Credit: Beni Kohler

From The Beatles to Bob Dylan: A selection of Patti Smith’s favourite songs of all time

Our adoration of Patti Smith is well known. We think that the Godmother of Punk is the starting point for most of your favourite rock and roll bands, and most of ours too. So we were thrilled to find this list of some the writer, poet and musician’s favourite songs of all time.

The singer and poet may have made her name in the seventies but her musical selection is deeply rooted in her upbringing in New Jersey and the allure that rock music held for a small town girl.

Smith’s selection comes via ShortList who asked the singer in 2014 about some of her favourite songs for certain life-affirming moments. We have pulled those all together to bring you not only a view on why Smith loved these tracks but a very special playlist to put you in the Patti-mindset.

One particularly interesting question posed to Smith is which song did she connect with most as a child. While the Horses singer picked ‘Aria Un Bel Di’ from Madame Butterfly she also picked a rock and roll mainstay in Little Richard. ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ a song that Smith resonated with instantaneously, even at her young age. “I can still feel it, even though it happened like, what, 60..some years ago – I let go of my mother’s hand and just ran toward the record player.” Smith concluded with natural elegance, saying the songs have “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.”

Another question posed to Smith which caught our eye was which lyric from a song was most important to the great writer. Naturally, Smith found it hard to choose, “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.” What she says is three songs, selecting Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s Alright, Ma’ and the lyric “I got nothing, Ma, to live up to”, The Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields’ and Lennon’s line “nothing is real and nothing to get hung about” but one stuck out as her favourite.

The singer settles on a line from Jimi Hendrix’s ‘1983… A Merman I Should Turn To Be’, “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 a heartening spirit from an artist who believes that music can heal everything.

Smith picks a selection of tracks that she then hastily files under the one-hit-wonder category. Smith selects ‘My Hero’ from The Blue Notes, as well as some other vintage winners, including: ‘I Love You Truly’, ‘Dead Man Stroll’ and ‘Endless Sleep’. Smith shares that despite the disparaging category header, she loves a great pop song. Smith says, “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!”

Another connective moment came when asked for her favourite wedding songs, seemingly unable to select just one song for any category, Smith picks two songs rooted in her youth. Though she remarks that she loves classical music at weddings she also suggested Darlene Love’s Today I Met The Boy I’m Gonna Marry’ and ‘He’s A Rebel’ from the Crystals, the latter offering her some parallels to her own relationship. “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.”

The ‘Redondo Beach’ singer picks two songs “that no one else has heard of” selecting an old Scottish folk song and the Etta and Harvey James beauty, ‘If I Can’t Have You’ – both of which show off Smith’s eclectic tastes and pure roots. It’s something that is also replicated in her final two selections for her favourite sad song and her favourite dance track.

The sad song Patti Smith picks is one that connects directly with her past. “Well there’s so many beautiful sad songs, but I think Skeeter Davis’ ‘End of the World’ – 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.”

Ending on a high note, as we like to do, Smith picks her favourite dance track of all time, with another nod to her teenage abandon, “I think ‘Heatwave’ by Martha and The Vandellas. 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.”

It completes a quite astounding list of some of Patti Smith’s favourite songs. You can find a full playlist below. We suggest you stick it on and let the spirit of Patti Smit – the spirit of punk and poetry – run through your airwaves.

Patti Smith’s favourite songs of all time:

  • ‘I Love You Truly’ – Al Bowly
  • ‘My Hero’ – The Blue Notes
  • ‘Dead Man Stroll’ – The Revels
  • ‘Endless Sleep’ – Jody Reynolds
  • ‘It’s Alright, Ma’ – Bob Dylan
  • ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ – The Beatles
  • ‘1983…’ – Jimi Hendrix
  • ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ – Little Richard
  • ‘Un Bel Di’ – Madam Butterfly
  • ‘He’s A Rebel’ – The Crystals
  • ‘Today I Met The Boy I’m Gonna Marry’ – Darlene Love
  • ‘John Anderson’ – Eddi Reader
  • ‘If I Can’t Have You’ – Etta & Harvey James
  • ‘Heatwave’ – Martha and the Vandellas
  • ‘The End of the World’ – Skeeter Davis
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