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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.

The thing is, shit like this has rarely before or since ever sounded so good. It may have happened completely by accident. But the fact remains that it is no small wonder that the Stooges had such a profound influence on all those guys playing in garages back in the seventies, like Nirvana who would later change the very direction of rock and roll.

I mean, what else was a poor boy who wanted to sing in a rock and roll band supposed to do? Buy a mellotron or hire a string section?

But to be perfectly honest, I have to admit that I was a late bloomer to the whole Iggy thing. I signed on long after the Stooges had flamed out, and back when Iggy was touring as a solo act behind the Bowie-produced album, The Idiot. In fact, the only reason I even went to a show in '76 at the Paramount in Seattle was because Bowie was playing keyboards in the band.

But not ten minutes into that performance, I completely forgot Bowie was even there. Iggy in the late seventies was as riveting a performer as I had ever witnessed up to that moment. There was a definite trainwreck vibe to the whole thing. But the bottom line was that it was absolutely impossible to take your eyes off of Iggy for even a second. From that moment on I was hooked.

A few years later in the early eighties, I witnessed Iggy make history during a Seattle concert at the Showbox by inciting what you could only call a riot. At this show, Iggy invited the entire audience up onstage, who then proceeded to knock the entire P.A. system off the stage. In retrospect, it's amazing no one was hurt or even killed, and the stunt resulted in Iggy being banned from performing in Seattle for many years thereafter.

Talk about performance art.

Up until tonight, I hadn't listened to Raw Power straight through in something like twenty years. To be honest, the main draw for me of Legacy's new remastered deluxe edition was the restoration of the much ballyhooed "Bowie mix" of the original tapes using modern digital technology.

And ya' know what? I just don't hear that much difference.

Yes, it sounds a little clearer, and less muddy. But the "remastered" recording still falls out in exactly the same places I remember it as a kid, only to blast your speakers out just a few scant seconds later.

But you know what? That's perfectly fine with me. Raw Power, if nothing else, represents a snapshot in time when rock needed a swift kick in the balls and the Stooges were exactly the band to deliver it. For that reason alone, their induction this year into the Rock Hall was a complete no-brainer. Some things are just not meant to be screwed with — and all hype aside, the studio guys here really haven't done so all that much.

Which is exactly how it should be. Bowie's original good intentions aside, lipstick just doesn't look that good on a pig. Gimme Danger. Gimme Dirt.

What does make the new version stand out, however, are the extras.

On the two-disc version arriving in stores next Tuesday, the bonus disc features a great live performance from Atlanta (they're calling it "Georgia Peaches") in 1973.

While nowhere near as incendiary as the now hard-to-find Metallic K.O. recording from the same period (no one is chucking bottles at the stage for one thing), this disc captures a lot of the same raw energy, both on songs from Raw Power and such rare nuggets as "(I've Got My) Cock In My Pocket."

On the deluxe box which arrives on April 27th, you also get an additional disc of rare outtakes from the Raw Power sessions, as well as a 30-minute DVD on the making of Raw Power.

While the DVD doesn't really provide much other than the same sort of commentary from future fans like Chrissie Hynde, and the usual studio types sitting around a mixing board that you'd expect to find on one of those VH1 "Making of" documentaries, the included live footage from a Stooges reunion show last year in Brazil is three shades of awesome. James Williamson in particular kicks some major ass on that, and hearing a Stooges show where the band is actually playing pretty tight is a rare treat indeed (as with age comes experience).

So yes, this kicks some ass and it's nice to see these guys finally getting their due all these years later. After all, what good is putting lipstick on a pig if not to finally get kissed, right?

Next year, hopefully, the Rock Hall will make the big move to mascara. Can you say Alice Cooper?

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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, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work 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