With the sad passing of Ron Asheton into the afterlife, it seems timely to publish this piece Steve did regarding the Stooges and his take on their studio LPs. Some of this content originally appeared on the Termbo message board in the "Young Steve, What's Your Take On..." thread (that I wish he would get back to) in unedited form and without the 'Raw Power' discussion. Surely this column is evidence that the message board can spark some interesting writing amidst all the tomofoolery. If you have any further long-form takes you might like Steve to discuss, please feel free to e-mail the editor or hit the Termboard. In closing, I'd just like to thank Steve for typing all this out and whoever I stole all these pics from on the internet. And of course, utmost thanks and respect to Ron Asheton for laying down some of the greatest music ever recorded. You will be missed. - The Editor
(Released August 1969, Elektra Records)
Not to write in Time Life History of Rock-like platitudes here, but 1969 is a hell of an opening salvo in the war against stagnation and convention that was the Stooges' career. It starts off with a burst of wah that emulates the feeling of fucking better than anything I've ever heard, only to follow it up with handclaps that bring to mind a Neolithic virgin sacrifice and a hypnotic caveman riff that pulsates with more groin thunder than a stack of Troggs records. However, what really separates 1969 from any number of garage tunes that preceded and makes it the first real punk song is the almost palpable sense of ennui that permeates the vocals. It's in the lyrics ("Another year for me and you/Another year with nothing to do") but it's also in the way he sings. Iggy sounds like he's gone from being disillusioned, to not giving a fuck about his disillusionment, to being so fucking jaded and depressed that he can't feel anything so he might as well find some chick that'll fuck him because the sensation of slipping into a snatch is at least one thing he can believe in, even if that isn't all that satisfying once he's shot his load. In a single tune with very simple lyrics and a decidedly apathetic sounding vocal Iggy speaks more poignantly to the psyche of youth living in a postmodern world than Dylan's entire catalog. And I love Dylan.
A2. "I Wanna Be Your Dog"
One of my all time favorite songs. Once again the intro is pure crash and burn acting as a prelude to a riff that drives its way into your brain like a cock plunging into the vaginal abyss. What really makes this one for me are the sleigh bells that run throughout the entire track. The juxtaposition of an instrument most associated with Christmastime frivolity with a monster of a lascivious riff and Iggy's sex-kink lyric is nothing short of genius. It really makes the song sound even more sinister than it otherwise would. "I Wanna Be Your Dog" is in some ways the punkest song on this album, and more often than not I enjoy when bands cover it. However, at a recent Boys Club show the sound guy was playing this band that sounded like Hootie and the Blowfish who did a cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog." It was so inappropriate and awful that I couldn't decide if it ruled or was one of the shittest things I'd ever heard. Still not quite sure what to make of it.
A3. "We Will Fall"
Total pretentious twaddle. I've only listened to it all the way through two or three times at the most. I'm currently going for what may be my fourth while I type this take, and it will very likely be my last. Unlike the great intros on the two songs that precede it, "We Will Fall" starts off with some cheesy chanting that brings to mind a no budget movie about a coven of witches conducting a black mass on a soundstage made to look like Stonehenge. Iggy's semi-narrative lyrics come across like misguided Lou Reed-worship by way of Jim Morrisson's ham-fisted stabs at poetry. That being said, I'd be able to deal with "We Will Fall" as a sonic texture if it was only a couple of minutes. Heck, I wouldn't even hate it if it was five minutes or so, but ten minutes is just an interminable amount of time to listen to lackluster lyrics over monotonous chanting and sparse instrumentation. AND THEN THAT FUCKING VIOLA KICKS IN. It may only be for a few seconds at the end, but it just sounds so wrong in the context of this record. If the two songs that came before it were about fucking some teenage tramp, this song is about putting on one's best black turtleneck, setting up some candles in a pentagram, gulping down a chalice of Nico's menstrual blood, and getting a blowjob from a transvestite while a masturbating midget rides a goat bareback and lashes the trannie with a cat of nine tails.
