Loose

Some pictures just demand having some words attached to them, a song added and then being shared online. This picture of The Stooges on some swings in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1969 is one such picture. It looks like it’s autumn ’69, the leaves have fallen and there’s a chill in the air. Iggy, Ron, Dave and Scott are at the playground in their leather jackets, hair grown out, Iggy in impractical white trousers and shoes. It’s the end of the year and the end of the decade, a decade which began with sunshine and optimism, John F. Kennedy, The Everley Brothers, Jim Reeves and surfing songs and ended with Richard Nixon, Vietnam, Altamont, Charles Manson and The Stooges.

In the middle of the following year The Stooges would release Funhouse, a perfect distillation of voice, guitar, bass, drums and raw repetition, machine like riffs and stripped down simplicity. In the studio they pulled out all of the wall coverings, all the baffles and carpets, got rid of the screens that separate the musicians from each other. They set up the kit close together as if to play as they would at a gig. Iggy would record his vocals holding the microphone in his hands as if singing live to an audience, no pop shield or mic stand. He’d gave the band their cue, his vocals leading the songs. They were drilled. On the album’s song named for the new decade they added the free jazz skronk of saxophonist Steve Mackey.

1970 (Take 1)

The sound of The Stooges on Funhouse is the very essence of punk rock, the primordial swamp from which everything else eventually crawled, a sound that by the end of the century could sell out stadiums and soundtrack adverts on TV. At the tail end of the 60s however it was music for freaks and weirdos, made with single minded obsession by a group of musicians who almost everyone else derided and dismissed. The Funhouse box set contains the entire session, every take of every song, each barely distinguishable from the next.

Loose (Take 4)

1969

A double celebration for us today, two parties, both with their origins in November 1969. The magazine covers above all date from fifty years ago- Cosmopolitan asking whether you’d rather be his wife or his mistress, Vogue leading with Twiggy, winter fashion and beauty and tarot cards for good measure and Popular Science with jet-packs.

This afternoon we are at a party for my parent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, who got married fifty years ago yesterday. I came along in May 1970- it was quite late on when I worked out the maths on that. Then tonight we are at a friend’s 50th birthday party- his birthday was yesterday as well so he was born as my Mum and Dad tied the knot. Here we all are half a century later.

1969 in song gives so many opportunities but I’m going for this from The Stooges, the high octane, electrifying, wild, end of the decade brilliance that opens their debut album. Ron Asheton’s wah wah guitar intro and the single hammer bang drum lead in Iggy’s ‘well alright’ and then the group swing in bludgeoning the speakers, Iggy reeling off his stupidly clever lyrics about being twenty two and having nothing to do- meanwhile Vietnam burns and tears the USA in two, Nixon is in the White House, the FBI declares war on the Black Panther Party, Northern Ireland simmers with discontent, men walk on the moon, the hippie tribes gather at Woodstock and the Isle of Wight, the Stonewall riots mark the birth of the gay rights movement, the Manson Family commit mass murder, a coup in Libya brings Gaddafi to power, Brian Jones drowns at Pooh Corner, William Calley is charged with murder following the massacre at My Lai, Scooby Doo, Monty Python, Sesame Street and The Clangers all debut, the USA and USSR meet to talk about nuclear weapon reductions and the year ends with Rolf Harris at the top of the UK charts. ‘Oh my and a boo hoo’.

1969

The press didn’t take to The Stooges debut album. Rolling Stone said it was ‘loud, boring, tasteless, unimaginative and childish’. The Village Voice called it was ‘stupid-rock’. In retrospect however those criticisms (apart from the bit about it being boring which it clearly isn’t) make it sound utterly perfect.

Well It’s Not For A Price

I assumed 2016’s Post Pop Depression was Iggy’s last album- it had a finality about it, it seemed to say over and out. But no, Iggy’s back. Like 1999’s Avenue B and the pair of French inspired albums he did, this current single dials the rock back and shows a more contemplative, introspective sound.

James Bond is from Free, out in September, with contributions from jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas, singer Faith Vern and lyrics from Sarah Lipstate, Iggy letting others lead the way and him just happy to swim along with them. Last year’s Teatime Dub Encounters e.p. with Underworld and now this show Jim/Iggy is still engaged, still inspired and still cutting it.

Love

February 14th, Valentine’s Day. St Valentine, a 3rd century saint, has been associated with the traditions of courtly love since the Middle Ages. As a priest in the Roman Empire who ministered to Christians during the period of their persecution he was caught and killed, martyred on 14th February 269 AD. According to a version of his death  when he was arrested the Prefect of Rome ordered that he be either beaten to death with clubs or beheaded. But if you think he had it bad, consider this- I’m in charge of a Year 7 Valentine’s disco tonight.

