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Class ?

Main Category: Punk/Grunge
Also applicable: Hard Rock, Avantgarde, Pop Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years



Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Stooges fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Stooges fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1969
Overall rating = 10

Some great nihilistic energy channelled on here, but sometimes it gets channelled in the wrong direction.


Track listing: 1) 1969; 2) I Wanna Be Your Dog; 3) We Will Fall; 4) No Fun; 5) Real Cool Time; 6) Ann; 7) Not Right; 8) Little Doll.

The Stooges weren't exactly a punk band as we're used to using the term in these post-1977 days. Sure enough, their music, at least, in the wild and gleeful raw days of 1969-70, was built on the main ingredients of punk: Wild, Primal, and Unprofessional. One could argue even with these points, though. It's a hugely debatable point - whether the Stooges could really play their instruments or not; judging by the two out of three Stooges records I own, they sure could, and used them cleverly and appropriately. Not to mention that Iggy Pop's singing was anything but unprofessional - one can only envy the richness and power of his voice, which never really puts you off, even when he's getting plain nasty.

On the other hand, the Stooges missed another primary feature that highlights the punk movement in general - their material was rarely socially or politically oriented. No 'London Burning' or 'Anarchy In The U.S.' (or 'Panic In Detroit', for that matter - the band originated from Michigan) in the Stooges' catalogue. In that respect, the Stooges were far more closer to the Velvet Underground; actually, I like to think of them as the VU taken to a logical extreme. So one could even speak of the Stooges as an art-rock band - yeah, I know the very idea should sound preposterous and controversial to some, but hey, it's true. When Iggy Pop was leaping out on stage shot full of heroin and proceeded to smear himself in peanut butter and cut himself with a knife, he wasn't really doing this out of social protest or anything - you can take it as a demonstration of freedom of art, a special gimmick, anything you like, but definitely not as a call to arms. The Stooges' lyrics further verify this claim, as there's nary a political/social declaration in sight - just your standard, primary 'gonna-get-me-some-pussy' stuff and suchlike, sometimes more thoughtful, sometimes less.

For their first album, Elektra Records (back then notorious for its willingness to sign up risky acts like the Doors and, at the same time with the Stooges, their "big brothers" the MC5) teamed the Stooges up with ex-Velvets violinist/hellraiser John Cale as producer. Unfortunately, that wasn't quite the right move. That was the right direction - naturally, the Stooges had a lot in common with the Velvet Underground as far as attitude goes; but the Stooges' act was wilder, much more brutal, and rejected anything that even remotely approached subtlety or, God forbid, intellectualism. Cale, being the smart guy he is, probably understood what the Stooges were all about, and at least he gave them enough space and potential to express some of their urges...

...but he also pushed them to record the ultimate Boring Drone number of all time. 'We Will Fall' was probably just improvised on the spot when it became clear that the Stooges didn't have enough songs to fill up an entire LP, and the intent was probably to join Doors-ish gloominess and "apocalyptic touch" with the rawness and primal straightforwardness of the Velvets' approach (such as the one on 'Sister Ray'), and given that the Stooges probably didn't know the meaning of the word "atmosphere" at the time, it's a predictable disaster. For ten minutes, the exact same noteless Eastern-influenced feedback drone keeps glooping its way forward, with the band lazily and 'moodily' chanting something like 'jah jah run jah jah run' while Iggy spits out occasional mumbled vocals, displaying not a tenth part of his usual energy or conviction (I guess he was either totally stoned while recording or just totally stumped by the very idea of having the 'song' recorded for the LP), and Ron Asheton spits out occasional disjointed wah-wah "solos". If this is the band's version of 'The End', it's nothing more than a wretched parody - and worse, it paves the way for many similar disasters by other bands, from Alice Cooper ('Black Juju') to Siouxsie & The Banshees ('The Lord's Prayer').

This is actually a terrible blow - pronouncing the track worthless (which it is) automatically means discarding a third of the album. Given that out of the shorter songs, about half are rewrites of the other half, that leaves us with maybe two or three chef-d'oeuvres, same number of mediocre-to-good compositions and this smelly big ten minute monster.

Fortunately, the chef-d'oeuvres are exactly what I bill them as. '1969' opens the album with a ferocious Bo Diddleyesque rhythm against which Iggy Pop delivers his message, once and for all: 'Well it's another year for me and you/Another year with nothing to do'. This is the anthem of the "blank generation" long before the punk revolution itself - and lo and behold, it's not a call to change the world, and it's not a braggadoccio defiance of authority, like all the previous rock anthems have been, it's a grim, thoroughly pessimistic acceptance of the fact that things are fucked up for the young people of the world and there's nothing to do about it except vent some frustration in fruitless fury. And this fury arrives, as Iggy lets out the first of his notorious screams - 'well it's nineteen sixty nine babyeeeeeeeeaaaa!', while the guitar keeps churning out wildly distorted, incoherent, messy, gruesomely overwah-wahed chords next to which Big Brother's sloppy guitar assault can sound like John McLaughlin in his prime.

