Review by Tom Trauma
I’ve lived in Michigan for most of my life, and I’ve been interested in the music coming out of Detroit for as long as I can remember. It probably started with my mother’s love of the Motown sound, especially Diana Ross and The Supremes. (My sister is even named Diana.) From there it became a fascination with and appreciation of The Temptations, The Spinners, Four Tops etc… I still stand in amazement at all the incredible and timeless records made in two tiny houses in the middle of The D.
Motown might be best known for its R&B and soul, but there’s always been something much uglier lurking just below the surface. You can’t talk about proto-punk without talking about Detroit. It might have been born in the art scene of New York, but it came of age with MC5 and The Stooges on the east side of Michigan. The Five and The Stooges never found commercial success, but would go on to have a tremendous impact on so much of the music that followed.
James Newell Osterberg, Jr, better known as Iggy Pop, was born 70 years ago on the west side of the state in a hard scrabble industrial town on Lake Michigan called Muskegon. (Very close to the Trauma clan.) Soon after, his family relocated to the Detroit suburb of Ypsilanti. He was the son of a high school teacher and baseball coach, and seems to have had a wonderful childhood. He started his musical career as a drummer, and cut several records with his band The Iguanas. (This is also where he got the Iggy nickname.)
Inspired by bands like The Sonics, MC5 and The Doors, Pop formed the Psychedelic Stooges along with brothers Ron (guitar) and Scott (drums) Asheton. The Stooges ended up becoming kind of a little brother band to MC5, albeit without the radical politics. In 1968 when Elektra came to sign The Five, they signed Iggy and Co. too. To complete the NY art scene connection, the band’s 1969 self-titled debut album was produced by John Cale of Velvet Underground fame.
My understanding is that The Stooges’ live shows at the time were extremely wild and largely improvised. It was no small feat to record these seven short, coherent songs. (I know there were eight songs. We’ll get to the other one in a minute.) Cale allowed the them to be very raw and live sounding in the studio. You can really feel a young band bursting at the seams with nervous creative energy. The outlier on The Stooges was the ten plus minute, psychedelic “All fall Down”. It felt like their attempt at something like “The End” by The Doors. I’m sure it makes more sense on a heavy dose of LSD.
The other seven songs really laid the foundation for what would become punk. “1969” starts things out with its primal, pulsating rhythm. (Next year’s Fun House would feature “1970”.) “I Wanna Be Your Dog” added and undeniable sexual urgency. “No Fun” and “Real Cool Time” were largely about bored and apathetic youth. It was a theme that the Ramones, Sex Pistols and The Clash would really embrace. “Ann” was ballad of sorts, and was about the same girl as MC5’s “Sister Ann”. (She must have been some girl.) “Not Right” and “Little Doll” finished things off with another aggressive song, and another song about a girl.
Iggy Pop proved to be the prototypical punk frontman, strutting around shirtless and singing in his deep rich baritone. Sometimes his delivery was monotone and indifferent, other times he howled like a rabid dog. The Stoogeseven features a couple of unforgettable primal screams. (It is also claimed that Pop invented stage diving at a show in Detroit.) Ron Asheton’s guitar was fuzzed out and distorted to the brink of feedback. His riffs were simple but also memorable and propulsive. His leads jumped out of the mix and into your face. His brother Scott’s drums were a driving force, not merely a timekeeping mechanism. Together with bassist Dave Alexander, they created a heavy wall of sound a year before Black Sabbath’s first LP. Like most things ahead of their time, this record was far from universally loved. I guess they get the last laugh. Almost 50 years after its original release, The Stooges still sounds vital.
A few years later, the Ramones took The Stooges attitude and musical blueprint and added some melody. This codified punk rock and quickly spread to London and LA, and eventually led us to where we are today. Odds are good that without The Stooges, punk as we know it would not exist. Ron, Scott and Dave are all gone now and Iggy is the unlikely survivor. I finally got to see him for the first time when he was in his late 60’s. He still has more stage presence in his little finger than a dozen modern punk singers. He still oozes sex and danger, even at a ripe old age. For nearly half a century, he’s been earning his title as the Godfather of Punk. It all started with The Stooges, an LP that should be a cornerstone of any respectable punk record collection.
Review by Tom Trauma