THE STOOGES – Released 50 Years Ago – August 5, 1969
By Madeline Bocaro ©
It’s 2019 OK! It’s been 50 years since the first Stooges album was released on August 5, 1969 – two weeks prior to the Woodstock festival – on Elektra Records.
The Stooges had honed their beautiful noise by playing endless gigs at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom – 22 times in 1968. They refused to be ignored. Iggy spent most of his time off the stage and in the midst of the audience, physically demanding audience participation. Elektra PR man Danny Fields excitedly witnessed this and facilitated The Stooges’ record deal.
In those days, The Stooges were highly unmarketable and unfashionable. There was no calculation or manipulation in the band’s formation. Why tamper with mother nature?
The Stooges erupted in a loud explosion of raw nerves and energy
similar to the big bang that created planet Earth.
You might call it a natural disaster!
(Album cover outtake by Joel Brodsky).
The band photo on the cover emulates The Doors’ self-titled debut released in 1967. It was shot by Joel Brodsky who also photographed nine album covers for The Doors.
The opening track of The Stooges’ debut album, ‘1969’ is about the culmination of the turbulent decade in which the band formed. Ever since then, each wicked new form of rock music to crawl up from the street and into the spotlight of controversy is considered to be fathered by the sound of Iggy & The Stooges. It’s naked, raw, savage and pure. It seduces, assaults and reminds you that you are alive. It breaks apart all you’ve ever accepted and enjoyed as art and as life, until you can no longer tolerate daily life as it exists – and most likely will be inspired to radically change it.
The course of music history would have been severely altered without The Stooges’ noise vibrating and permeating through time and space. They were proud to have been described by rock writer Lester Bangs as “the ultimate salient blowtorch of savage nihilism”. Although they revered soul, jazz, rhythm and blues their sound induces pure adrenaline rush and aftershock.
Every molecule comprising these boys’ flesh and bones reeked of stone primal realism. Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton, his brother Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander created a soundtrack to their tribal existence – from minimalist, bordering on Zen (“No Fun”), to free-form raga (“We Will Fall”), an ode to total submission (“I Wanna Be Your Dog”) altogether – timeless.
“I just wanted ‘dudes who understand motion, who had a sense of comedy and frugality in music.”
– Iggy Pop, Crawdaddy
Iggy pays homage his band mates in the book Total Chaos (2016):
“The Asheton brothers – those two wonderful people lived their whole lives in a trance…you get those Asheton guys locking in a certain way and it will put you into a kind of trance.”
About Dave Alexander’s improv bass style, Iggy recalls,
“He’s just looking at the strings and going, ‘I think I’ll just go over here and see what happens… having fun amusing himself, which makes the music special. A real musician will never do that.”
“(I was) a third mind between those three people. I could never really enter it. I was always the opposing thumb… I willed it into existence.”
– Iggy Pop, Total Chaos – Jeff Gold and Iggy Pop 2016
The Stooges chaotically merged 60’s funk and Chicago blues with rock n’ roll, yielding a sound that deviated from it all – drenched in fuzz, wah and in all their desperation. The lyrical simplicity is repeated incessantly like a mantra, backed by an entrancing loud buzz (all the glory of sticking your head inside a lawn mower – without the pain). In the 70s, he Stooges sang “Gimme Danger” when the Stones sang “Gimme Shelter”. The ultimate success was in repulsing mainstreamers and hippies – and magnetizing the hard-core rock junkies who later became known as punks.
Iggy revered Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley and the blues bands of Chicago which he investigated first-hand in the mid 60’s. Upon returning to Detroit he tried to convey the passionate style of the blues players to his stoned delinquent Stooges friends. Their unique interpretation was a strange hybrid of black rooted music as a soundtrack to the problems, anger and frustrations of white boys who could barely play their instruments. This wasn’t just another pretty white boy singing the blues like Elvis (although Iggy was sort of charming in his own sick way). This was a fierce unit – emerging from the streets of Detroit to perpetrate their indulgent sonic pleasures upon the masses.
The Stooges took the blues one step further. Their songs were blatant, straight to the point diatribes – mainly about their deviant dilemmas and opposing the era of hippies, peace and love. Imagine a life of being completely misunderstood by everyone who thinks the glorious sounds you make are nothing but annoying noise. What else can you be but relentless in your pursuit, inflicting years of assault until your audience is ready for you. The Stooges persevered because they could see the future – albeit in a purple haze.
The band intended to replicate their 5-song live set on the album. They were told that there were not enough songs, so they wrote ‘Little Doll’, ‘Real Cool Time’ and “Not Right” overnight at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. The recording was made in two days at The Hit Factory.
John Cale’s original mixes of the first album were rejected. It was instead produced by Iggy and Jac Holzman, the head of Elektra Records. Cale’s mixes were later released in 2005 and again in 2010. All of the eight songs on the album are gems. ‘1969’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ were released as singles.
