RAW POWER

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Today I talk about the making of Iggy and the Stooges seminal “Raw Power” LP.

The seeds of Raw Power were sown when Iggy first met James Williamson who played him the riff that later became “Penetration”.   In late 1970 James joins the Stooges.

In 1971 Iggy meets David Bowie who was a big Stooges fan. In 1972 David signs Iggy to Mainman and brings him over to England.  Iggy was not impressed by the musos he met in England and soon he was joined by James.  Despite being very different characters Iggy and James roomed together in London and this strengthened them as a song writing team.

Once James was in the fold the next step was to bring out the Ashton brothers Scott on drums and Ron on bass. 

Then they started writing and rehearsing.  Amongst other things the use of the drug heroin affected the music. 

James brought in the riff for “Search and Destroy” which was then arranged into a song.  Iggy wrote the lyrics in Kensington Gardens.  The lyrics use the Vietnam War as a metaphor for the attitude and feelings of the band and its audience.  I have read that Iggy sang the song in a higher register than usual.  Was the song pitch altered?  I am curious as that is what happened on some of the other Bowie related recordings including Lou Reed’s Walk on The Wild Side.

Which brings me to Bowie who became the albums producer.  Bowie brought an Englishness and artiness to the mix so it became an English as well as American album.  Like a lot of Bowie records of the time including Lou Reed’s Transformer it has a lot of treble in a bid to get airplay.  The Bowie mix was unusual and at first hard to understand but once you understood it, it became thee mix.  This is a controversial issue as there are many mixes but none as interesting as the Bowie one.  The lead guitar and vocals are much higher in the mix than any of the other instruments giving the music a frenetic sound, and thus the prototype punk guitar style and tone was born and became the blueprint for punk guitarists to this day.  The bass is very audible and pumping but it is quite trebly and so in sync with the rhythm guitar that on some songs what you assume to be rhythm guitar is often bass.  Likewise the drums and bass are so tight that the drums appear almost inaudible. To top it off Bowie added the Time Cube effects unit in the mix the cocaine sound.

The second song up Gimme Danger was written in response to the recording company requesting a slow song and a great one this is too, an answer to the Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter.  The guitar is detuned half a step to Eb.  I have read that the main influences on the album were early Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and seeing T. Rex at Wembley a few weeks earlier.  The influence of Led Zep can be heard on some of the heavier songs on the album for example Penetration. 

The remaining six songs are as follows, the glam punk of Raw Power and Shake Appeal, the sleazy blues of I Need Somebody, the swaggering nasty Iggy of Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell, the wild freakouts of Penetration and Death Trip. 

And so on to the cover.  In my opinion the artwork to an album is almost as important as the music itself, it is a summary of the music, a visual representation of the sound.  And what a cover this is.    An amazing front pic of Iggy with silver trousers and platinum hair, pancake makeup and vampire lipstick. Iggy hangs from the mike stand a symbol of decadence and danger.  The picture was taken at the Stooges only UK show which was performed at the Scala Cinema Kings Cross London.  One of the few people in the audience was Johnny Rotten who used the mike stand in the same way in the Sex Pistols 4 years later.  The story behind the makeup was that backstage a girl made up James Williamsons face and Iggy said he would like to have a bit of that as well and so the look was formed and immortalised.  The photographer was Mick Rock who also took seminal pictures of Bowie and the cover pic for Lou Reed’s Transformer. 

To truly appreciate the album you got to listen to the original vinyl version of the Bowie mix from 1973, the latter-day reissues cannot compare.  It is also worth listening to the Rough Power CD on Bomp and the Iguana De Banda ‎– Etiqueta Negra de Lugo bootleg.

“Raw Power” was a one off.  The greatest punk album ever. 

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There’s nothing left alive but a pair of plastic eyes ….

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Gimme Danger was for me a must see.  When I was a teenager in the early seventies there would be occasional snippets in the music press about this shambolic band from America with their crazed front man and chaotic nihilistic live shows. The tales were fascinating and captured my imagination. The Stooges were different and dangerous.  Photos were scarce and where I lived there was absolutely no chance that I would ever see them in the flesh. Distance increased the interest. One could imagine the journalists clicking on their typewriters and faxing their stories to London and then three weeks later we would get the music papers in South Africa. It all seemed very romantic to this young teenager. A postcard from the edge of society and I was intrigued.

The music in the film is of course superb.  It is hard to beat “I wanna be your dog”, “Not Right”, “Funhouse”, “Search and Destroy” and “Gimme Danger” all at max volume. The spirit of the Velvet Underground, avant-garde jazz, James Brown, the Rolling Stones and Bowie all shine through.  Bowie is barely mentioned and mostly in context with manager Tony de Fries who allegedly put the Stooges career on ice. The music industry is not a nice business.

The vintage live footage is stunning and and there are several scenes that I had not seen before. It is great to see the clips in improved best available quality on a large screen at high volume. The footage is truly wild. I was fascinated by how fucked Iggys teeth were in the Cincinnati Festival footage. This sort of clarity is just not noticeable on YouTube or third generation video tape. He looks feral filthy and sweaty, totally primal, untamed.

The story is mainly told in a sit down interview with Iggy. The dialogue is interesting and informative and Iggy is a captivating narrator but it is what lets the film down. It is mainly told from one mans perspective and so it becomes his story. Great black and white pin stripe trousers.

Behind the beautiful portrait on the front cover of Raw Power is a nightmare with no fairy tale ending except for the man on the cover and it took a long time and much injury for him to eventually achieve success. You can’t fault his perseverance which is exceptional. Yet it all seems a little too late and at the end of the film it left me empty. So this is what I waited all those years to see?

This music should have been successful 45 years ago, it is young people’s music sophisticated as some of it is. The film simultaneously destroys the myth and adds to it and I don’t know what to think.  A lot of his audience these days are not even into the music just the spectacle and the coolness of what he stands for. I sometimes wish he would don a shirt buy a smart suit and become the great crooner that is hidden inside of him. Let him be art and jazz and Sinatra. I think he would dig that too but he is trapped in his myth and past.

Like a lot of good art this story is fueled by anger in this case the hurt caused by 5 frat boys who laughed that their cars where bigger than the trailer that Iggy lived in with his parents. Then one day in an act of bullying they shook the trailer whilst he was in it. He has never forgiven them and I empathize. It is what drove him and continues to drive him.

The chilling moment for me is when Iggy talks about the Stooges sharing everything including ownership of the songs which is something he now seems to regret.

The life of a ex Stooge was not an easy one. The saddest story of all seemed to be that of Scott Asheton who spent his life in minimum wage menial dead end work and seems happily stoned in interviews. Conversely James Williamson disillusioned with recording bands whose music he didn’t like left the music scene for a successful career in technology. He seems the lucky one the one that got away. He comes across well in the film intelligent cheerful straight talking and lucid and is absolutely stunning in the early live footage which I had not seen before. One cool dude back in the day.

I also liked the Danny Fields interview scenes and look forward to seeing the “Danny Says” documentary.

So here is the plan. Compile all the vintage clips from the film together with the bare minimum of interview, listen to all the albums from the seventies line ups including the original 1972 Bowie mix of Raw Power and the unreleased till recently original John Cale mix of the debut, read the biographies from the excellent I Need More onward, see the photos and posters and look for the Metallic KO t shirt silver on black screen print, and you got the story.

And if you are young and starting out take a tip from the Stooges example and find your own thing, go into the unknown and be original.