The Stooges

Moe, Larry, Curly, and Iggy

Strongest album: Raw Power
Weakest album: The Stooges

The Stooges were a band formed in 1968 in Detroit, but they might as well have emerged from the caves of the Cro-Magnon Era. A crew of misfit kids with a pre-modern mindset set loose in the urban jungle, their minds and bodies addled equally by hormonal urges and television, the Stooges captured the industrial throb of their hometown with rock'n'roll at its most primitive and primal. Iggy Pop howls like a mule being kicked one too many times, singing lyrics of the most stupid, banal, and repetitive stripe, and let me tell ya, it takes brains to sound this dumb and not only get away with it but make it interesting. Iggy's backup band (the Asheton brothers, Ron and Scott, on guitar and drums respectively, and bassist Dave Alexander, who drank himself to death in 1975) sound like they barely know how to play their instruments, though whether that was intentional or not is your guess. Maybe they're acting dumber than they really are, too: these guys make your average highschool garage band sound like Dave Brubeck. The Stooges were an art band - supposedly Iggy was as influenced by John Coltrane and Sun-Ra as by James Brown and the Doors. But art in the absurdist tradition of dada, and that's only half the story; the Stooges were primarily a loud and defiantly tuneless and stupid rock band, offering a bunch of unlistenable stoned-out noise. The thing is, I actually like the Stooges' brand of unlistenable noise. They're certainly the worst band I love, and one of the most influential on later generations. Punk rockers from the Sex Pistols on down took their cues from Iggy and the boys, and that's not all: it's overlooked, but the Stooges were also the first industrial band (in its truest sense): the monotonous, repetitive beat on these records is the beat of Detroit's loud, humming, pounding automobile factories. And I suppose the Stooges are partly to blame for goth, though really their goth ballads are more of a bad hangover from taking Jim Morrison far too seriously. Certainly not for everybody, that's for sure: the Stooges were easily the most reviled band of the Age of Aquarius - back then everybody thought they were the worst band in the world. When I first heard Funhouse, that's what I thought, too. After awhile I started liking them almost against my will,; let's just say the Stooges are an aquired taste. They definitely grew on me, and maybe they'll grow on you if you haven't been turned on to them already. But be forewarned - if you're like 99% of the record-buying populace, you're going to hate this shit when you first hear it. The rewards for Stooges fandom are quit considerable, however - never again will you use adjectives like raw and visceral without using the Stooges as the ultimate reference.

There aren't really any sites for the Stooges, but there are couple for Iggy himself. Check out the Iggy Pop Page.

The Stooges (1969) ***1/2

Produced by John Cale for that classy touch, I suppose, this drags rock down to depths of incompetent simplicity and inane stupidity from which it would never recover, and bully for them. Iggy's favorite song of all time is "Louie, Louie", and on this record he's hellbent on rewriting it about six times. The other two songs are ballads. A sludgy mess of tom-tom witch-doctor oil-can drums and fuzzed-up, clanging guitar, the album sounds like it was custom-designed to sound best blasting through a cheap, shitty Radio Shack cassette recorder. Iggy plays the role of Everyteen, bored and alienated, wanting nothing more than to fuck and get fucked up, but he can't get what he wants, and that makes him fucked up in a way he doesn't like. The year "1969" that saw anti-Vietnam protests peak and Armstrong land on the moon, Iggy drawls that it's "another year with nuthin' to do". It's "No Fun" to hang around by yourself, so find you a "Little Doll" for a "Real Cool Time", but oh shit, we can't, 'cause I'm "Not Right". The five songs I just talked are all classics of the Stooges canon, more direct, accessible, and conventional than their later work - heck, compared to their later stuff, this is downright bubblegummy, especially that cheesy guitar riff that drives "No Fun". Iggy doesn't scream much, either, which is another disappointment - his vocals are compellingly sullen and petulant, but in the context of what would come on the next record, he sounds considerably restrained. As does the rest of the band; this is slower, less noisy, and less intense than their other two albums. Basically it sounds like a test-run for what would come later soundwise, but the songs themselves are their most coverable (and actually covered). And then there's track #2: "I Wanna Be Your Dog". Holy Mother of Peanut Butter and Broken Beer Bottles, have I told you what a great song "I Wanna Be Your Dog" is?!? Man, that shit is dope, it is whack, it's like humpback hacky-sack, Iggy swingin' his dick like a Great Dane in heat, John Cale poundin' one note on the piano over and over till it sounds like glass shards. Ron Asheton plays way too much wah-wah in order to cover up the fact that he can't, like, play notes and other unecessarily fancy stuff like that, and the rythm section is always sinisterly off beat. All in all, pretty enjoyable for the faster numbers, but then there's the slow stuff. However incompetent the Stooges sounded on the rockers, their musical ineptitude is even more cruelly exposed on the balladic material, only this time it's no fun. "Ann" is merely a half-assed Morrison cop, but "We Will Fall" is seriously terrible, so bad that it deserves a category of badness exclusively its own. Ten minutes of Iggy mumbling and the Ashetons trying to imitate those groovy monks they saw on PBS does not make for something you ever need to hear a second time, and to tell the truth I only got through it once because I'm reviewing this record. Tell you what - listen to the first minute of it, then save yourself valuable time that you need in your busy life and skip over the next nine minutes. You'll hear enough to show you how bad this song is, and trust me, you won't be missing a thing, 'cause the next nine minutes sound exactly the same as the first one. This album's grade is upped a half star for historical importance, sheer audacity, something like that.