B1. "No Fun"
THEE ultimate punk song. Everything about this tune is perfect: Iggy's vocals still sound disillusioned but this time he's in the throes of animalistic teenage poon-lust and there's a swaggering come that leaves little doubt as to what he's talking about when he starts shouting "come on!" in a voice that's less a plea than a demand. Once again we have a driving Ron Asheton riff that is the sonic equivalent to the pleasure of penetration, but this tune is even sexier than "1969" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" largely due to handclaps that do a bang up job replicating the friction caused by coitus. Another noteworthy thing about this one is that it features my all-time favorite pre-guitar solo proclamation in, "Well I say, I say, c'mon Ron, tell em how I, tell 'em how I, tell 'em how I, tell 'em how I, tell 'em how I feel." Ig's vocal ejaculations at the end of the song are just that: pure orgasm. However, what that says about him saying, "yeah, myyy man" at one point I'll leave to the reader's judgment.
B2. "Real Cool Time"
Again, more fucking. "Real Cool Time" isn't as catchy or immediate as "1969," "I Wanna Be Your Dog," or "No Fun" but not much is. It's almost like a soundscape since it's so short and doesn't go anywhere, but it's hard to argue with the sentiment.
I love "Ann" but I must say I prefer the extended version with the long dirge at the end on that CD from a few years ago. It just adds so much to the song. The rather traditional ballad that makes up most of the tune on the LP version is the perfect counterpoint to the fuzzed out frenzy that comes in after Iggy growls "AAAIII LOOOOOVE YOU.....RIIGHT NOW!!!" Personally I think they should have left the dirge on the end of "Ann," and put it at the end of the first side instead of "We Will Fall."
B4. "Not Right"
Pure teen melodrama. The world's fucked up. I'm fucked up. This girl's fucked up. It's ALL fucked up. Captures the feeling of being a teenager far more accurately than something like "At the Hop" or "Sweet Little Sixteen."*
B5. "Little Doll"
*I love both of those tunes though.
Have I mentioned there are a lot of songs about sex on this album? This is another. Personally it's my favorite tune on here besides the trifecta of immortal hits that make up 3/4ths of first four songs. This time it's less about the guitar and all about those pulsating drums. "Little Doll" makes me wanna grab some girl and twitch in time to a tambourine lover's beat. Oh sorry, wrong band; right sentiment.
(Released July 1970, Elektra Records)
A1. "Down on the Street"
This song is a total motherfucker. From the moment Asheton's pummeling riff kicks in and Iggy goes from a grunted "ooh" to a growl like a wolf pouncing on its prey and getting caught in a hunter's trap for its trouble you know "Funhouse" is an entirely different beast than anything that's come before. What's most noteworthy about the first minute or so of "Down on the Street' is what a rhythmic juggernaut the Stooges have become. While the trance-like Paleo Neolithic sexual groove of the first album can't be denied it's obvious from the start of this one that they've transformed themselves from shambolic amateurs into one hell of a powerhouse. There's an almost malevolent, certainly nihilistic self-assurance here that was lacking before. It's like they've gone from snot nosed insecure teenage punks hanging out on the street corner thumbing through issues of Mad Magazine hidden inside copies of "Naked Lunch" and "The 120 Days of Sodom" while leering at every pair of legs connected to a shapely female ass that walked by to full-blown, self-assured adult degenerates who are down with fucking anything - in more ways than one - because they've gazed unflinchingly into the entropic existential abyss and realized that, hey, on the off chance there actually really is a hell, who gives a fuck if you've gotta suffer for all eternity? "THAT'S the best the Devil can do? Bring it on." And then the former Iguana holes himself up in the shooting gallery this album takes its name from.
"Funhouse" is the sound of a band that has thrown itself headfirst into the void, experienced a bevy of physical and psychic tortures there, and have gained godlike powers in the process. On the first album they were doing their best to seem like badasses, but after playing the role to the hilt for awhile they ended up transforming themselves into the real deal. Where there was formerly a slightly affected icy indifference to the world there is now an open wound with a bouquet of twitching nerves threatening to spurt infected blood all over the face of anyone brave/stupid enough to get close.
