Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Iggy Pop

Born James Osterberg in Michigan, and began his musical caerer at High School as a drummer for local band The Iguanas.  His tenure in The Iguanas provided his first appearance on record - the self-financed cover version of Bo Diddley's "Mona".

He left The Iguanas in 1966 and joined another local band, The Prime Movers, who re-christened him Iggy.  His time in The Prime Movers was relatively brief, and Iggy quit University and moved to Chicago, continuing to play drums in various Blues bands and bars.
Returning to Detroit, and now out front rather than behind the drumkit, he formed Psychedelic Stooges.  The desired sound of this new band was an amalgam of his beloved Blues with the harder sound of like fellow Detroit residents MC5 and The Doors.

The Psychedelic Stooges (soon to jettison the 'Psychedelic' moniker) comprised Iggy, Ron Asheton (Guitar), Dave Alexaner (Bass) and Scott Asheton (Drums)...

Inspired by The Doors, and Jim Morrison's stage presence. Iggy began to develop his own on stage persona - a combination of Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger and James Brown, with a healthy dollop of antagonism, theatrics and stage diving thrown in.

When Elektra Records visited Detroit intent on signing the MC5, guitarist Wayne Kramer said to Danny Fields (Elektra A&R): "If you like us, you'd love The Stooges".
Kramer was right, Danny Fields did indeed love The Stooges, and signed up both bands.

The Stooges released two albums for Elektra.
Neither sold in huge numbers which, with hindsight, is a surprise considering the esteem and cited influence they now hold.
The debut album (entitled simply 'The Stooges') released in 1969 was originally intended to be a document of the best tracks in their stage set.  However, Elektra rejected the original 5 track version, and the band returned to the studio to create some extra tracks.
The 5 core tracks were: "I Wanna Be Your Dog", "No Fun", "1969", "Ann" and "We Will Fall".  These were augmented by "Real Cool Time", "Not Right" and "Little Doll" quickly written, virtually sticking to a template and played and recorded in one hit in the studio.
Why have I mentioned all 8 tracks from the album?
Purely because there is no one true stand out above all others - all are as vital to the experience as each other.  Is this a damn near perfect album?  Well, it may not be to everyone's taste, but there are no duffers here.
The 8 song album was now accepted by Elektra and released to the US public.  Unfortunately, there were few takers.

Both the band and the record company were undaunted by this.  Live shows continued, reputations enhanced, and the band booked into the studio for work on their next album.
'Fun House' (1970) pushed on from the raw debut.  The prime difference here is that whilst the production on the debut sort of cleaned and (arguably) sanitised The Stooges live sound, the production here was almost a case of "turn everything up and play loud".
The bands confidence and playing ability is noticeably improved, even though the studio surroundings were not exactly comfortable (if anything, they were too comfortable, until they ripped the innards out and performed side by side in a live state with instruments bleeding into one another).
Sometimes sounding like a descent into madness, or the sound of a nervous breakdown (this is meant as a "good thing").
There is one less track here, but both the title track "Fun House" and "Dirt" break the 7 minute barrier.
There is a mad squwaking sax popping up on tracks which just adds to the mayhem, but again, like the first album, the mixture of danger and excitement remains.
The closing track "LA Blues" is a combination of avant-garde sound collage, a drunken jam and Primal Scream therapy.  It is in effect 4 and a half minutes of screaming over feedback, but is oddly memorable and not one that you feel compelled to skip.
The hopes of both the band and the record company were once again dashed as the album failed to sell.

The usual cocktail of drugs and booze was taking hold of the band, ultimately leading to the sacking of Dave Alexander.  He was replaced by Jimmy Recca, and James Williamson turned up too on second guitar fattening the bands sound.

By mid 1971 - the drugs and booze had firmly taken hold, nothing new was being recorded, and the band missing live dates.  This unreliability, and the ongoing commercial failure led to the band being dropped by Elektra, and then splitting up.

After the demise of The Stooges, and obviously at a loose end, Iggy was considered as a replacement for his original influence Jim Morrison in a re-constituted Doors.
Various reasons exist for why this never happened, ranging from Iggy not feeling he was capable or even worthy of replacing Morrison, he tried out but wasn't up to the job, or the very simplistic (and ambiguous) "Plans fell through".