Love is the number one topic as the subject for songs and writers. As Joe Strummer said ‘subject covered, case closed, don’t you think?’ A cursory search of my hard drive throws up hundreds with love in the title. Here’s two for Valentine’s Day, both ace in different ways.

Veteran disco remix King Tom Moulton took Diana’ Ross’ 1976 hit Love Hangover and extended it for seventeen sumptuous minutes, all strings and breathy vocals until a shift in tempo at around six minutes. A song in a version that just has to be surrendered to.

Love Hangover (Unreleased Tom Moulton Mix)

In June 1977 Iggy Pop was recording Lust For Life with Bowie in West Berlin. To change things around a bit the players all swapped roles, guitarist Ricky Gardiner sitting in on the drums, drummer Hunt Sales took brother Tony’s bass and and Tony took the guitar. Carlos Alomar joined in with Bowie on organ. Iggy improvised a vocal, a song to the girl. It’s got a weird groove and is a wonderful way to close the album.

Fall In Love With Me

A Modern Guy

I wrote a piece about Iggy Pop for JC at The Vinyl Villain, putting together an imaginary compilation album from Iggy’s wildly inconsistent solo career. You can read it here if you’re a fan. I put in 10 Iggy songs, starting with the Bowie and Berlin pairing of The Idiot and Lust For Life and pogoing through his back catalogue ending up at 2016’s Post Pop Depression, plus a bonus song to represent his many guest vocal spots. I’m still getting loads out of his collaboration with Underworld, the Teatime Dub Encounters ep released this summer, and I think it will come to be seen as a late-Iggy triumph and part of me regrets not including a song from it on the ICA. I left off anything from his 1975 album Kill City, written and recorded with ex-Stooge James Williamson and eventually released in 1977. Kill City was recorded while Iggy was resident in hospital going through treatment for heroin addiction. He was allowed out at weekends to record his vocals. These are not the ideal circumstances to make great records. The title track is a decent mid-70s rocker but I still think I was right to leave it off the final line up of my compilation.

Kill City

Two other songs that didn’t make the cut and were mentioned by people in the comments thread are this pair- the first, a really well sung love song from Iggy’s 1990 album Brick By Brick, a duet with Kate Pierson. Iggy said Candy was the only good pop song he’d ever written and as if to prove him right it was the only single of his to reach the US top 40.

My bonus track was Iggy’s guest vocal on Death In Vegas’ Aisha in 1999. Since then Iggy has spread his voice over various songs by other people, including Aggrophobe, a song by Manchester group PINS from last year (the video was filmed in Gullivers, a bar on Oldham Street in town and is probably NSFW, unless you happen to work in a bar or stripclub).

 

Repo Man

I’ve had three different Iggy Pop encounters in the last week- the recent Teatime Dub Encounters ep with Underworld was the first, followed by watching a documentary I’d taped before going on holiday, the film American Valhalla, which records the making of the Post Pop Depression album with Josh Homme and subsequent tour. Then somebody, somewhere, posted a clip from the 1984 film Repo Man.

I’d already been writing an Iggy Pop solo Imaginary Compilation Album for JC at The Vinyl Villain (it’s only being written in my head at the moment but may make it to type at some point along with the almost finished Primal Scream ICA, a 2nd Factory Records one to go with the one JC wrote and a Spacemen 3 one which is still very sketchy). An Iggy Pop solo ICA is confusing. In many ways you’d just decide to cherry pick five songs from The Idiot and five from Lust For Life and be done with it but it seems remiss to not include songs from his wider back catalogue, not least one from Post Pop Depression. I’m working on it.

Repo Man is great little film, an Alex Cox punk rock/science fiction adventure starring Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez. The soundtrack is wall to wall US 80s punk- The Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag et al and the title track from Iggy. Iggy was in a bad way in 1984 (and looking back he had a pretty poor 80s musically). Alex Cox asked Iggy to do the title track and Iggy put together a punk band at short notice, comprising ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones and Blondie’s rhythm section. The engineer claims that Iggy and the band threw the song together in the studio 20 minutes before recording it, did two takes and then Iggy said ‘Well, I think that’s good enough unless someone has a problem with it’. Repo Man is two minutes of hard riffing with a decent Iggy vocal and some stream-of-consciousness stuff about living in Los Angeles, better by far than much of what he put out in the 80s. Functional 1980s L.A. punk rock maybe but good enough unless anyone has a problem with it.