So much for the first 30 seconds of "Down on the Street." Once the chorus kicks in all bets are off and you're hearing the fiercest rock n roll ever recorded at the time it was released. Until the next song that is.
I mentioned the sexual come-on running throughout the entire first album, but even though Iggy was trying to posture and come off like a sexual he-man, the youthful insecurity shown at moments throughout the record leads me to believe he often blew his load in under a minute or two whenever he had his way with a member of his underage harum. Premature ejaculation isn't a problem that affects "Loose" or the rest of "Funhouse" for that matter. Here sex is an outlet for psychosis, and as a result Iggy is gonna fuck anything that comes his way with an unrelenting fury as violent as it is lustful. When he sings "I stick it deep inside" it sounds like he could be singing about a knife just as easily as his cock, and truth be told he was probably singing about both even if he didn't realize it at the time.
A3. "TV Eye"
More sex? The Stooges? No way. However, the real story here - despite Iggy's peerless orgasmic fit during the breakdown - are two fantastic performances turned in by the Asheton brothers. The entire tune is predicated on a monster of a fuzz riff which showcases what an inventive and accomplished guitarist Ron had become in a short amount of time. For his part Scott beats the shit out of his drums with such explosive force you can almost feel what Iggy is gonna do to the girl with the Twat Vision Eye once he gets a hold of her. Dave Alexander's bassline is also pretty sick if you listen for it. One thing worth noting about "TV Eye" is that it's an ill advised cover. I can only remember Radio Birdman's subpar attempt at it off hand but I think I've heard another. Really though, covering anything from Funhouse is a bad idea since you're never gonna be able to top the sound they got on the original.
There's been a lot written about the tour de force performances given by Iggy and Ron Asheton on Funhouse - and rightfully so - but I don't see much attention given to Dave Alexander's bass playing, which is unfortunate. The steady, sleazy groove Alexander locks into here is the key ingredient that makes "Dirt" such a superbly atmospheric tune. Iggy and Ron both turn in their most understated performances on the album here, which was obviously by design because "Dirt" is all about the slow burn rather than the kamikaze explosion. More than any other song "Dirt" proves the claim that the Stooges were trying to make a funk record within their own sonic idiom when they wrote "Funhouse." It's also a fantastic way to end the first side of the album since it provides a needed calm before the all-consuming inferno that is the second side.
B1. "1970" (aka "I Feel Alright")
My favorite song on "Funhouse." I mentioned earlier that "Loose" was an expression of sexuality rooted in psychosis. "1970" is an expression of the ennui that drips from "1969" reaching such a fever pitch it results in psychosis. Appropriately enough the first line of the song is "out of my mind on a Saturday night." In the context of any number of garage rock tunes that sentiment would seem empty and trite but when delievered over a riff like this it's anything but. Ron Asheton's guitar playing reaches such a frenzy of unhinged intensity here that it becomes an indominable rhythmic onslaught anihilating everything in its path. By analogy it's obvious Iggy's definition of being "out of his mind" has to do with something much darker than playing the "boozed up and acting crazy" role at a party. "1970" captures the moment when the pressure caused by years of apathy, doubt, anger, frustration, and disillusionment finally proves too strong for the floodgates of the superego and ego - allowing pure id to go on an orgiastic spree unchecked by any compunctions. While this obviously can result in nothing but even greater suffering the actual moment of release carries with it a kind of nihilistic bliss, thus the mantra of "I feel alright" repeated throughout the song. This release actually does have something to do with that experienced during a night of heavy drinking in that it's about surrendering to the id and doing what feels good in the moment regardless of the consequences. However, all that pseudo-psychoanalytical clap trap aside the tune is a monster of unprecedented power. Everything about it is remarkable: Iggy's voice sounds like he's screaming himself out of his skin, Ron strangles his guitar to death as much as he plays it, the free jazz sax at the end makes an already unhinged tune reach the level of total insanity, while Scott and Dave provide the powerhouse rhythmic backbone that makes it all possible. A perfect song.
