Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
It’s no secret that I’ve never been much of a punk rock fan. I do enjoy certain punk artists & albums but I don’t tend to play them too often. The same goes for proto-punk artists like The Stooges, who helped set the groundwork for the punk movement more than half a decade before it became a genre. That changed when I got copies of the 2005 2-CD expanded editions of their first two albums, and I’ve been a fan ever since. In 2014 I wrote a B-Sides The Point post about them which reinvigorated my appreciation of those records, and their debut remains my favorite.
For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.
The debut album, simply titled The Stooges (1969), is an astonishing collection of songs that combines elements of ‘60s hard rock (like Ron Asheton’s constant use of the wah-wah pedal) with an aggressive approach that’s equal parts Lou Reed streetwise poetry and DIY punk rock. Although none of the musicians would be considered virtuosos by any stretch of the imagination, that didn’t stop them from breaking boundaries with music & lyrics that are somehow stupid & brilliant at the same time. It’s especially impressive considering that none of them were older than 22. This was the only album where their frontman was credited as “Iggy Stooge.” Musically speaking, they obviously didn’t care about following any rules, and the choice of John Cale as producer was a wise one since few people have broken the rules of rock & roll more than the viola-wielding Welshman. For some reason his original mixes were rejected by the band and their label (Elektra Records), so the album was mixed by Iggy with Elektra president Jac Holzman. Four of Cale’s mixes are included on the 2-CD version and they’re not drastically different from the final product. If anything they might be a little more muted & claustrophobic, but they don’t distract from the power of the music. The other bonus tracks are alternate or expanded versions, none of them surpassing the album versions. With eight songs in less than 35 minutes, The Stooges packs a punch and invites multiple spins. That brevity is welcome, and something that would continue on subsequent releases. Now it’s time to discuss the highlights of the album.
♪ “1969” – Wah-wah guitar and a Bo Diddley beat initially make this sound like it could be any garage band, but Ron’s searing guitar work (as much about tone as the actual notes he’s playing) and Iggy’s snarled lyrics (“It’s another year for me and you, another year with nothing to do”) make it sound unlike any of their contemporaries.
♪ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” – A fuzzed-out hard rock song that’s also a template for punk acts to follow. The jingling bells add a touch of lightness while the repetitive music is mesmerizing, making you focus on Iggy’s voice. I never realized before that this is really a love song: “And now I’m ready to feel your hand, and lose my heart on the burning sands.”
♪ “We Will Fall” – Some listeners might be turned off by this 10+ minute long Indian-influenced drone with chanted group vocals, but it’s a key song for me. I can clearly hear a Doors influence (especially Iggy’s Jim Morrison-esque vocals) but it has its own distinct feel. I consider it a psychedelic masterpiece, and I love the wah-wah flourishes throughout the song, the slow intensity of the music, and Cale’s viola added at the end.
♪ “No Fun” – Possibly the best-known song from this album; a stomping rocker with a distorted fuzzy guitar riff and a great vocal delivery (“No fun…my babe…no fun”). The simple arrangement is very effective.
Other Notable Tracks:
* “Ann” – A slow, almost dirge-like ballad with everyone showing restraint until the biting lead guitar through the final minute. I wonder if it’s about a woman or the Michigan city where they came from, Ann Arbor (“You took my arm and you broke my will, you made me shiver with a real thrill”).
* “Not Right” – A bright, swinging rocker with a rumbling bass line and killer guitar tone. I also like the cool stop-start pattern in the intro.
* “Little Doll” – A rumbling bass intro gives way to a splashy, tom-and-cymbal-heavy groove with more wah-wah guitar. It also features one of Iggy’s strongest performances: “You’re the one who makes me sing, bring happiness & everything.”
I know there are many passionate Stooges fans who prefer the albums that followed, but is there anyone out there like me who loves this one the most? Also, I’ve never heard either of their post-reunion releases. Are they worth a listen?