Iggy met David Bowie at Maxs Kansas City in New York and this association and virtually instant friendship resulted in Iggy signing to Bowies Mainman Management company.  A new recording contract was arranged with CBS, and soon after Pop and Williamson flew to London to commence recording a new album (with David Bowie in the producers chair).

It is generally accepted that the original model/inspiration for Ziggy Stardust was Vince Taylor, but there were two other characters in Bowie's mind in the formation of this alter ego.
One was Lou Reed, and the other was Iggy Pop - both from commercially unsuccessful bands, not always critically hailed, but had a firm following.
By late 72, Bowie was working to rescue/re-calibrate both performers acting as producer for Lou Reed's 'Transformer' and Iggy's 'Raw Power'?

Iggy and James Williamson set to work on a new batch of songs, whilst trawling round for a rhythm section.  When they couldn't find anyone suitable (or available?), a message was sent to the Asheton Brothers (did Iggy say: "We're putting the band back together"?).
The final incarnation of The Stooges was re-convened - the main change in the team was Ron Asheton switching to bass.

'Raw Power' opens with the needles flying into the red, feedback and instruments bleeding all over the place.  The pace and energy of this album never subsides - only "Gimme Danger" really veers from the template, sounding almost like a Wild West epic, but it still has the same edge.  The album lives up to its name by being both Raw and Powerful.
Songs like "Search And Destroy" and "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell" are the essence of what has been called "proto-punk" (not a title or genre I particularly like to use, but it does the job).  Arguably, this album is more "proto-punk" than the first two as it just feels more relentless.
The prime difference with this album is it actually sold units - OK, not massively more than The Stooges debut in the US, but (possibly as a result of David Bowie's patronage) it did achieve a Top 50 placing in the UK.

Augmenting the band with Scott Thurston on piano, they headed out in tour in support of 'Raw Power'.  Iggy's ever increasing heroin habit, and relationships within the band hung over the tour.  By the time it was completed it, they had been dropped by their record company, sacked and re-instated James Williamson, and were generally falling apart once again.  Some shows on the tour were aborted due to an inability to play properly, or the desire to be on the same stage together.  The last show descended into a mass brawl between band and audience. After this the band split up for the second time.

Descending further into heroin addiction, Iggy took himself to rehab to try and get straight.  One of his few visitors was David Bowie, and in 1976 Iggy was added to the entourage for Bowie's Station To Station tour.

By late 76, David Bowie was decamping to Berlin (via Switzerland), and Iggy followed.  The plan was for them both to beat their narcotic addictions together in the isolation of Berlin.
This continuing support and collaboration resulted in (a) a 3 album deal with RCA, and (b) his 2 most acclaimed, best known, and probably best selling albums 'The Idiot' and 'Lust For Life' (both released in 1977)

'The Idiot' was a mutual collaboration between the two musicians - Iggy had been impressed by Bowie's work ethic seen on the Station To Station Tour, and Bowie was convinced of Iggy's abilities as a songwriter and performer.
Recorded using Bowie's current band, the album comprised 7 Iggy/Bowie compositions, plus 1 with Carlos Alomar.
Whilst the thrash and urgency of The Stooges may not be here, there remains the same tension.  There is a pervading darkness and coldness, a feeling of European-ness (whatever that is?) and a touch of Kraftwerk-ism.  Doubtless the influences and sounds arise from both the recording environment and the personal situations of the songwriters, about the album too.
"Funtime" approaches the swagger of The Stooges (albeit in a "cleaner" restrained manner) and "China Girl" would go on to make Iggy some welcome cash.
The Stooges story is re-visited/re-considered in "Dum Dum Boys" complete with it's insistent guitar riff throughout, and closing with the dark, experimental, almost desolate "Mass Production".

David Bowie and has band went from 'The Idiot' into the recording of 'Low' - taking Iggy along too, he provides backing vocals on "What In The World".

A new band was put together (Ricky Gardiner (Guitar), Tony Sales (Bass), Hunt Sales (Drums)) and The Idiot was toured with assistance from Bowie on piano.
Straight after the tour, they returned to the studio and knocked out 'Lust For Life' in a fortnight.