I've always thought my name was pretty awesome since it's one of only three names mentioned in a song by the Stooges* but I'm not sure how to feel about it making its appearance in the phrase "BLOW STEVE!!!" I know Iggy was trying to emulate the jazz vernacular but I don't think of saxophones when I hear the word "blow." I love this song though. Quite the epic journey. The saxophone really adds a lot. Breathtaking in a lot of ways. Rules. Sorry, but that's about all I got on this one.
B3. "LA Blues"
*Ron, Ann, and Steve.
OK, I get that they were trying to emulate free jazz and that the chaotic cacophony of this tune represents the logical culmination of the odyssey of self-destruction running throughout the whole LP, but I barely every listen to "LA Blues." This is maybe my fifth time. Noise without any structure is just not my thing even when it's conceptually sound as it is in this case. I just need some hooks to latch onto in order to hold my interest. "LA Blues" is slightly grating and extremely dull for me. I'm glad they put it at the end because the album is flawless without it and "Funhouse" makes a perfect ending if you just take the needle off when it's done.
(Released February 1973, Columbia Records)
Before I begin, I must note this take refers to the Iggy Pop remix of 'Raw Power' that came out in the late Nineties. It was the first version I heard, and for my money it's easily the best. 'Raw Power' is all about violence and aggression, but the Bowie mix sounds tinny and weak.
A1. "Search and Destroy"
I've never heard a song that had the immediate impact on me "Search and Destroy" did. Over a decade latter I can still clearly remember putting "Raw Power" in my CD player for the first time and being BLOWN THE FUCK AWAY by rock 'n' roll so unrelentingly savage it instantly rendered everything in my entire collection second rate. It felt like a sonic carpet bombing: an absolute bloodthirsty beast of a riff, bursts of broken glass lead guitar coming at me with the impact of a well-aimed grenade, the steamrolling assault of the bass and drums, the lion's roar of Iggy's voice, those bloodcurdling "hey's" after the first chorus...man FORGET ABOUT IT. It was seriously one of the most memorable musical experiences of my life. "Search and Destory" is a masterpiece of drag-racing-and-pounding-beers rock 'n' roll. I know car metaphors are beyond trite - and hell I hate driving more than just about anyone - but "Search and Destroy" is possibly the best car song ever written because it roars like a supersonic jet engine and seethes velocity like nothing I've ever heard. There's an obvious element of violence as well but - like all of "Raw Power" - it's more restrained and focused than anything by the first lineup. On the first two albums the Stooges were about tearing down what came before and forging their own artistic idiom; on "Raw Power" the Stooges mission was to update the Rolling Stones sonic model in the most savage and kick fucking ass mode possible. I'd say they did a great job of it too. Williamson's guitar slinging is considerably more pyrotechnic and aggressive than anything Kieth Richards could muster and Iggy's blitzkrieg vocal assault makes Mick Jagger look like an affected dilettante in comparison. Where "Funhouse" was like getting electrocuted by a downed power line, "Raw Power" is the sound of a perfectly operating turbine crackling with energy. That's not meant as a value judgment but rather a neutral observation. To judge one era of the Stooges against the other is silly since they're two very different bands attempting very different things. People often debate which Stooges album is the best but I can't choose between them. They're all epochal records in their own way.
A2. "Gimme Danger"
You may have noticed the lack of psychobabble in the above take compared to the s/t and 'Funhouse' ones. The reason is that "Raw Power" - while still completely genuine and self-revealing - is more formalized than the psychic maelstrom of the first two albums. This song is a perfect example. Before the tunes came across as not so much consciously crafted rock 'n' roll songs as sonic manifestations of the id, but there is a clear concession to traditional rock song structure running throughout "Raw Power." In this song's case - ironically enough - the result is that a sense of real danger is lost despite the desperate mindset Iggy was in at the time. What's left in its place is an impeccably crafted tune which does a superlative job of setting a mood (as opposed to evoking one like the first two albums). The antics Iggy was infamous for during the "Raw Power" era aren't nearly as dangerous as the air of succumbing to thanatos that makes "Funhouse" what it is. That's not to say that when Iggy starts yelping "I swear you're gonna feel my hand" that there isn't an almost palpable air of violence indicative of tremendous inner turmoil, because there is. That's definitely an example of one of the exposed nerves I referenced in the "Funhouse" take above. Overall though, "Gimmie Danger" is far more structured - and as a result concomitantly less immediate - than the slower songs on the prior two albums. Again, this doesn't make one better than the other. It's just a matter of what mood I happen to be in. When I'm in the mood for the formalized take on latent violence there's not many songs that hit the spot as much as this one.
