband, when he was young, when we first met, that song suited him. He's a rebel - and I would just as much like to hear that at my wedding, because I married my rebel."
Favourite Current Song
"Well, y'know I'm really not so connected with current music...I don't know what's around because I get hooked on a song for a long time like I was hooked on Rolling In the Deep for like a year, and it was all I listened to. And the last song I was hooked on was Stay by Rihanna, I love this song - and I'm still listening to it. When I'm hooked on a song it's usually a very popular song that I'll hear on the radio, or I'll hear in a store and I'll go 'what's that?' And it's usually a song that, as a singer, I relate to, and I don't really buy that many records, because I'm still listening to Jimi Hendrix! Being devoted to a certain singer or a certain group is one of the joys, I think, of being young. At this time in my life I have so much work I'm doing, so many things I'm preoccupied with, so I don't find myself devoted to new bands - it doesn't mean I don't like them, it's just that I'm busy with my own work. So I'm more likely to be seduced by a certain song on the radio. And I loved this little song Stay - the quality of her voice is so touching - it harks back to these 60s R&B songs we've been talking about, she has that quality in her voice. Usually I'm attracted to a female voice, like the first time I heard Amy Winehouse, I didn't know who that was and I thought 'that is a voice, that is a very, very special voice' and certainly if Amy was still here, I'd be saying 'whatever Amy is singing'.
"Also, Neil Young has a new album and there's 2 songs on it - one is Love and Only Love - that's song's awesome. But the song I really love is Walk Like A Giant. I toured a bit with Neil so I got to hear it live - I actually bought the record of this album. This one particular song, it's like a song that speaks for his generation - which was also my late husband's generation because Fred played with the MC5, they were a very political band, they wanted to change the world. I'm really a 70s artist, even though Neil and I are the same age, I started later in the 70s. But when they were teenagers, people like Fred and Neil were creating our cultural voice and this song is so deeply touching and he's just like 'I wanna walk like a giant'. To me, I interpret it as Neil remembering that feeling of when you're young and you feel like you can change the world, you're a young giant. And then you suffer so many setbacks and you're trampled upon and Neil's standing up again and saying 'I'm not gonna sit back', he's reclaiming this sensation and this mission. So it's quite great. Not the kind of the song you're going to hear on the radio a lot, but it's current and it's relevant and wonderful."
Favourite Song From Your Childhood
"Well, when I was a little girl, like any child I listened to songs like Big Rock Candy Mountain - these songs that were popular - Ugly Duckling, y'know, children's songs, but I remember quite clearly being about 5 or 6 years old and hearing - walking with my mother to Bible school and some teenage boys were playing a record on a record player outside, and they were playing The Girl Can't Help It by Little Richard. And I was really just 5 or 6 and I...I don't know what happened - I can still feel it, even though it happened like, what, '62, 60..some years ago - I let go of my mother's hand and just ran toward the record player. This song, it just connected with me...something about the rawness..I didn't know rock 'n' roll, rock 'n' roll was still evolving, I didn't even know the word rock 'n' roll, but that made a huge impression on me.
"And I can say the other song that I deeply connect with my childhood is the Aria Un Bel Di from Madame Butterfly, because the first time I heard that on the radio I was around 7, I had the same experience. The same intense sense of recognition, so I've always thought that interesting, that the two songs that so deeply attracted to me...both strong vocals: the passion and beauty of Un Bel Di and just the raw energy of Little Richard. These were the two poles that attracted me as a child."
Favourite Lyric From A Song
"Well there's a million of 'em...so it would change, like 10 minutes from now. So I didn't know how to answer this, I thought I'd just see what I say. It's so hard because every Bob Dylan lyric in the world is running through my head 'I got nothing, Ma, to live up to' - what a great line. And then I think about 'nothing is real and nothing to get hung about' from Strawberry Fields, I just love that. But maybe on the other side - because they're two dark lyrics - my favourite, if I had to take a lyric and put it on my tombstone, I would take Jimi Hendrix, 'Hooray I awake from yesterday'. Every day I think of that line. It gives me hope, it also reinforces how wonderful it is to be alive, no matter how rough things are. It's just...I often think that when I wake up, sometimes I have aches and pains, or a little headache, or I feel down or something. I think y'know, 'you're alive'. 'Hooray I wake from yesterday'. It's from my favourite Jimi Hendrix Song - 1983...A Merman I Should Turn To Be. It's my favourite song I think, if I had to only pick one song in the world, it would be that. It also has the line which I took and borrowed for Horses, in my Elegie to Jimi Hendrix, 'it's much too bad that our friends can't be with us today', that's from that song. But that line...so I'll choose that one."
Favourite One-Hit Wonder
"I know that if I called Lenny Kaye he could give me a hundred of these...because so many songs I have loved, I never knew anything else that the artist ever did, like My Hero by The Blue Notes, I Love You Truly and then there's Dead Man Stroll or Endless Sleep...there's probably more modern ones that I like, because even though I don't write hits myself, if I could write them I would! What's more wonderful than a song that everybody loves and everybody wants to dance to? I came from...being a lower middle class kid in Southern New Jersey, where would we be without our songs? Without the radio, without the songs that we danced to that spoke to us? I went a certain path, or I have the ability to improvise, or maybe write songs that are interesting - hopefully they're compelling or make people think - but I don't have that Smokey Robinson gift...it's a true gift, people that write songs that touch the public consciousness, that just connect with them, it's a gift, it's a different kind of artistry and I marvel at that. Even if you only write one hit though, it's pretty great! You write one hit, you can live your whole life on that hit!"
Favourite Song From Your Own Music
"That's difficult, because I have parallel thoughts about that...I have to say though, the pieces I'm most proud of are usually the improvisation pieces. On almost every record there's been one song that's been completely improvised. Whether it's Birdland, Radio Baghdad or Gandhi...or on our last record, Constantine's Dream, I would be more likely to gravitate toward them. It's funny because I rarely listen to my own records. Sometimes it's hard to listen to one's own voice...you think 'I'd rather be listening to someone else's voice'...but I do them with everything that I have to give. I'd rather other people choose their favourite track! But I'm proud of our records, we do the best we can. I'm proud of the last record, Banga, and I like the long piece Constantine's Dream - I said what I wanted to say. Any of them though - you can pick your favourite! I like the improvised songs, because since I don't write hits - I don't do that, I don't know how to do that - I know that's something I can do. I can go into a studio and be concerned about the Bush administration going into Baghdad and create a 14 minute improvisation in Radio Baghdad - I study, contemplate and think about these things and then we offer an improvisation. I'm proud of that because that's something that we do, that's our speciality."