“Rock and Roll N*****,” the closing A-side track of the Patti Smith Group’s 1978 album Easter, has quietly disappeared from streaming services, Rolling Stone was first to report, including the platforms Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and Amazon Music.
“Rock and Roll N*****” attempted to move the epithet away from its racial context to describe anyone who is an outsider, including Jimi Hendrix, Jackson Pollack, Jesus Christ, and even “grandma.” “I was lost and the cost, and the cost didn’t matter to me,” Smith sings. “I was lost and the cost was to be outside society.”
Neither Smith nor the song’s co-writer, guitarist Lenny Kaye, have offered comment on the decision. But Smith has been defending her use of the slur since the song’s release, writing in the Easter liner notes, “N****r no invented for color it was MADE FOR THE PLAGUE. The word (art) must be redefined — all mutants and the new babies born sans eyebrow and tonsil … any man who extends beyond the classic form is a n****r.”
She continued to defend her usage in a 1996 Rolling Stone interview. “You could have called Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci a n***** – people that created art for the palace but had to come in the back door,” she said. “Beethoven was not allowed to come in through the front door of the palace.”
Smith played the track in live performances up through 2019. Several covers of the song remain available on streaming, including by Marilyn Manson, Esham, the Oxydants, and a Trent Reznor remix.
Consequence has reached out to Smith’s representatives for further comment.