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1976: Patti Smith ‘Horses/Hey Joe’ on The Old Grey Whistle Test


1976: Patti Smith ‘Horses/Hey Joe’ on The Old Grey Whistle Test

“If you are male and choose other than female, you must take responsibility of holding the key to freedom.”

Patti Smith’s 1976 performance of ‘Horses’ and then Hendrix cover ‘Hey Joe’ is pretty special to me. First time I “saw” her play live was recorded on a VHS tape of The Old Grey Whistle Test.

The BBC’s The Old Grey Whistle Test was a show for live music that countered the fairly popular Top of the Pops, putting the focus on “serious”, non-charting music. It was off-air by the time I came of age, but I feel pretty lucky to have a mother that made me watch these things while reminiscing about the ’70s the way I now do about the ’90s.

The Old Grey Whistle Test aired on BBC2 from 1972 to 1988, earning its name from a Tin Pan Alley phrase. When a record was first pressed, the record companies would play it to the doormen or the “old men in grey suits”, and any song that they remembered enough to whistle, passed “the old grey whistle test”.

A few years ago, I sat next to a guy at a concert that pointed out to me that the host from The Old Grey Whistle Test was standing in front of me. Instead of explaining what that was or who he was, he somehow knew that I knew, and I basked in awe. Pretty cool!

Patti Smith played The Old Grey Whistle Test a couple of times but ‘Horses/Hey Joe’ was the first one I saw.

Other notable, badass women/bands that took the stage includes The Pretenders, Roberta Flack, Blondie and many others.

But also not enough.



A proudly queer, freelance music journalist, Em splits her time between Durham and London. When she’s not at a gig, mouth-agape, she’ll be camped outside of a Parisian bistro taking photographs of strangers.

The little pleasures in life are the most meaningful to her: Her dog, family-and-extended, and Milkybar buttons.

Her motto — a snippet from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man — is, “hope springs eternal.”

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