Wednesday, August 29, 2007

No. 125: Raw Power

Band: Iggy & The Stooges
Album: Raw Power
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Filled with, well, raw power, the third Stooges album was produced and mixed by Pop. Despite its tinniness, production-wise, the record oozes with energy. "Search And Destroy" is one of the classic proto-punk songs, filling the ear with Vietnam terminology ("heart full of napalm") and almost-born-again love ("Honey gotta strike me blind/Somebody's gotta save my soul." Even if the rest of the record sucked -- it doesn't -- "Raw Power" needs to be here for "Search And Destroy."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Considering the hardness of the record, the production fails the music.
Best song: Duh. "Search And Destroy."
Worst song: "I Need Somebody" isn't so great.
Is it awesome?: Yeah, it is.

After the Stooges breakup, Iggy Pop had been signed to a deal with David Bowie's management team and Pop wanted to include ex-Stooges on his first record with them. So, he got ex-Stooges Ron Asheton and Scott Asheton. He also wrote most of the songs with the new guy, James Williamson, who played guitar with the fury of a thousand suns.

And "Raw Power" came out. Not often do you get a record named in such a way that fits the album title as well as this one does. Pop's vocals have an urgency mostly unseen in rock before while Williamson's guitar solo speed created a template for punk rock guitar work that is copied until this day.

J. Mascis would pump up his own guitar sound later, by saying "The guitar jumps out so big. It's almost like Raw Power." Kurt Cobain once called "Raw Power" his favorite album.

The album, especially for 1973, is decidedly punk and hard. Like the Detroit landscape that Pop knew, the lyrics to the songs emit motoring. Hell, even the ballads (which the record company insisted the record had) are hard.

Nevertheless, "Search And Destroy" is the one thing you need to take from this record. "Search And Destroy" is one of the ten most important rock and roll songs ever. It references both the silent majority in America (the theme of redemption vis a vis American violence) and the war in Vietnam ("love in the middle of a firefight" and "a heart full of napalm") in a way that influenced punk rock's obsession with automatons/superheroes/robots (The Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" and half of the early Bad Religion catalog reference these themes). Sure, it was a thematic ripoff from T. Rex' "Twentieth Century Boy," but the ripoff is tangential and not something you can easily catch. Musically, the sheer velocity of Williamson's opening solo is 80s hardcore's template while the drumming is solidly steady in the way punk rock would copy until the end of the genre.

And that's without getting into Pop's insane stage act, all sinew and blood. Pitchfork's Jason Josephes puts it this way:

The music? Man, it rules! Not a single disappointing song on the whole album. Now I understand why Axl Rose wanted to be Iggy Pop so badly: because being Axl Rose really isn't all that cool. Axl copped his whole act from "Gimme Danger", one of the two "ballads" on Raw Power.

Yep. That's about right.


Indie, metal, punk, whatever. Anyone who considers themselves anything left of the vanilla nonsense (hello, Paul Simon!) considers "Raw Power" great. And it is. Another must-have.

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