I am a strong believer in music coming to the listener, rather than the individual seeking out the music.
My personal tastes have shipped and shaped over the decades. I’m now at an age that I should be appreciating Dylan, Neil Young, and Fleetwood Mac, but thank Buddha that’s never occurred.
Conversely, I am these days an aficionado of more robust, deranged, and frankly unloveable sounds than in my youth, when tweedom and indie ruled. I listened to Can in my mid-20s but couldn’t stomach them. But, now ... I understand.
Many years ago I bought The Stooges’ second album, Fun House, on CD at the same time as I got (the debut) The Stooges. But the gnarly, snarly nature of Fun House just didn’t resonate with me – the songs were too long and there wasn’t an ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, so I ended up giving it away. Sacrilege, I know.
I now have this bastard on vinyl and I’ve played it a lot over the past year. It’s got to me.
It kicks into action with ‘Down On The Street’, a blistering, bruising face-off with the devil in which Iggy Pop hollers words that skimp on the thinking and focus on the stinking: “Down on the street where the faces shine/ Floatin' around, I'm a real low mind/ See a pretty thing/ Ain't no wall/ See a pretty thing/ It ain't no wall.”
It’s the riffs that matter here and they are ear-bleedingly brilliant, amounting to a near four-minute battering of the senses.
‘Loose’ is a true rock’n’roll song; a hark back to the debut classic, while retaining a connection to their soul brothers, MC5. It has a brief but memorable chorus: “I’ll stick it deep inside/ I’ll stick it deep inside/ Cause I’m loose.” Make of that what you will.
While the Stooges were releasing this, David Bowie was in a whole different stratosphere. In 1969 the Londoner released his second solo album, the self-titled David Bowie, which included the radio-friendly ‘Space Oddity’. He appeared on course for a career as an intriguing but slightly kooky singer-songwriter. In late 1970 Bowie’s first bona fide hit album The Man Who Sold The World was issued in America (and six months later in the UK). Bowie had beefed up his sound, but his voice remained fey and there were no comparisons between the soon-to-be-superstar and The Stooges. And yet, in 1976, Bowie and Iggy Pop would unite to work on two Iggy albums released in 1977, and in return the American sang backing vocals on Low in the same year. But back in 1970 it would seem inconceivable that such a team-up could be possible.
Not when you had a track like ‘TV Eye’. The third track on Fun House is a dad-fucking rollercoaster of a four-minute ride. Listening now, with punk having bludgeoned its way through the youth consciousness, it’s impossible to comprehend just how out there this would have sounded at the time, and the rest of the album for that matter. Imagine. In the mid-60s there were The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Small Faces and Hendrix, to name just a few. All pushed the envelope in some way or another but musically the bass levels were kept at modest levels. That all changed in 1969 when MC5 thrashed away to ‘Kick Out The Jams’ and The Stooges gifted the world ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, the ultimate punk song in a non-punk era.
Then there’s ‘Dirt’, which is slow, bluesy and meandering. It’s almost a dirge, almost a pop song; in a way it’s The Stooges lowering the pace, but the grungy, existential guitars and discordant drums take it elsewhere.Flip over to ‘1970’, a natural successor to ‘1969’ from the debut. Such a shame there was no Stooges album in 1971, what could they have done there? Both songs have a tribal hypnotic rhythm that repeats to the point of mild torture, but the newer track is more frantic.
The opening line is a potent one: “Out of my mind on Saturday night/ Ninteen-seventy rollin' in sight/ Radio burnin' up above/ Beautiful baby, feed my love all night.”
The title track is the longest, at just under eight minutes, but well worth the effort. Steve Mackay’s saxophone adds to the raucous, late-night-jam feel.But this is tame sat alongside (or chronologically just before) the album closer ‘L.A. Blues’, a totally chaotic blitz that takes some stiff drinks before being listenable for its entirety. It’s registered as an instrumental because Iggy just shouts and screams like some sort of rabid wolf. It has to have been one of the first truly out there sonic cacophonies of noise that today would be described as experimental. It’s like watching a car crash video: you are appalled but can’t take your eyes away.
Which in a way is apt description of the experience of listening to the entire album.
The Stooges crashed and burned thereafter. Drugs and more drugs didn’t do them any favours; there was one more album*, Raw Power, and the live compilation Metallic K.O. which heralded new tracks such as ‘Rich Bitch’, which would have made for a phenomenal mid-70s album, but sadly those tracks only exist only in non-produced form.
(*Two inferior post-millennium albums notwithstanding - Ed)