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The Rockologist: Iggy, Ziggy And The Raw Power Of The Stooges

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It's been quite a year for one James Osterberg, better known to the world as Iggy Pop. By virtue of their induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame this year, The Stooges have actually gone legit.

I mean, who woulda' thunk it?

They never sold all that many records for one thing. And unlike many of their seventies punk-rock contemporaries — the Sex Pistols and the Ramones come most immediately to mind — they still don't.

Yet, you see their influence everywhere these days. And by that, I don't just mean in all of the punk rock bands from Nirvana on down who went on to make millions once punk finally arrived commercially in the nineties.

No, it actually goes much further and deeper than that. You see it everyday in television commercials using Iggy's songs like "Lust For Life" to hawk products and to stuff the pockets of the sort of corporate executives that I'm quite sure Iggy never gave two squats about (and outside of making a few well-earned bucks himself, probably still doesn't, for that matter).

A few weeks ago, The Stooges song "Search And Destroy" was even used on an episode of Lost for Pete's sake! Lord knows the MC5 should ever be so lucky.

But ya' know what? I say good for Iggy, but even more than that — good for the long-suffering Stooges. They deserve it, dammit.

See, here's the thing. For all of the mythical status the Stooges have attained in the decades since the original 1973 release of Raw Power, what they did was actually not that revolutionary at all. And therein lies the beauty of it all.

Long before Iggy and the Stooges ever had the good fortune to hook up with then emerging seventies glam-rock star David Bowie, they were kicking out primal, stripped-down rock and roll on albums like Fun House.

At a time when rock music had begun to take itself perhaps far too seriously with twenty-minute guitar solos, concept albums and what not, Iggy and the Stooges — along with bands like their aforementioned Detroit based compatriots, the MC5 — stood apart from the rest as a band who brought things back down to their rawest, must guttural level.

What got the Stooges all the attention though wasn't their music at all. The fact is, the Stooges didn't even play their instruments all that well. The draw, rather, was the freak show that was Iggy Pop. As a performer, I'm quite sure (even to this day) that Iggy often had absolutely no idea what he was doing. But as pure rock theatre goes, Iggy was as out of bounds and as out of control as it got.

Here you had a guy who was known to plunge himself head first into a crowd before there ever even was such a thing as stage diving. Reports of Iggy smearing peanut butter all over his body, and even cutting himself up with glass were also fairly commonplace.

For those brave or reckless enough to take the plunge, what you got at a Stooges concert back then was equal parts primal rock and roll stripped to its barest essentials, performance theatre, and a sense of genuine danger.

It's no accident that the Doors famously asked Iggy, their Elektra Records label mate, to become their new lead singer after Jim Morrison died. It is likewise no accident that David Bowie was so drawn to Iggy like a moth to a flame. With Raw Power, all Bowie really did was put some androgynous lipstick on a sixties punk-rock pig.

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Greg Barbrick

    “what they did was actually not that revolutionary at all”

    Absolutely. I have never understood why this album in particular did not catch on when it was released. It is just straight ahead rock and roll, not far removed from what Cooper or Bowie himself were doing at the time.

    Good review, and I too am heartened by The Stooges’ induction in the HOF.

  • zingzing

    i like iggy’s “red” mix. or, at least that’s the version i found (i believe it was released in 98 or so). it’s noisy as hell compared to the bowie version, which i’ve always found to be a little limp.

  • Rob J

    A fine review.

    The Stooges were a great,great band who have only found their audience in the last seven years since they reformed.

    When I brought “Raw Power” in early December 1975, you couldn’t give their albums. I can recall only too clearly, the contempt when I took the album to my local college in early ’76 and played it to the so called hip students who were into utter drivel like Pink Floyd(who were finished after the first album…)Queen, Deep Purple and Yes.

    After they heard the first two tracks, there was utter silence. Somebody shook their head and took my album off the turntable and then said in a loud voice:-

    “Now let’s hear some REAL music “. The Floyd’s “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond” was played to much approval.

    They obviously hadn’t heard Zappa, Todd Rundgren, Spirit, early Blue Oyster Cult, Little Feat, Beefheart, Tim Buckley…

    It is now 2010. The Stooges are finally in the RHOF. ” Raw Power” is given the deluxe treatment. I am going to see them in May with thousands of other people.

    The London gig of 2005 was the best live set I have seen by ANYBODY.

    Ha, ha,ha. Who has had the last laugh now?

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx everybody. Now let’s begin the campaign to get Alice Cooper in the Rock Hall….

    -Glen