Roots [a collection of covers 1974-'79]

An intriguing collection, albeit one that really doesn’t add much to the average Patti live collection, Roots serves up a more-or-less complete collection of the various covers that crept into her repertoire, a full 30 years before she dreamed up Twelve.

And, it must be said, the opening recounting of "Hey Joe," culled from her first ever single, says more than most of the new album could even dream, a delirious collision between rock iconoclasm and outrageous social commentary that can still make the goose pimples rise when you play it.

Four cuts from the oft-booted 1976 Stockholm show (set opener "We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together," "Pale Blue Eyes," "Louie Louie" and that wonderful tick-tock-fuck-the-clock "Time Is On My Side") follow in excellent sound quality (vinyl crackles notwithstanding), while the Paris Olympia show from later in the same tour unveils a passionate "Gloria." But the last of her truly essential covers, "Privilege," is sandwiched between the less than stellar "So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star" and "5-4-3-2-1," as the band’s taste in retreads began shifting away from Smith’s poetic roots, and more into the realms of novelty pop.

"Jailhouse Rock," "You Really Got Me," "Be My Baby," "Hang Onto Tomorrow," "For Your Love," "You Light Up My Life," all were thrown in more for the surprise that they’d give the crowd, than for any deeper purpose, and does it really count as a Patti Smith cover when Lennie Kaye takes lead vocals? Both "Cold Turkey" and "All Along The Watchtower" are great performances, but how much greater could they have been if….

But "The Kids Are Alright" is a lot of fun, and the "White Christmas" 45 deserves to be compiled somewhere. And we go out, of course, with the best-known cover the Group ever delivered, the seething shakedown through "My Generation" that still stands as the last word on rock’n’roll’s need to mythologize itself. "I don’t need that fucking shit." Indeed. - Dave Thompson

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November 30, 2007