'I Wanna Be Your Dog' follows, and it's more Velvet Underground-like in spirit than anything the Velvets actually did - telling its tale of dirty self-humiliation and God knows what else to an epochal guitar riff and one-note piano accompaniment. No wonder it's such a total classic for the alternative world (after all, Sonic Youth covered the puppy on their very first LP) - behind the superficially simple surface lies a whole world of darkness, sexual energy, murky insinuations, and gruesome interpretations. Personally, in terms of landmarks of "truly evil rock", I'd award this song second place after 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' (chronologically - in terms of sheer evil atmosphere, it might even beat out the Stones classic).

None of the other five songs come close to the impact of the opening two, but 'No Fun' is still a magnificent rocker, further continuing the subject of not getting any satisfaction (at least the Stones are looking for it - the Stooges aren't even gonna try because they know they'll never get it!) - 'no fun, my babe, no fun', Iggy remarks with a certain note of sadness in his husky voice. The other three rockers are mainly variations on the themes of the other three, with more Bo Diddley beats and 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' riffs slightly changed, and more and more unprofessional, loud, jerky soloing with emphasis on the wah-wah (which eventually starts getting on my nerves - especially considering I love the wah-wah effect and don't like when it gets abused); only the pseudo-ballad 'Ann' deviates from the formula, but it's not particularly interesting for anything other than presaging some of the really interesting "moody" work on the following album.

In that sense, the album probably doesn't deserve an overall 10 if we just analyze it song by song; but it's definitely bigger than the sum of its parts, and while the true power of the Stooges wouldn't be revealed until the next year's release, it's still a groundbreaking, ambitious, and ballsy record that was far ahead of its time. Give it, say, a 7/15 for the songs in question, a 15/15 for the exquisite magic of 'I Wanna Be Your Dog', and a 13/15 for overall impression, and out of this you can coin something like my rating. Maybe a little higher, or a little lower - I don't really care. No fun, my babe, no fun.

PS. According to some info from a Russian reader I just got, "We Will Fall" is entirely the fault of Dave Alexander and has nothing to do with John Cale, who grumblingly agreed to include it for lack of better material. Which shortens Cale's sentence in Hell by 1018 years.



Year Of Release: 1970
Overall rating = 12

One of the greatest underground documents of all time, and I'm not even a punk fan!

Best song: T.V. EYE

Track listing: 1) Down On The Street; 2) Loose; 3) T.V. Eye; 4) Dirt; 5) 1970; 6) Funhouse; 7) L. A. Blues.

For the band's second record, their rowdy, primal potential was to be milked to the extreme, and this means having John Cale out of the picture (I forget the name of the producer for this record - but it's no big problem, considering that everything on here sounds antiproduced rather than underproduced anyway). It's still not punk rock, though. Mark Prindle called it 'an insane blues-rock masterpiece', and, while the very idea of this record is probably leagues away from everybody's standard conception of 'blues-rock', I suppose that ultimately I'll just have to agree with Prindle the Master of Short Verdict. The record itself consists of seven tracks, ranging from three-and-a-half to seven minutes (not punk), most of them played either slow or in mid-tempo (not punk again), and based upon more or less generic bluesy riffage (not punk! not punk! not punk!) Now remember what I said when I doubted these guys' unprofessionalism? At first sight, you don't really notice the melodies that guitarist Ron Asheton is playing: there's so much noise and distortion that they're lost somewhere in the background. On second listen, however, something clicks, and the insane, yet fully controlled riffage suddenly appears before your ears in all its solid glory: the guy can sure keep a groove, and he keeps it steady. And when it comes to soloing, watch out - sometimes it seems to me that all of his life Ron was mostly practising variations on the famous Dave Davies one-string solo from 'You Really Got Me'. One important point, though: the record should be played loud, otherwise the solos won't really produce that ecstatic effect. But I guess that goes without saying, now doesn't it?

From the other side, drummer Scott Asheton isn't even as wild and insane as you'd suppose him to be: he's no Keith Moon, and together with Dave Alexander he mostly concentrates on providing a solid 'anchor' for the wild pair of Iggy/Ron to take off. Unprofessional? Hardly. Outstanding? Definitely not, but they do their job well, and none of them ever tries convincing the public that he just, like, can't play at all, as it's not the main point. So in general, the band at this stage really reminds me of the Who at their live peak: chaotic, unrestrainted and furious, but steady, self-assured and in complete musical control of themselves. Of course, the level of energy and fury displayed on Fun House makes the Who look rather like the Monkees in comparison; the problem is whether it's a good thing or not. I'd still take Live At Leeds over Fun House any time of day, as it's ultimately more diverse and engaging; but if you're in desperate need of charging your adrenaline holders, the Stooges are perhaps a better bet.

