top of page

Gloria (Part I: "In Excelsis Deo"; Part II: "Gloria (Version)") - Patti Smith

A subversion of traditional boy-for-girl adoration as Patti Smith takes the song - "Gloria" - by Them, written in 1964 by an 18 year-old Van Morrison, and turns it into a celebration of female passion and, by doing so, female freedom of expression. This is from from her first and seminal (is this the right word? - I reckon it is in this case as you'll see) 1975 album "Horses" which was superbly produced by John Cale who she especially wanted for the job.

The words "in excelsis Deo" are from a 4th Century rewriting of the Latin bible Luke 2:14, quoting the praisesong of the angels on the occasion of the birth of Christ meaning "Glory to God in the highest". The quote in full is (as used in the famous Christmas carol): "Gloria, in excelsius Deo". Here Patti cleverly contrasts both senses of the word - "glory" as praise and celebration, and "Gloria" as a woman's name - to deliver a punk-sermon on women's rights. She makes it clear right from the start that her celebration is definitely not Christian but something many Christians would condemn, and she's not going to play by their repressive rules:

"Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine

melting in a pot of thieves wild card up my sleeve thick heart of stone my sins my own they belong to me, me

people say 'beware!' but I don't care the words are just rules and regulations to me, me....."

She's also reclaiming the vocabulary of men about women for women and with a vengeance; the theme is lesbian, the passion now that only women and no men are involved becomes less ambiguous, but even more highly charged with sexual energy.

She goes to a party, it's clear from her sauntering swaggering vocals that it's entirely on her own terms, she's in control. When she sees the girl the words pastiche Them's song, echoing and expanding Van Morrison's original, but in the mouth of a woman they reclaim ownership of the territories, the selves of these two woman (not just the singing man - it's BOTH women) and therefore of all women.

"I walk in a room, you know I look so proud I'm moving in this here atmosphere, well, anything's allowed and I go to this here party and I just get bored until I look out the window, see a sweet young thing humpin' on the parking meter, leanin' on the parking meter oh, she looks so good, oh, she looks so fine and I got this crazy feeling and then I'm gonna ah-ah make her mine oh I'll put my spell on her"

She uses the traditional male attitude of anticipated conquest, and turns it into something entirely new and fresh. This is definitely a two way conversation which most adulatory male songs are not:

"....counting the time, then you came to my room and you whispered to me and we took the big plunge and oh. you were so good, oh, you were so fine...."

And when the the first orgasmic celebration of Gloria's name finally arrives, "Gloria" becomes an assertion of her identity, and a glorifying of the birth of their love, their defiant love, that they can love and there's nothing we can do about it. For Patti that's as important as anything in the bible.

Them's original was a hot track especially when it came out but this is hotter. This isn't just a love song - it's a political statement.

bottom of page