A3. "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell" (aka "Hard to Beat")
Very apt title. "You're Pretty Face is Going to Hell" is an ass kicking delivered so consummately it reaches the status of high art. It's also one of the first pieces of evidence in the case that - while Ron Asheton is a guitar god for what he accomplished on "Funhouse" - it was for the best when James Williamson replaced him. Sure it sucked for Ron personally - and the mind reels at what the original lineup would have done to top "Funhouse" - but because things shook down the way they did the world is blessed with two of the greatest albums ever in "Funhouse" and "Raw Power." As great as Ron Asheton was, Williamson was a monster of a guitar player in his own right. His shit is just incredibly explosive and kinetic. Fuck, the guitar lines in "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell" drip with blood like the mouth of a tiger who has just ripped a boar to nothing but tattered flesh and indigestible bone. Iggy also delivers a killer vocal performance along with one of the most sagacious lines in all of rock 'n' roll in, "I tell ya honey it's a cryin' shame/all the pretty girls, well they look the same." Fuckin' right they do. And it really is a cryin' shame.
Like "Gimme Danger" this is another tune that serves the dual function of setting a mood and acting as a breather after the frenzy that preceded it. For me the whole thing is predicated on the celeste line that runs throughout and Iggy's sultry slur. It brings to mind a back alley sex club where bemused tourists sit alongside seedy degenerates and watch all manners of copulation onstage. There's a feeling of contrivance to the song that made me cast that metaphor in a semi-commercial setting; which stands in contrast to the unmitigated self-exposure found on the pre-Williamson LPs. Iggy repeats the word "penetration" a number of times - and throws in lines like "come and take me" - but the penetration in question here is only skin deep. The closest this song gets to naked emotion is Ig's chicken warble-cum-orgasm at the end, but even that seems calculated. Like "Gimme Danger" this tune is a formal exercise in creating an atmosphere rather than a "penetrating" glimpse into the recesses of the psyche. It achieves this end fairly well for me but it's not indispensable. I would call it a classic by association more than anything else.
B1. "Raw Power"
A paean to both the cause and effect of rock 'n' roll. Like all the best tunes on the album that bears its name "Raw Power" is based on a Stones riff that comes down on you with the lethal brute force of an executioner's axe. This time around however the tune is accompanied by some rather exceptional lyrics. With just two lines Iggy lays bare the double edged sword of rock as lifestyle when he sings "raw power got a healin' hand/raw power can destroy a man." It's a sentiment I'm sure he felt every bit of. Over the course of the Stooges existence James Osterberg self-immolated himself on the altar of rock 'n' roll and the resultant sacrifice made it possible for the demigod known as Iggy Pop to simultaneously grace and disgrace the world with his presence. The descent into the underworld of pure id that made "Funhouse" such a breakthrough vouchsafed incredible power on Iggy but consider the toll it took on him personally. The Stooges' three albums were - despite their unprecedented genius - commercial flops which left Iggy a defeated, impoverished junkie on the brink of insanity. For while raw power might "have a son called rock 'n' roll" it's also capable of being a "guaranteed OD" that will leave you a fractured shell of a person - if you're lucky enough to survive at all. That Iggy was able to not only survive but also emerge a successful rock institution probably has as much to do with pure luck as it does with a strong constitution. I would venture to guess a cursory glance at most of our record collections would reveal a litany of dead rock 'n' rollers who were consumed by a lethal cocktail of all-pervasive nihilistic contempt, youthful delusions of invulnerability, lust for kicks at any cost, and a need to somehow transcend the limitations of everyday life in an ordered society. I'm not trying to imply that one needs to become a junkie, drink oneself into a coma on a regular basis, or turn tricks on 53rd and 3rd in order to write life-changing rock songs but a proclivity towards the abyss has undeniably been a trait of many of rock's greatest names. At its core rock 'n' roll is the music of the id so it stands to reason that embracing the id - and in James Osterberg's case thereby becoming the Ig - can lead to the creation of incredible music. However, id unchecked leads to a broken life; one which many have been unable to put back together again. The irony in this is obvious: the decedent rock 'n' roller destroys himself in order to give birth to music that will make him immortal. Is it worth it? It's hard to say how Iggy himself would answer that - although a Johnny Thunders or even a John Felice's answer may be easier to guess - but as a fan more than thirty years after the fact it's hard to argue against a song like "Raw Power." It may be the result of a dance with the devil that almost "destroy[ed] a man" but music this exciting can have a more potent "healing hand" than all of the surgeons, psychiatrists, shamans, and faith healers on Earth combined. Rock 'n' roll can destroy but it can also save. If you're reading this chances are you know what I'm talking about. This is then is the ultimate and final effect of the raw power that's at the root of rock 'n' roll: transporting the listener to a place in body and mind beyond everyday life and for a crystalline moment in time capturing the rapture of existence in the form of a song. It's a trick of spiritual alchemy whereby a mundane daily commute can take on the tenor of a raging party with the right soundtrack. And there are few albums that get a party started better than "Raw Power."
B2. "I Need Somebody"
Probably my least favorite Stooges song that's not titled "We Will Fall" or "LA Blues." Iggy once said "I Need Somebody" and "Gimme Danger" were "your classic 'there's gotta be two ballads on the record.' There had to be a slower [song] for each side." While "Gimme Danger" is a pretty swell atmospheric piece, "I Need Somebody" just drags on at a snail's pace for five minutes of tedium that feel more like ten. Iggy's crazed yelps of "somebooodaaaaay" at the end are a nice touch but even those aren't enough to redeem this stinker. It's also worth noting that white people should never attempt to play the blues, even if they are the Stooges.
B3. "Shake Appeal"
I love this song. One of the best partying, fucking, and ass kicking anthems ever recorded. Nuff said.
B4. "Death Trip"
The culminating chapter in the odyssey of self-destruction that was the Stooges career. "Death Trip" is equal parts forced death march and willing kamikaze mission. While not the Stooges' finest hour musically by any stretch it's still a fitting epitaph for their career. By his own admission Iggy knew the Stooges were doomed and "Death Trip" oozes an almost palpable sense of desperate resignation to oblivion as the price that needs to be paid for creating truly vital art. Telling is Iggy's final proclamation of "history!" at the end of the remixed version. It carries a double meaning in that on one level the Stooges were finished if "Raw Power" didn't break through but it also implies a realization that what they were doing was truly ahead of its time and would one day be regarded as historically relevant. The idea of future admiration is a bitter consolation for the artist who is wallowing in obscurity and poverty in the present moment, and when the artist in question is as strung out as Iggy was at the time of recording "Raw Power" I would assume there is little thought of surviving to reap the benefits of one's total sacrifice to art. So why do it? Why go through the trouble of creating uncompromising music if the only rewards are commercial apathy, financial ruin, drug addiction, a decline in health, and finally the dissolution of the band itself? The answer is simple: because they knew theirs was the only music worth making. The true artist is one who throws aside concerns like acclaim and wealth in order to serve the only masters that matter - the muses. They can't compromise because they know that compromise is the death of art and the beginning of commerce. The Stooges made the three albums they did because if they were going to make any music at all it had to be that kind. And that's the rub of the Death Trip that was the Stooges career: in order to forge rock 'n' roll unlike any other that ever existed they looked death in the eye and didn't recoil in fear; on the contrary they embraced the abyss as the wages of art. The irony is that in doing so they found their life.