The main point of Iggy and company, of course, is to make the record sound as raw and visceral as possible. The first three tracks on here are, in brief, unforgettable. 'Down On The Street' begins the record on a relatively low, yet menacing note, as Ron bashes out his stubborn, primitive riff and Iggy relates of his deeds on the street... until the chorus, of course, where the guitars soar and Iggy roars, in the grand wheeez! tradition of Jimi Hendrix (keep it quiet, then rip it up as suddenly as possible). 'Loose' and 'T.V. Eye' are essentially the same song, and if not for the blood-curdling scream of 'LOOOOORD!' that Iggy emits at the very beginning of the second song, it'd be rather hard to distinguish one from the other, especially since 'T. V. Eye' consists of a main section and a reprise that comes after a short pause. But let that not worry you: they may be built on the same riff, but what a riff it is: memorable, steady, disturbing and, of course, distorted to the point of ear-shattering. Add to this the dumb, repetitive lyrics ('she got a TV eye on me, she got a TV eye', or, 'I'll stick it deep inside, I'll stick it deep inside, cause it's love I do believe'), all rip-roared in Iggy's sneering, energized intonation, and the shocking aboriginal screams that abound on every corner, and you got yourself a great soundtrack to vent all your frustration to. And you don't have to complain of political connotations, either, or of fakery or something like that. Because, ultimately, the Stooges' greatest advantage over all the later 'punk' bands might have been their uttermost sincerity and boldness. Remember, this music was being made in 1970, not in 1977, when all the so-called 'punks' had the media and the critical attention to themselves. The Stooges sounded out of time, and were out of time. Just imagine what courage it really took to unleash such a record in 1970, when everybody around was calling the Stooges the worst rock'n'roll band in the world and, hell, nobody ever even thought of inviting them to the Isle Of Wight Music Festival, heh, heh. All of these things really add to the intensity and raw, sincere, heartfelt attraction of this record.

But I guess I started digressing again. Well, I just might skip it and go on discussing the songs. The problem is, apart from these three tracks, none of the rest manage to strike such a deep chord in my mind. '1970' is the only other relatively 'fast' song on here, and it's rather annoying. The main melody is ripped off of Chuck Berry's 'You Can't Catch Me', and if you don't believe me, just compare: 'Out of my mind on Saturday Night/1970 rollin' in sight/Radio burnin' up above/ Beautiful baby, feed my love' (Stooges) - 'Flyin' with my baby last Saturday night/Wasn't no gray cloud floatin' in sight/Big full moon shinin' up above/Cuddle up honey be my love' (Berry). Hardly a coincidence, right? I guess I'm not the first one who noticed this... Anyway, the song's a mess, and every verse climaxes with Iggy spurtin' out his 'I feel alright' refrain a million times until I sure don't. And no sneering here either, just a nasty hangover. Not for me.

'Dirt' and 'Fun House', on the other hand, are quite different. Both are seven minutes long and slow - one might actually call them 'ballads', even if it does take a lot of nerve to call a song where Iggy screams 'do you feel it when you CUT me' (if I'm not mistaken) a 'ballad'. In any case, 'Dirt' is a good one, with a gruff, bluesy melody, and it's full of dreamy, strange wah-wah guitars that plunge you into a specific lethargy, as if in a bad drug-induced dream. The Stooges' 'Sister Morphine', in other words. The title track, now, that one I dislikes with all my might, and I don't even notice that the bass line represents a slight modification of 'In-A-Gadda Da-Vida'; this is the only song on record that could and should openly be called a 'jam', and jamming is what should be always prohibited to the Stooges. Special guest sax player Steven Mackay (supposedly no relation to Roxy Music's Andy Mackay) tries to add some 'artsiness' to the jam by puffing and panting without stopping, but he doesn't achieve much. If anything, this is just seven minutes of space filling.

Not to mention the album closer 'L. A. Blues', which is five more minutes of space filling. Of course, there are people who regard this clunker as an underrated masterpiece, but I guess there are people who like smelling dog's faeces, too (no offense intended). The only thing about these five minutes that's at least vaguely impressive is Iggy's primal screaming - Tarzan or, hell, even Tyrannosaurus Rex couldn't have it better. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of insane feedback and dissonant sax playing. This stuff would probably be impressive at the tail end of a Who concert, climaxing with Townshend crashing his guitar, but luckily, the Who guys were wise enough to not have it inserted onto their studio albums, something the Stooges couldn't really refrain from. I don't really punish the album that much for the track: once again, if taken from a historical perspective, the move is understandable and probably even laudable. It's just that nobody in his or her right senses could call this stuff 'music', whereas all the previous six tracks could - some more and some less, but to a certain extent, they were all unique and peculiar in their own way. Feedback, on the other hand, could be produced by just about anybody in the business (and often was). And if you're this kind of guy anyway, why don't you just throw on a side or two of Metal Machine Music for fun.

Still, one or two rotten apples don't really spoil the pie all that much. I do happen to think that Fun House is more interesting from a historical point of view - at least, as a proof that whatever the Sex Pistols or the Clash were doing in 1977 was pretty tame and slick and smooth as compared to the real raw power of the Stooges in their prime - but at times its first four tracks make up for some entertaining listening as well. If you ever wondered whatever it felt like to be a Neanderthal, please proceed to the nearest store and ask the clerk for Fun House. Then put on your mammoth skin, prepare the tom-tom and join the gang in their raunchy celebration of primal values. Good luck!


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