As Saturday Night Live celebrates its 40th anniversary tonight, let’s look back on one of the greatest moments in the show’s musical history: When the Patti Smith Group performed “Gloria” on April 17, 1976 (or, more exactly, since it was just past midnight, April 18).
The group, led by Deptford Township native Smith and featuring New Brunswick’s Lenny Kaye on guitar, had released its revolutionary debut album, Horses, in December 1975. The Ramones’ debut album was out, too, as of February 1976, but surely the concept of punk-rock was foreign to the vast majority of people watching “Saturday Night Live” that night. And the idea that a singer would intone “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine,” not just on national television, but on national television on Easter morning, as it happened to be on April 18, was a real stunner.
When he inducted Smith into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, Zack de la Rocha said the following about “Gloria,” which merged the Van Morrison-written ’60s garage-rocker (originally recorded by Morrison’s group of the time, Them), with Smith’s own poetry:
“The opening to ‘Gloria’ might be one of the greatest moments in American music. The shadow line and the space within it speaks to us like a dark gospel, and then you hear that voice, and you think ‘nothing can be this haunting and nothing can be this healing at the same time.’ Then the words ‘Jesus died for someone’s sins but not mine’ delivered like someone who’d left the church that was repressive America and burned into the ground. The body of the song becomes a celebration of the outsider. It possesses a chaos that only Patti can summon and only she can control. She sings, screams, howls, chants … so attuned to the moment that anticipating the next one is an impossibility.”
“Saturday Night Live” has had a lot of great musical moments over the years, of course. But nothing tops this one.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.