“London Calling” or “Anarchy in the UK” are usually seen as the two definitive anthems of punk, but I think that Patti Smith’s version of “Gloria” is the perfect punk song. Smith turns a rock and roll classic sing-along into a snarling nightmare fueled by rage, disgust and irony. It even begins with the sinister line, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”
The version by Them is a classic by itself, and I’ve seen numerous artists cover it. (Including Springsteen do a stellar version in 2008.) Along with “Satisfaction”, “Hound Dog”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Louie Louie”, “Gloria” sums up the sound of rock and roll. It opens up the possibilities of what happens when a group of people get together and plug in their instruments. Van Morrison, usually known for his soulful jazz vocals, gives a vocal performance that lies somewhere between a sexual snarl, and triumphant yell.
As much as the Them version came to define the garage rock sound of the early 60’s, Smith’s version truly embodies the punk ethos musically and lyrically. It’s sometimes thought that punks detested all rock and roll prior to their arrival. But it’s obvious that Smith has a love for the original, but in keeping up with the punk attitude creates an irreverent version of a stone-cold classic. Whether Morrison is after the girl, Smith actually achieves her lust and it’s not enough to just have the experience, she “has to make her mine, make her mine”. The ways Smith growls the lyrics you have to wonder whether this is mere lust or an exorcism of past demons through sexual acts.
Check out Them’s “Gloria”
And Smith’s version: