Fifty Years of Great Music: The Top 100 Artists (#16)


Moving right along now with #16.

iggystooges1Forget all those craggy, defiant garage anthems from “You Really Got Me” through the Sonics to “96 Tears” and the Modern Lovers. Forget the bleak street prose and arch attitude of Lou Reed. Forget Creem magazine and John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil and Max’s Kansas City. Forget the Summer of Love fallout and freak poetry and the rise of soft rock, disco, and 17-minute guitar solos and a culture crawling out from Nixon’s political corpse. Without Iggy & the Stooges, there is no punk rock. None whatsoever. Think about that.

Oh, sure, there could have been some sort of angry, rebellious music tearing out of New York and London during the late-70s that cried out for change (or outright anarchy), but it wouldn’t have had the same juice. The juice was squeezed by Iggy. He refined the visceral sound (and by refine, I actually mean scuff it ta’ hell), but even more, he gave it an attitude, a throbbing danger, a potency, and virtually all by himself (and the rest of the Stooges) gave ‘em all two paths to follow—either the frenzied, tortured madness of Fun House or the near-militant, strategic attack plan of iggystooges2Raw Power. Call out the targets and eradicate them or raze the whole world into a ruin of drugged-out psycho freaks.

He was a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm. He was a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb. He wanted to be your dog. He was a real low mind. He had a lust for life. He was the passenger and he saw the bright and hollow sky. He was the chairman of the bored. And though he borrowed the words from Johnny O’Keefe, he’s a real wild child. Whether Stooge or Pop, he was Iggy. A lanky lunatic chiseled out of bone and sinew, with a serpentine body, sunken eyes, and gaping chest wounds. He sometimes seemed more animal than man, or at least a man with killer animal instincts. You wanted to party with Iggy; that is, until the drugs kicked in and then you wanted to flee into the night.

Most men of his ilk (as if he could even be classified squarely enough to earn an “ilk”) showed only their feral side, a maniac always on the attack, which in small doses (from a distance) could be spectacular entertainment. But he also had an arty, ambitious side, nursed out of him like a skeletal, gnashing infant at the proverbial teat of David Bowie. They were perfect foils, those two—one all glammed up, the other all grimed down, sharing a fondness for meticulous writing that seemed raw, rangy. And all the narcotics they could handle. And rock n’ roll. That they both iggystooges3survived the 70s is something of a miracle, but they did, and Bowie encouraged Iggy’s finest solo work in The Idiot and Lust for Life. It’s a shame they didn’t team up more often since both men’s output started to become spotty as the 80s commenced.

But Iggy’s legacy will always be best defined by his time with the Stooges. Their early shows could almost be described as tame in comparison (if still highly avant garde and unpredictable), and though there was something bottled up in there, their debut LP was more about crude sound, refreshing songwriting, and agitated performance than anything that could be related to a ticking time bomb strapped to the bottom of a dinner table where none of the guests can hear. But the pervasive ruthlessness and sinister edge was there on tracks like “Ann” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and soon the Stooges’ live shows were becoming infamous, particularly for the antics of Iggy Pop, credited as Iggy Stooge.

Most bands need one of two set-ups: either a cohesive whole perfectly attuned to the rehearsed moves or a field general for a frontman controlling the pulse and vector of the instrumentalists surrounding him. But the Stooges had Iggy, and he was neither a synchronizer nor a commander—he was the loose cannon that played by his own rules (and label presidents and A&R people could chew him out for his maverick ways but they couldn’t take away his badge and piece). And he always “got the job done,” assuming the job was to stagger, collapse and flip out. Whether the other Stooges (Ron & Scott Asheton, Dave Alexander) were pounding away in fury or churning iggystooges4out a creaky, psychedelic dirge, Iggy was just losing control all over the stage and off. He’s widely recognized for “inventing” stage diving and when he’d leap into the crowd to be carried away, there was no telling what he’d do—rub hamburger meat on himself, flash his private parts, vomit spectacularly, smear peanut butter all over his chest, land on a broken martini glass and thrill so much to the sight of all the blood that he’d continue to gash himself until someone dragged him off to the hospital.

Fears that he might be getting too reckless did not subside after Fun House, one of the most extreme great records to ever see the light of day (voted “Loudest Album Ever” by Q Magazine in 2007). The light of day itself seemed off limits in its nightmarish vision of the Stooges’ live set transformed into pure apocalyptic terror. The fundamentals are all there, and underneath the brutal roar its careful arrangements are clear; if you need to know what happened, listen to “Loose”: “I took a record of pretty music and now I’m putting it to you straight from hell.” Except, of course, for the freeform chaos of closer “L.A. Blues,” which is as violent and savage as anything from the Red Krayola. Poor sales got them ejected from Elektra and the band stopped functioning. But then in stepped Bowie who wanted to iggystooges5record Iggy in the UK, and James Williamson came aboard to join the reunion of Iggy and the Asheton brothers for a new version of the Stooges, short-lived as it might have been.

By that third and final album Raw Power (we can forget that The Weirdness exists, right?), Iggy & the Stooges were constantly on the verge of further destruction yet had never seemed so focused—but their focus was on a damaged, exposed nerve that needed to be gnawed upon until the brain shrieked. The fortuitous alliance with Bowie paid off here when he came on to finalize the album—Bowie’s mixing was considered daring at the time (done quickly, on the cheap, and using botched track mixes done by Iggy) and gave the album a tin foil-tearing hiss with aural mood swings as bits came and went wildly. I may be one of the only people on the planet to actually prefer Iggy’s remix many years later, but that’s probably influenced by the fact that I only knew Bowie’s version secondhand—by the time I purchased my own copy, the “very violent” version was the one that was available, so that’s the one I’ve repeated endlessly. Only a year-and-a-half later, Iggy’s heroin habit and offstage antics grew too troublesome and the Stooges collapsed again; it’s kind of fitting, though, that their final show would end with a throwdown between the band members and some bikers.

iggystooges6He’s calmed down a bit in recent years (instead of massive quantities of booze and drugs, he usually does tai chi before performances today) but, aside from extra creases and scars, he shockingly looks almost exactly the same today as he did thirty years ago. Who treats his body the way he did and manages to pull off that feat? Dude must be a sorceror or something. It’s a shame that he gets so little attention (or credit) post-LustNew Values and Brick by Brick are both underrated albums, and he had several of his best “pop” singles during this run (“Home,” “Candy,” his “Real Wild Child” cover)—but it’s the records he made with the Stooges and Bowie as well as what he did for rock n’ roll jeopardy and envelope-pushing during his peak years that people will always (rightfully) remember and respect most. And be utterly f-cking terrified of.

I Wanna Be Your Dog
No Fun
Down on the Street
T.V. Eye
I’m Sick of You
Funtime [Iggy Pop]
Nightclubbing [Iggy Pop]
China Girl [Iggy Pop]
Lust for Life [Iggy Pop]
The Passenger [Iggy Pop]
New Values [Iggy Pop]
Dog Food [Iggy Pop]
Real Wild Child [Iggy Pop]
Cold Metal [Iggy Pop]
Home [Iggy Pop]
…and the album Raw Power

Also endorsed: The MC5, the Modern Lovers, Richard Hell

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Matt Medlock


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