If you pay attention close enough, you will discover this "startling" fact: several of these songs contain the exact same chord progression, note for note ("I Wanna Be Your Dog" = "No Fun"). Might have something to do with the fact that they wrote half this album the night before. I mean that literally - Elektra kindly informed the Stooges that the 4 original songs they had written so far in their professional career did not constitute a complete album.

Funhouse (1970) ****

Now this really is the sound of a factory and its throbbing power caught on record, nothing but pure mechanical energy and industrial noise. This improves on the debut's sound in almost every way: they held back before, but now the Stooges are UNLEASHED! Perhaps too much: this is the least accessible of their three studio albums, primarily for the fact that the songs have virtually no sense of structure. I mean, there's a certain unique, internal logic that guides these "tunes", but a logic that bears no relation whatsoever to standard Western linear A leads to B processing. The running order of the songs is structured in a very effective way, however; the album continually keeps building in intensity, one cut after another, until it reaches its peak - and then collapses. Some feminist rock crit once wrote that the running order of this album reflects a male's sexual experience, from finding a female to intercourse to orgasm and finally exhaustion, and maybe she's right, especially considering Iggy's one-track mind. It starts out with Iggy walking the streets, prowlin' for pussy, in "Down On The Street", which thuds with a stalking, thuggish menace. Then in the next song, "Loose", Iggy sticks it deep inside, " 'cause it's love, I do believe". And then there's song #3, "TV Eye": the ultimate Stooges song. Iggy lets loose the most terrifyingly primal scream ever recorded by modern man, "LORRRRRRRD!!!!!!!", like she just bit his pecker or he's writhing in the throes of some bad drug trip, and continues screaming over and over, "Stop This!" And that's just the first few seconds. This is the song I am adressing in particular when I said that these songs have no linear sense of structure, but have a peculiar logic all their own: this is as wildly thrashing and unpredictable as a fish caught on a line, and yet there's not a note or beat that's out of place. Those are the first three songs, which are all great, and the peak of the album. After that you get "Dirt" a seven minute ballad. The Stooges have improved enough to make it several leagues above "We Will Fall", but it still ain't happening. "1970" comes on next, and is another great one, if a slight notch in quality down from the first three songs. Iggy keeps screaming that he feels alright, but he feels anything but. The title track features atonal frat-house sax of Steven Mackay, as Iggy tries once again to write a "Louie Louie"-style party anthem, but it's not any party I'm going to, and at 7:46, it too goes on too long. And then there's the closer, "L.A. Blues": the collapse I was talking about. This track is not a song. It is not even music. What it is is a pile of random chaos thrown together to annoy the listener. That is an unbiased description. The track has no words; it doesn't even have any two notes that remotely connect. Consider it anti-New Age mood music. So what you get is four great songs and three I don't care for: not exactly a great batting ratio, I know, but I'll trade the four great songs on this record for eight great songs by most bands, hence my high rating. And no other record captures the sound of hell and anarchy as well as this; lots of bands have attempted to recreate the ambience of this album, but precious few have come close.

