Just as its CD sticker says, Outside Society is the first single-CD collection to survey Patti Smith’s complete discography. Of course, the 18-track collection includes Smith’s 1978 collaboration with Bruce Springsteen, “Because The Night.” Bursting with dramatic dynamic contrasts and lyrics sung with vulnerable whispers and triumphant shouts, “Night” retains its power still. What’s more, as Smith reveals in the CD booklet’s notes, she still loves the song, her only hit. “Though we have performed it hundreds of times, the strong response it draws always make it fresh and exciting to sing,” “ she writes.
The mostly chronological Outside Society begins with Smith’s reinvention of Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” Featured on her 1975 album debut, Horses, “Gloria,” produced by Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale, blends beat poetry, blues, lashing electric guitar and an escalating tempo into primal, liberating expression.
Wave, released in 1979, would be Smith’s final album before the hiatus from music she spent in Detroit with her husband, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith, and their two children. Indeed, Wave’s “Frederick,” a polished Todd Rundgren production that casts Smith in her most commercial light, expresses the singer’s longing for her then future husband. Fred Smith inspired the emotional “Dancing Barefoot” as well. Darkly atmospheric, the song links love and addiction. “Here I go and I don’t know why,” Smith sings. “I fell so ceaselessly.” Wave also features Smith’s faithful re-creation of the Byrds’ 1967 hit, “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star.”
Smith made a brief return in 1988 with Dream Of Life, featuring “People Have The Power,” her populist anthem in the tradition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and John Lennon’s “Power To The People.” She didn’t resume her career until after her husband’s death in 1994. Gone Again, from 1996, plus four succeeding albums and a best-selling 2010 memoir, Just Kids, show that her artistry endures.