There is a greater rock & roll swagger to 'Lust For Life' than the previous outing.
The Pop/Bowie collaborations is present on 7 of the 9 tracks, but gone is the brittle, cold, and experimental nature of 'The Idiot'.
This is Iggy letting loose in Stooges-stylee, with David Bowie restraint (does that make sense?).

The album houses two of Iggy's best known songs in the shape of the title track (later to bring him to a new audience (or remind his audience) when used in Trainspotting, and "The Passenger".  "The Passenger" shares a darkness with 'The Idiot' material but is delivered in a more upbeat manner, and another insistent guitar riff (that even I can play).

These two milestone albums gave Iggy an artisitc re-birth and (at last) some proper commercial success.  What next?
For whatever reason, he wanted to end his 3 album deal with RCA quickly so put out a hastily mixed Live album ('TV Eye', released 1978) split the remainder of the advance with Bowie and left Berlin and Bowie to start afresh under his own terms.

He signed to Arista and released 'New Values' in 1979.
Alongside Stooges compadres Jame s Williamson and Scott Thurston, this is a very good album.  Unfortunately, it's not a great album, and suffered the same fate as previous albums in that it just didn't shift units.
Two more albums followed on Arista ('Soldier' (1980) and 'Party' (1981)) but neither did the business, and Iggy was again dropped by his record company.

The 80s weren't really a rare old time for Iggy.
His continuing patronage from David Bowie resulted in a steady(ish) income - "China Girl" was covered on 'Lets Dance', and was a Top 5 single.  'Tonight' contains 5 Iggy/Bowie co-writes, and one more of 'Never Let Me Down'.  This provided Iggy with some form of commercial success, but not in his own name.  He could however take some time out to become an actor - albeit not totally successfully, but he tried.
The 80s albums contain a raft of special guests including  2 Sex Pistols (Glen Mattock & Steve Jones), 2 Blondie members (Chris Stein & Clem Burke), a Rich Kid (Steve New), 2 Guns (or Roses?) (Slash & Duff McKagan) and a B52 (Kate Pierson).
1986s 'Blah Blah Blah' renewed his producer/artist relationship with David Bowie, and finally gave Iggy a Top 10 single in the shape of "Real Wild Child".
The albums of the 90s and 00s were of a similar offering - good to hear that Iggy is still about, but not earth-shattering.
He also "retired" to Florida, played golf, and became something of a celebrity - Car Insurance, Radio shows, TV interviews.

It's fair to say that his last truly great albums came in 1977 ('The Idiot' and 'Lust For Life'), so 2016s 'Post Pop Depression' came as something of a welcome surprise.
It had only taken 30 years, but this was the follow-up that those two high points demanded and/or suggested.

The collaboration with Josh Homme proved fruitful and some of the songs bear a passing resemblance to the Berlin output, with passing nods to both Scott Walker and (the ever present) Bowie.
The album has a focus, a purpose, and is delivered with energy and commitment of old.  You get the felling that the pair laboured over this to make it the best it possibly could be, rather than the feeling from some of the 80s/90s output of "Oh, that'll do").

It's Iggy's name above the door, but this is just as much a band album as a solo album.  And in the shape of Josh Homme, Iggy has found another collaborator that has a similar alchemy.

The recording of the album commenced 2 days after the passing of his friend, supporter and mentor.  So whether by design or coincidence, the influence is noticeable.  There are at least two songs here (probably "Keys To Your Heart" and "Sunday" which may well have been covered had there been a 'Pin Ups Re-Re-Visited' in future years.

There are times when he comes over like a snarling Leonard Cohen against a solid garage-rock bed.  At other, there's a balance of anger, intelligence and eloquence in the lyrics.
If this is to be Iggy's last outing (as has been widely suggested, if not always believed), the closer "Paraguay" is not a bad way to sign off.
And he can rest assured that (in my ears at least) he has salvaged his legacy which may have been lost, or at least sullied, with his ho-hum 80s output.

I Wanna Be Your Dog

Search & Destroy

Lust For Life


1 comment:

  1. Great post, great songs. I admire your stamina! I thought Post Pop Depression was pretty good, but I almost wish Iggy would go the Jarvis route and release a bit more spoken word stuff like the Death In Vegas collaboration Aisha.