The foul Year of our Lord. Cataclysmic changes sweeping the nation. It was the
Summer of Love and Detroit was obviously full of that. As the city burned amidst
the riots, there was also something volatile happening just a short jaunt westward
on I-94. The Stooges were forming and engineering a sound that influence punk
for decades to come.
Stooges' eponymous debut was released by Elektra records in August 1969 to little
fanfare and radio promotion (hence very small sales).
was, after all, something completely different than anything else being put out
at the time by a major label. Elektra didn't really know how to handle the band
or the music. Unfortunately, this is often the case with revolutionary, ground-breaking
music. How the Stooges ended up on a major label is, in and of itself, a minor
miracle. Considering the unrelenting nature of their music and the vulgar, riotous
stage presence of lead singer Iggy Pop, it does seem 1969 might well have been
the year Hell froze over.
After he witnessed the crowd-baiting,
reckless madman routine of one James Morrison during a Doors show at the Yost
Field House, a young Ann Arbor gentleman named Jim Osterberg decided to form a
band. He recruited brothers Ron and Scott Asheton along with bassist Dave Alexander,
thus spawning one of the hardest-rocking, most confrontational bands ever to grace
this rotting planet: The Stooges.
Fittingly, they played their
first gig on Halloween at Detroit's Grande Ballroom. The band invented some instruments
to use at the first show, which included: a blender with water in it, contact
mics on a 50-gallon oil drum (played with two hammers no less), and a vacuum cleaner.
The group produced tremendous psychedelic drones for Osterberg (Iggy) to go crazy
The group quickly acquired a heavy rep around the Midwest
as a seriously dangerous band that damaged ear drums and minds while playing dirty,
raucous, primal animal rock. Iggy Stooge earned a reputation for his debased and
dangerous stage presence. He sometimes performed shirtless, covered in peanut
butter and his own blood. Sometimes he was naked. Usually he was pretty much assaulting
After the success of The Doors, other
hard rocking, in-your-face acts were being sought out. Here in Detroit, the MC5
were also tearing it up, trying to incite riots. The MC5 were exactly the kind
of high energy act that labels were looking for. Danny Fields, a talent scout
from Elektra Records, had been flown to Detroit, as Elektra was interested in
signing the MC5. After a devastating gig at the Grande Ballroom, Wayne Kramer
of the MC5 mentioned to Danny Fields, "If you liked us, you will really love
our little brother band, Iggy and the Stooges."
Sunday, Sept. 22, 1968, Fields went to Ann Arbor to check out the Stooges
at the Student Union.
"I can't minimize what I saw onstage,"
Fields says. "I never saw anyone dance or move like Iggy. I'd never seen
such high atomic energy coming from one person. He was driven by the music like
only true dancers are driven by the music. It was the music I had been waiting
to hear all my life."
After witnessing the madness of
The Stooges live, Fields talked Elektra into signing them along with the MC5.
And the rest is Rock & Roll history.
The Stooges were then
flown out to New York in an attempt to harness their incendiary sound. When asked
if they had enough material for an album, Ron Asheton assured the execs they did.
(In reality, the Stooges only had three songs.) But Ron went back to their hotel,
and in an hour came up with the riffs for "Little Doll," "Not Right,"
and "Real Cool Time."
It was decided that legendary
producer John Cale (of Velvet Underground fame) would produce the Stooges' first
album. Prior to this, the Stooges had never stepped foot in a studio and had no
idea of what the recording process entailed. The only way the Stooges knew, was
to crank their amps to 11 and rock out like possessed maniacs. Subtlety was not
something they practiced. At first there was a lot of static betwixt Cale and
the Stooges, as they couldn't seem to fathom the concept of playing at a lower
volume--even to record. Being the young punks that they were and hating being
told what to do, the Stooges engaged in a sit-down strike (how Detroit is that!?),
putting their instruments down and smoking tons of hash. Eventually Cale said
fuck it, and recorded the band at ear-bleed volumes. This definitely comes out
in the album as the guitar virtually shreds the speakers. The rest of the session
went off without a hitch, resulting in one of the greatest rock albums of all
Finally released in 1969, the Stooges' first album is
a monumental slab of dirty proto-punk history. If you've never heard this album,
you should be ashamed of yourself. I can't imagine how this music must've sounded
to unsuspecting listeners in 1969 as it leapt off the vinyl, assaulting the ears.
When attempting to describe the music, I realize the futility of words ever being
able to properly describe sounds. Upon re-reading what I wrote, the music sounds
so simple and basic. This belies the band's power and raw energy. The only way
to truly appreciate it is to put the album on and crank it up.
first two tracks on this album provide a lethal one-two punch, still sounding
completely wicked, and rocking harder than 99 percent of today's music. "1969"
begins with fuzzed-out wah guitar and groovy hand claps over a driving rhythm
section that just sounds Detroit. Music like this could've only come out of this
Asheton's overdubbed chainsaw guitar blasts, dancing
with Iggy's mantra, "it's 1969, baby!"
nothing smart about this music, and that somehow makes it perfect.
"1969" is one of the greatest rock songs ever, "I Wanna Be Your
Dog." This song exudes animal sexuality and more of Asheton's incredible
mind-bleeding soloing, with Iggy pleading over and over, "Now I Wanna, Be
Your Dog." I truly believe him, as his stage antics firmly backed it all
The rest of this album proceeds in much the same way.
Simple, raw, dirty rock. Perfect.
The Stooges would go on
to record two other deliciously animalistic rock records. The skronked-out roadhouse
demon rock of Funhouse, and the dirty, overdriven proto-punk madness of Raw Power.
But this record is where it all started. This album remains
one of the seminal rock albums of all time, inspiring generations of rockers,
punkers, deviants, and slackers. Another startling, impressive, and historic gift
of music from Detroit to the world.