The Stooges (Collector’s Edition) Rhino Records
Raw Power (Legacy Edition) Columbia/Legacy
The Quick Fix
If you’re in a hurry, this is all you need to know, boys and girls: both of these albums are required listening if you care about rock and roll. Things changed as a result of this music. It’s as simple as that.
Why Iggy Is Important
Looking back, I figure it was some sort of twisted joke.
In the late 60s/early 70s, the biggest magazine display in the town of Stonington on Deer Isle, ME was at the drugstore on Main Street. There were all the titles you might expect to find, from the mainstreamers such as Look and Life to specialty titles like Field & Stream or Hot Rod … but there was also a patch of mags like Crawdaddy, Creem, and later on, Rock Scene. And these weren’t just jammed in the rack once as a mistake by some bored and/or half-drunk delivery guy who couldn’t wait to get back on to the mainland, either. Nosiree – these titles were faithfully updated every issue for years.
The thing was, I’m pretty sure I was the only one buying those publications on a regular basis. The drugstore may have sold the occasional Rolling Stone to one of the scattered University of Maine alumni on the island – but I’m pretty sure I was the sole regular purchaser of the other titles. And at that point, I was a kid, thrilled to be riding my bicycle downtown.
So maybe somebody was just trying to weird out the folks who ran the drugstore – that’s what I believe. Or maybe there was a long-running clerical error in the standing rotation of publications for that particular magazine rack – that’s possible, too. Regardless, Thursdays were magazine days and I’d be awaiting my sole connections to the rock and roll world. (Unless we made one of our rare trips over to Ellsworth on the mainland – a solid hour’s drive each way – where there was a Mr. Paperback. And a record store.)
I can’t tell you for sure whose pages first exposed me to The Stooges, but it’s likely that it was Creem. (_Creem_ was probably my favorite. They had the writers: they had Dave Marsh and Richard Meltzer. Best of all, they had frigging Lester Bangs. Boy Howdy, indeed.) You had your furry freaks and your wild rockers; you had your power poppers from far-away England and your acidheads from the West Coast – but there wasn’t anybody like The Stooges. Their hair was long, but they weren’t hippies; they had the sneers, but they weren’t greasers; they acted like they didn’t give a shit, but they were deadly serious.
And then there was their frontman/lead singer, Iggy Pop. I was old enough to know that there was something going on when Mick Jagger slapped his belt on the stage to the beat of the slow hip-thrusts in the middle of “Midnight Rambler”. What Iggy Pop did was something else altogether. Jagger teased his audience from the edge of the stage, always staying just beyond the reach of their pleading fingers – Iggy launched himself right into their faces. Jagger’s seduction was a dry hump (not that I knew what that meant back then) while Iggy was not going to be satisfied unless every soul in the crowd got sprayed, splashed, or slathered with some of his sweat, spit, or whatever. And all the while he was being tossed and thrashed and tumbled on a sea of groping hands, The Stooges would be wailing away at their instruments – with Scott Asheton laying down the absolute defining beat of a different drummer. And when Iggy would lunge back onto the stage, he’d be dancing even wilder and singing even fiercer than he had before. Stooges shows on the average only lasted 30 to 40 minutes back then, but it was okay – there was nothing left to give or take by that point.
None of this may mean much to you, but let me give you a bit of context: The Stooges released their self-titled debut album in 1969, okay? It would be another 8 years before I staggered home with a copy of the Sex Pistols’ first record. 8 years. Think about it. Iggy and The Stooges didn’t cop any moves off anyone else; there was no one else doing what they were doing.
There’s a certain amount of messy stuff involved in any birthing and that’s exactly what The Stooges were to punk rock: the messy stuff at the birthing.
The whole point of me telling you this is that even a kid on a rock off the coast of Maine could feel the reverberations of Iggy Pop’s crash landings as he hurled himself off the stage at Max’s Kansas City in New York. I’d ride home with my new copy of Creem in my carrier, anxious to dig into it … but knowing that I probably shouldn’t leave it out on the kitchen table. (Those pictures of that wild-eyed peanut butter-slathered madman gouging at his bloody chest just might cause my mother some worry.)
And I definitely knew that I shouldn’t sing “I Wanna Be Your Dog” around the house, either.
Meet The Stooges
Rhino Records’ new “Collector’s Edition” of The Stooges’ self-titled debut is chock-full of prime Stoogishness. Here we have the original line-up with Pop out front on vocals, Dave Alexander on bass, Scott Asheton on drums, and his brother Ron on guitar. Former Velvet Undergrounder John Cale was drafted to produce the album – a matter of giving The Stooges guidance without stifling them, which he pulled off masterfully.
Ron Asheton (who passed away in January of 2009) is the true sound shaper on The Stooges, mixing elements of psych and blues with an edgy, gritty guitar style that pushes and bulls its way along. Put an ear to this – remembering it was recorded in 1969 – and realize how many guitarists since have been influenced by his crazy-ass fierce-yet-funky approach. (And while we’re at it: why was never a “Ron Asheton Signature” wah pedal made, I ask you? The guy was absolutely fearless on the thing: listen to the last 34 seconds of the original album cut of “Little Doll” without flinching. Go ahead – I dare you.) In the meantime, brother Scott was busy being anything but your average garage skin-pounder, shunning flamboyant rolls for driving accents that tended to chase Pop’s vocals – almost acting like another lead instrument at times.
