We’d all like to forget the music icons who have sold out in certain recent TV commercials. Perhaps the bitterest pill to swallow there was Iggy Pop appearing in a car insurance ad, because along with similar commercial whore John Lydon they embodied all that was raw, primitive and anti-Establishment about the punk and alternative scene. So mind-numbing were the recent telly travesties that I almost entirely forgot about The Stooges and their pioneering forays into punk, garage rock and alternative, which forged the path for all modern rockers.
Much like MC5, The Stooges are seen as innovators in their field, but unlike MC5 there’s a lot less wandering off the beaten musical track. With some notable exceptions, this debut album is an irresistible fusion of proto-punk and Doors-like forays into the psychedelic, and nowhere near radio-friendly (a good sign, I am sure).
1969 kicks off the album with the basic formula: pick three or so chords you can play, do so with great vigour, have Iggy strut around and channel a touch of the Stones as MC5 have done, complete with peppy drums but with a touch more distortion and wah-wah on the guitars. The lyrics are throwaway, but the sound is good old fashioned rock. This doesn’t last, though, as I Wanna Be Your Dog makes use of slightly more instruments than the average punk band would be comfortable using. (I doubt The Ramones were overly fond of sleigh bells.) With a single piano note hammering away in the background and all of three notes on the guitar, it’s one of the more covered songs of the Stooges’ repertoire, and for good reason.
We Will Fall is to the Stooges what Starship was to MC5 on their debut album, the token prog-like attempt. Over ten minutes long, with droning sitar-like strings and mystical nonsense chanting over lyrics detailing a night of passion in a hotel, it’s something of a radical departure from the rest of the album, but unlike Starship it’s coherent in its way, and thus more likeable. Although it might possibly be more of an awe-inspiring track if large quantities of drugs and alcohol were ingested.
Back to non-prog on No Fun, with all of two chords for most of the song, shot through with Iggy Pop’s now indifferent, now shrieking vocals, and one of my favourites. Just over two minutes of Real Cool Time Tonight sails past, and while it’s hard to imagine how it’s even possible, this piece manages an average of a single guitar chord, which heartens almost any would-be punk musician.
Ann slows matters down somewhat, and it’s the closest thing to a ballad here. Iggy’s voice sounds almost vulnerable, until the sudden guitar-filled crescendo where it’s back to the trademark yelling. Some tight solo guitar work on Not Right adds to the already-effective wall of chords and makes another standout track; while Little Doll’s headphone-shatteringly buzzy bass and harsh jarring guitars bring The Stooges to a fitting end.
On balance I’d say that I was fonder of this album than MC5’s, even discounting the terrible commercial sacrilege of recent months, simply because it’s more consistently rocky, contains a little less show-offery, and comes across as the more accessible record. Worth investing in, in short.