“1969” sets the time and place (‘all across the USA’) and speaks of boredom. Ron Asheton’s guitar thunderously buzzes and screams gloriously throughout. The lyrics extend four years beyond teenage angst. Alice Cooper’s ‘I’m Eighteen” speaks of confusion and doubt, but he ultimately likes being a boy and a man. Iggy who is turning 22 sings of sheer boredom and frustration in the most tumultuous decade of our time! (Actually, The Stooges were really quite busy at the time.)
Iggy:”…that year was going to be around for a long time. I mean you don’t hear a lot about like 1971, but you still hear 1969. That’s a powerful number… The key is, “Another year with nothing to do, Boo-Hoo!” And, for me, that was true because of frustration; … because I hadn’t gotten my hands on the levers of power, the means of production, that would allow me to express myself… I was singing for the delinquent group I belonged to, because the other guys in the group would never even think about that. They’d just go, “Awwww, there’s nothing to do.”
– Iggy Pop, NPR – All Songs Considered, May 11, 2016
“I Wanna Be Your Dog” is the most romantic thing a guy could say to a girl. It says everything. The meaning is literal. Iggy wanted to be loved and treated in the same way that a woman treats her dog – the punishment and the rewards.
Ending side one after only two songs is the 10-minute droning stoner raga “We Will Fall”.
Waking us from our trance, side two kicks off with “No Fun” which is actually really fun! Iggy patterned the song’s phrasing after “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash. Lyrically, Iggy takes his cue (the conservation of words in songwriting) from the school of Soupy Sales. The children’s TV show host Soupy told kids to keep their fan letters to 25 words or less.
No fun, my babe / No fun / No fun, my babe / No fun
Read my Soupy Sales story here: I Was a Soupy Groupie
Iggy is like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights; ravaged, outcast, animalistic and ravenously passionate, with whom only those with a truly wild heart can sympathize. His soul haunts the bleak gray moors of rock n’ roll. There is an obnoxious, snotty and rambunctious child inside of him whom he tries to control at times, but also nurtures. This child is the core of his dualities; man/boy, Iggy/Jim, stooge/intellect. He unleashes a wild undying innocence, maintaining a perfect balance of street and snobbery. His savage yelps and poetic phrases successfully blend the elements of tragedy and comedy.
In “Real Cool Time” Iggy anticipates a great night with a girl, but the musical tone reeks of angst. “Ann” is a simply stated love song. “Not Right” is most likely a description of most of the girls who dated the Stooges, along with the admission that the band members themselves are also not right!
“Little Doll” (which Iggy calls a Bo Diddley jam) is one of several songs about his beautiful young girlfriend Betsy with whom he had absolutely nothing in common.
This was an intense debut album by a very important band that was grossly underestimated. One year later, The Stooges released their masterpiece Fun House after which they were dropped by Elektra Records. But they persevered, broke up, reunited… and the rest is history!
The Stooges’ entire output consisted of only three albums totaling 23 songs (and a couple of singles) plus the historic live bootleg, Metallic KO partially documenting their notorious final performance. Yet this body of work has impacted and permeated five decades and several generations… so far.
The Stooges’ music is now considered cool and has been featured in advertisements.
It would really be impressive if Revlon used “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell”
to sell their age-defying makeup!
After several Stooges reunion tours spanning 15 years (the first one in 2003 at Coachella) and the passing of the majority of the band’s members. Iggy still keeps on ticking at age 72 playing Stooges songs to younger audiences and receiving ecstatic glowing reviews. Just before his April birthday gig in Australia a journalist stated..
“He’s 71 and he’ll make you feel like a slug!”
A review of Iggy’s recent Mad Cool festival performance in Spain (July 2019) reads,
“With barely a pause after the last note fades Iggy shouts, “NO FUN MOTHERFUCKER!” and our beloved Idiot takes us back to 1969 and his debut album. The pounding nonchalance is as exhilarative as it ever was – Iggy is timeless.
– Nick Rice, The Digital Fix
Iggy’s 1977 tribute song to his bandmates prefaced their first reunion by 26 years. It was called ‘Dum Dum Boys’. David Bowie had the idea that Iggy should talk about the Stooges and suggested the song title (named after the dumdum bullet). On his ode to the Stooges, Iggy pines, ‘Where are you now when I need your noise?’ It was inevitable that the surviving members would reunite decades later. How joyous it was in 2003 when the Asheton brothers , and later (after the Ashetons passed away) James Williamson, toured with Iggy again as The Stooges to wild accolades. We will ALWAYS need their noise!
“I didn’t want to just be posed there, because we were a band that moved. So I got the other guys on the floor all huddled together, and I decided that I’d jump up over them like Evel Knievel going over the fountain at Caesars – and just like Evel, I crashed down on Scottie [drummer Scott Asheton, the guy in the middle and went face first into the cement floor. Scottie was always cool about those things, ‘cos I crashed into him a lot over the years. So I went to the hospital to get stitched up and came back the next day.”
Photo: Joel Brodsky
Also see my story about The Stooges’ album Fun House
The flying leap
Photo: Joel Brodsky: