Iggy Pop - The Idiot (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Iggy Pop

The Idiot (1977)


It’s not most rock and roll stories. His group had disbanded and after a brief stint in a mental hospital, lead singer of Detroit punk rock group The Stooges teamed up with David Bowie in Europe to release his first solo album.

Recorded in 1976, Iggy Pop’s solo debut found the singer playing in David Bowie’s toy land. Bowie, looking for a reinvention himself, used Pop for experimentation and would later refer to Pop as his willing guinea pig. The Idiot wasn’t released until March of ’77, after the January release of Bowie’s Low. Although much of The Idiot was recorded prior to Low, it couldn’t look like Bowie had borrowed ideas from Pop. However, The Idiot is largely credited as the beginning of Bowie’s Berlin phase.

Iggy Pop was in a dark place before these sessions with Bowie. The drugs were out of control plus the aforementioned Stooges split and mental hospital trip. Bowie and Pop tried to create a safe haven where they could both be productive and expunge their demons. The results were significant for both artists’ careers. Bowie wrote much of the music while Pop handled lyrics. 

The Idiot was filled with all sorts of unique sounding gems. “Nightclubbing” supposedly took Pop ten minutes to pen lyrically, as challenged by Bowie. Bowie would then use this technique on his next album. On “China Girl” Pop howled, “It’s in the whiiiiiites of their eyes,” with a passion rarely heard on The Idiot. Many of the songs utilized a more monotonous Pop including “Funtime,” contrasting the actual idea of a good time. “Tiny Girls,” the darkest song on the album, opened with Pop confessing, “Well the day begins, you don’t want to live,” and closed on one hell of a sax solo. Pop also reflected on his past life. The eight-plus minute closer “Mass Production” paid tribute to Detroit and the city’s influence on his career, over a repetitive, eerie bass line. “Dum Dum Boys” recounted Pop’s days in the Stooges and what a perfect union they had formed. “Without the Dum Dum Boys, I can’t seem to speak the language,” Pop sang. For better or worse, he now had Bowie.

The Idiot remained a cult favorite. While not a big seller, moments have been permanently engrained in the pop culture landscape. “Nightclubbing” famously lent its electronic drum programming to Nine Inch Nails’s “Closer” and was prominently featured in the film Trainspotting. “China Girl” became a huge hit for David Bowie years later on his best selling album. (Bowie also reworked “Sister Midnight” under the name "Red Money" for himself as well.) And, rather infamously, The Idiot was the last record Ian Curtis played before he hung himself.

Many have said that The Idiot is more respected than liked. It has also been criticized as a poor depiction of Pop’s lengthy solo career, though it may be the reason he has one. Follow up Lust For Life would eventually go gold in the UK and Bowie’s version of “China Girl” would hit #2 on the UK Singles chart. But no one can deny the influence The Idiot has had on the industrial and post-punk communities. Pop would change his sound many more times over the years, but The Idiot remains a standout.