Raw Power (1973) ****1/2

The Stooges broke up shortly after the release of Funhouse, due to factors including but not limited to no money (hence no fun), rampant drug abuse (when you can't even play two chords right because you're too fucked up, you've got a problem), and the fact that everybody hated them. Well, some people liked them, and luckily one of their fans happened to be England's fastest-rising pop sensation at the moment, David Bowie. This disc contains a reconstituted Stooges: Dave Alexander is gone, Ron Asheton has switched from guitar to bass, and newcomer James Williamson has stepped in on guitar duty. Williamson's a much more conventional heavy-metal stylist than the psychedelized Asheton, which constitutes a drawback in the weirdness department but a strength in all other ways. For once the Stooges sound like they know how to play their instruments, which results in an attack of lethal intensity only hinted at by previous efforts. Simply put, this powerhouse of an album blueprinted the punk movement that would arrive three years later: it makes the Sex Pistols sound pop, a pack of compromised cute little wimps. While the band has never sounded better, Iggy has backed off a bit from his deranged animalistic stance: he's got his trademark growl down cold, but his screams are petty whimpers compared to his howls on Funhouse. But that's only in comparison to Funhouse - Iggy still sounds like a drug-and-sex addled lunatic. The other problem is Bowie's infamous production. This could have been the album of the '70s, but it falls short because the guitars sound too brittle and the rythm section's muddled - short of not producing it at all, there's little Bowie could have done to do a worse mixing job. Legions of fans have bitched about it since its release; it got to the point where Iggy released a substantially remixed version last year to replace the original one that I happen to own. I haven't heard Iggy's revamp of this classic, so I can't comment on it, but I can say this: despite its inexcusably shitty mix, this is still the el supremo Stooges platter, one of the most kick-ass albums in the known universe. It's got more good songs on it than the other two studio releases, and Holy Mother of Vietnam on TV Every Night, "Search And Destroy" is the ultimate Stooges anthem. I know, I said that about a couple of other songs earlier, but really, this one is it. I can't believe they turned it into a Nike commercial. After that we get - finally! - the first good Stooges ballad, "Gimme Danger". It ain't "The End", but it'll do (historical note: after Jimmy died, the rest of the Doors considered Iggy for their frontman spot). And then you get the first hardcore punk song, "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell", nothing but relentless drive throughout. Okay, "Penetration" (figure out what that one's about, sport) and the straight blues (really!) "I Need Somebody" ain't got nuthin' going on 'em, but "Death Trip" (title says all) and "Raw Power" and especially the clenched raveup boogie "Shake Appeal" are eminently worthy trips to the real dark side of the moon, and if you find an album that captures better, and more genuinely, fucked-up teenage nihilism (made by guys long past their teens by now), then tell me about it. But I doubt you'll find it. Nobody else has in the past quarter century.

The Stooges broke up and Iggy Pop had (still has, I guess) a solo career that hasn't come close to capturing the Stooges' glory. The other guys kinda dropped outa sight. A fitting end to one of the strangest bands ever to stalk the planet (just like Godzilla, another mutant result of television and the nuclear age). Oh yeah, and there are like two hundred bootlegs of these guys, most of which come from France (weird country. They love Jerry Lewis infamously, too) and none of which I'm really in the mood to spend countless years tracking down and forking fifty dollars over for. I did hear the legendary Metallic K.O. when I DJ-ed at the campus station (it was a ratty little piece of vinyl I dug out from the bins) and it's....interesting....but not good musically. Iggy interrupts half the songs to insult the audience, who throw beer bottles at him (the sound of broken glass is integral to the mix), and he launches into the most depraved version of "Louie, Louie" yet recorded - it's almost worth the price of admission. The band can't play worth shit live, of course.

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