Repo Man

Smoking On The Airplane

Iggy Pop and Underworld- I was unsure until I heard it. My initial reaction on reading about it was that the guest Iggy Pop vocal has become a cliche, his instantly recognisable voice a short cut to rock ‘n’ roll for others, some vicarious Stooginess. But this collaboration, a four track e.p. between Iggy and Underworld called Teatime Dub Encounters is great, recorded on the hoof in a hotel room between other projects. In this track, Bells And Circles, Iggy describes taking a gram of coke on an airplane in the 1970s while flying to New York, the loss of the stewardess’s phone number and resulting effects of the consumption, the loss of being able to smoke on aircraft and the state of liberal democracy. Rick Smith’s beats and techno rushes are as good as any he’s put together this decade and when Karl Hyde’s backing vocals come in it becomes extra exhilarating.

Jukebox Babe

My love of San Francisco drone hippy-punks Moon Duo is well documented. They have a new 12″ out today, a pair of covers. One of them is a version of No Fun by The Stooges that they worked up when appearing on 6 Music for Iggy’s 70th birthday (and it gives me an excuse to use this picture of Iggy a friend shared on social media recently). The other is a cover of Alan Vega’s 1981 single Jukebox Babe, an exercise in repetition and reverb that will take some beating. Both were recorded/produced by Sonic Boom, who knows a thing or two about repetition.

Five Foot One

At the end of the 1970s Iggy released his fourth solo album, New Values. His solo albums from this point on have a bad reputation- a pile up of major label issues, poor or inappropriate backing bands and/or producers and lifestyle choices. And drugs. New Values survives this slew of rotten records, partly because of the presence of former Stooges James Williamson and Scott Thurston on production and guitar, and partly because there are some good songs on it. It’s a bit new wave in places, an attempt by Arista to shift some units (which failed, it charted at number 180). Let’s be frank- it’s not the equivalent of The Stooges albums and it’s not the equal of his Bowie/Berlin albums but New Values sounds good. The title track, The Endless Sea, I’m Bored (‘I’m the chairman of the bored’) all stand out. And this one.

Five Foot One

Iggy takes his height and turns it into a strutting virtue, over squally guitar and bass and spare, rattly 1979 drums. The opening two verses set out Iggy’s way of looking at the world…

‘I’m only five foot one
I got a pain in my neck
I’m looking up in the city
What the hell, what the heck

I stare at the concrete
The girders eye high
The steel’s above me
There’s love in my eyes’

…and the chorus concludes…

‘And I’m doing the things
A five foot one man can do’

There’s a branching off into…

‘And I wish life could be
Swedish magazines’

Iggy doesn’t specify which Swedish magazines- it could be the Ikea catalogue but I suspect he was referring to more adult publications. More five foot one man perspective follows…

‘I’m only five foot one
I got a pain in my heart
All the night I’m working
In the amusement park

With a bottle of aspirin
A sack full of jokes
I wish I could go home
With all the big folks’

Iggy finishes, aged 32, with the conclusion ‘I won’t grow anymore’ and sings it like he wouldn’t want any more height even if it was offered to him.

While writing this post I discovered that there was a video made to promote it. He takes his shirt off in it. No surprises there. But the video and comments led me to some fact checking and the internet seems to be pretty sure that Iggy isn’t five foot one, he is in fact five foot seven (171 cm) which is (according to a celebrity height comparison website) an inch shorter than the average celebrity (2-3 inches shorter than both Bowie and Lou Reed). So Iggy has reduced his height by 6 inches for the authorial purposes of this song, identifying as a shorter man than he actually is.

I don’t know where he put those missing 6 inches.

See That Cat?

Fun House is the most conceptually perfect garage rock album. Side 1 has four songs built around stripped back repetition- repetitive guitar riffs, metronomic drums, reductive lyrics/vocals- recorded live in the studio and as electric and alive as any band has ever been. Down On The Street, Loose, TV Eye, Dirt. Iggy and the 3 Stooges absolutely on it. Side 2 is a little wilder- 1970, Fun House and L.A. Blues bring in a looser feel and Steve Mackay’s punk rock saxophone. If there is a better recording and expression of being in a garage band than these 7 songs, I’ve yet to hear it.

From the Fun House boxed set, The Complete Fun House Sessions, this is the first take of TV Eye, opening with a run around the drum kit, some studio chatter, Iggy introducing the song and then the holler of ‘Looorrd!’. According to Kathy Ashton, younger sister of the Ashton brothers Ron and Scott (guitar and drums respectively), TV Eye stood for Twat Vibe, slang among her and her friends to signal a man who was leering at them. Iggy took this and turned it into a song.

TV Eye (1st Take)