Iggy and the Stooges - Raw Power (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Iggy and the Stooges

Raw Power (1973)


By 1973, the Stooges had collapsed in a heap of debt, addiction, and despair. With the band having been shattered, early supporter David Bowie flew Iggy Pop over to England to record his first solo album, along with late period Stooges guitarist, James Williamson. Though, perhaps it was not surprising when Bowie, Iggy, and Williamson could not find an English band with the primal power to back Mr. Osterberg.

So, what else could they do but recruit the only guys that had the uncanny ability to go toe-to-toe with the Igster? The Asheton brothers were flown across the pond (with Ron Asheton, perhaps blasphemously, being moved to bass) and The Stooges were re-born as Iggy and the Stooges.

Recording lasted four weeks, which for the Stooges, was nearly a lifetime, compared to their previous two albums. So, it was no wonder that Raw Power wound up being dramatically different than its two older brothers.

Where The Stooges and Funhouse reveled in electric-blues on steroids- Ron Asheton’s low slinging guitar lines smashing down while Scott Asheton beat the skins like a cave man- Raw Power, musically directed by Williamson, was a sharper creature.

Williamson favored a more metallic, biting edge. Whereas Ron Asheton hammered down, Williamson was more precise and more slashing, foreshadowing the embryonic punk scene and perhaps even giving slight forecast of hardcore punk. But, while Williamson might have sacrificed some of the soul and dread of asheton, he added a vicious aggression- Williamson’s guitar not only dueled with Iggy’s vocals, but it was pushed forward in the mix, forcing you to deal with his ringing chords. A combination of Chuck Berry worship, Detroit proto-punk, and his own ingenuity, Williamson’s lines were both rock in its most classic sense as well as hostile like never before. It would be fair to say that Williamson was attempting to take rock guitar to its absolute limits and it would also be fair to say that he may have achieved his goal.

Most singers would struggle to keep up with Williamson’s powerful blade, but most singers are not Iggy Pop. By '73, Iggy had progressed from the depressed, barely human wretch on Fun House. On that album, Iggy seemed to be hanging on the ledge, being pulled down by his own misery, The Iggy on Raw Power, however, had let the edge go entirely. Where he was writhing, now he was a pure nihilistic fiend. “Search and Destroy” said as much with Iggy on the prowl looking to cause as much damage as he could simply for the sake of causing damage.

“Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell” found him snapping out and striking at a rejected lover, as opposed to the one who was pining on “I wanna be your dog.” Though to be fair, as much as ever before, Iggy was consumed with doig the horizontal tango and “penetration” said as much. Perhaps mist interesting is that Iggy somewhat changed his vocal style for Raw Power again foreshadowing the burgeoning punk scene. Where he used to pay homage to the early blues and soul singers, pulling his wail from his gut, on Raw Power, Iggy became more of a crazed animal – barking and howling in rapid staccato. He would drop down into a grainy, grizzled tone before rising back up with a hot blooded yelp. “OOOOwwww” he yelled on Death Trip before contemplating his own end, not with regret, but with a morbid excitement.

While the Asheton brothers had been pushed into the background somewhat by management, their contributions were essential to the album’s success. Both Iggy and Williamson snapped and jerked across the album, skittering from one spot to the next in a treble frenzy. Meanwhile, the Ashetons did what they did best- low, heavy, hard riffage. They locked together like only brothers can, creating a massive, pounding bed of music that added the dread and menace to the music, making Iggy’s snarl that much more threatening and Williamson’s slashing that much nastier. Few bands have ever locked together like the four members did on this album.

The mix of Raw Power has been a thing of debate since the albums very inception. Williamson and Bowie famously clashed over album strategy during recording. Iggy’s first attempt at mixing, which resulted in the Rough Power demo album, resulted in a bizarre amateurish mix that put vocals on one channel and everything else on the other.

To rescue the mix, Bowie reportedly decamped into a studio for a single day and mixed the album on equipment that was outdated even in 1973. Bowie’s mix has been criticized for sapping the power from the band and not doing justice to their crackling, huge live sound. So, in 1996, Iggy himself re-mixed the album. that mix, too, was troubled, with Iggy putting in every scrap of material recorded for the album, resulting in a very crowded mix, and also maxing out the volume, resulting in what some have called “the loudest album ever.” And that’s not loud in the “good” way, but rather loud in the “distorted and exhausting to listen to” way.

Looking back now, it seems the Bowie mix received undue criticism- so much so that it became the “cannon” mix of the album for the 2010 reissue. Did Bowie lose the pure, hyper energy and brutish sound of the Stooges live? Well, perhaps. There’s no way to tell. But, Bowie did capture the unique, possessed holler of Mr. Pop. He did capture the unrelenting, but snappy metallic sound of Williamson. And most importantly, he stacked those two assaults against the congealed sound-bed of the Asheton brothers resulting in a mix that was heavy and frenzied at the same time- that’s no easy task.

In a way, you could say ALL rock bands have been chasing the high of Raw Power since it was released- the pure and total embodiment of violent rock and roll. You can go back and forth on whether any subsequent band ever did rival this album. But, the fact that there’s no decisive winner in that argument is all testimony that Raw Power needs.

Unquestionably, one of the greatest albums ever. Period.