Disc 1 of the Rhino set includes the original album’s 8 songs along with mixes by producer Cale. Disc 2 offers a blend of alternate takes and some unreleased material, including a 6:29 blast of Stooge space called “Asthma Attack”. The collection spans the gamut from psycho Bo Diddley butt shakers (“1969”) to this-would-be-dumbass-if-it-wasn’t-so-brilliant rockers like “No Fun” and “Real Cool Time” to ventures into Lou Reedish crooning (“Ann”) and drugged monk chanting (“We Will Fall”, which features a cameo by Cale and his trusty viola). Wart-covered trainwrecks are included: Disc 2 closes with five back-to-back whacks at “Little Doll”.
Through it all, Iggy Pop growls and moans; he taunts, he begs, he pleads; he grunts, yips, and seemingly vaporizes in the occasional strangulated scream only to bounce right back in your face.
Elvis may have made ‘em swoon when he sang, “Oh, let me be your teddy bear.” But Iggy Pop touched a totally different spot when he tells his gal, “Now I wanna be your dog.” Oh, yeah …
If John Cale’s goal was to somehow contain the cool danger of The Stooges on a slab of vinyl back in 1969, he succeeded.
Absolute Raw Power
Fast forward to 1972. In the three years since the release of their debut album, The Stooges burned through several bass players, doled out a second record (1970’s Funhouse ), added a second guitarist (James Williamson), and – all but Ron Asheton – discovered heroin. Things then really went out of control with no one able to pull the wheels out of the ditch. The Stooges were shitcanned by their label and were considered a promoter’s nightmare and a poor risk to book. By the summer of ’71, the Stooges had stivvered off in different directions, a “working band with no work.”
It’s hard to say how things might’ve gone if Iggy Pop hadn’t crossed paths with David Bowie in New York City that September. It was Bowie who took Iggy under his wing, lining him up with a new label and a chance to record at CBS studios in London. Columbia had signed the solo artist Iggy Pop, but by the time he hit the studio, Iggy’d managed to reassemble The Stooges piece-by-piece, flying them to England. The argument made by Pop was that the English musicians he’d tried to work with “were different than us. It just wasn’t going to happen without the rest of The Stooges.” James Williamson was the sole guitarist now with Ron Asheton taking over bass duties alongside brother Scott on drums. The result was the album Raw Power.
Columbia/Legacy is offering two new editions of Raw Power: a 2-CD package that includes the original album along with a live Stooges show from 10/73, and a “Deluxe Edition” box set that also contains a disc of rarities and outtakes, a DVD documentary on the making of the album, and all kinds of other goodies.
The sessions that produced Raw Power may have been The Stooges’ second (and last) chance to make a go of it, but they sure didn’t play it safe. If anything, they were even more warped and outrageous than ever. James Williamson’s guitar voice drove The Stooges further into the uncharted territory that would eventually be labeled as punk rock, ripping into the songs like a riff-spewing chainsaw.
“Search And Destroy” says it all, chugging along nicely in the opening moments before Williamson’s lead explodes all over the track courtesy of Mr. Bowie’s mix. You may think that The Stooges have totally blown the song and lost the beat within the first 10 seconds of the cut, but the Ashetons somehow keep it all together. And then comes Iggy:
I’m a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm
I’m a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb
I am the world’s forgotten boy
The one who searches and destroys
It was ragged, jagged street poetry. It wasn’t pretty, but neither was the guitar; and the rhythm section was just hanging on for Chrissakes. But put it all together and it was a piece of work like no one had put to vinyl at that point in time.
The Stooges cranked it on for Raw Power: “I Need Somebody” could’ve been the swaggering show-stopping number in a twisted off-Broadway production, while “Gimme Danger” cruised on a bedrock of midnight-flavored acoustic guitar. But mostly, they rocked their asses off with tracks like the title song (who played that great one-note piano, anyway?) and the speedfreak beach party vibe of “Shake Appeal”.
The problem with The Stooges was they lived as they sounded. If they played as if they had nothing to lose, well, it was true. They were going to crash and burn anyway, so … they chose burning out over fading away long before Neil Young documented those choices. The second disc of the Raw Power editions captures the band at a show in Atlanta, GA in October of 1973. Scott Thurston was on board by then, providing pounding piano that held down the fort when Williamson would tear off into a lead.
At times, things are a mess on this recording: mics are overloaded, amps feed back, vocals are lost as Iggy catapults himself in one direction or another.
There are cries for “more blow.” At one point Iggy snaps and offers to have it out with a heckler in the audience. The tape picks up a nervously giggling woman saying, “I don’t think he likes us.” Maybe he did; maybe he didn’t; but it didn’t matter. Iggy & The Stooges couldn’t have given any more than they did.
They barely lasted another 5 months before they totally imploded.
The rest of the story – Iggy’s later solo success, the reunion of The Stooges in 2003, Ron Asheton’s death, and the band’s better-late-than-never induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year – is what it is. The fact that any of them made it out of the 70s alive is a miracle on its own. And the further fact remains that as the wreckage of The Stooges lay smoldering back in 1974, a new generation of musicians adopted their attitude, their look, and their chord changes. The Stooges may not have sold many records, but they were heard by enough ears to change things forever.
The music on these two collections documents the beginning and the end of a mission. Iggy Pop and The Stooges set out to create their own brand of music.
And they did.