The Stooges are legends today, considered by many to be a seminal proto-punk band along with their cohorts MC5, but their first three albums went almost completely unnoticed when they were released from 1969-1973. Raw Power, the third of three releases by the Stooges in their heyday (the band was actually credited as Iggy and the Stooges for this album), turned 45 this week, on February 7th.
The Stooges formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with Ron and Scott Asheton on guitar and drums, respectively, and Dave Alexander on bass. What made The Stooges’ music ahead of its time was Iggy’s goal to strive to create a new blues genre that was not derivative of the current scene. He was inspired largely by The Doors, especially in the way Morrison baited the audience, and the all-female band The Untouchable, who he had met and pre-judged as inferior, later to be put to shame.
The Stooges feature a stripped-down, visceral musical style that was very different from the jazz-inspired acid rock scene coming to a close in the late 60s. The rhythm section produced a primitive, unrestrained backdrop for Iggy’s theatrics. In this footage from 1970 in Cincinnati, you can see some of Iggy’s crowd work, complete with peanut butter-smearing (and the announcer’s confirmation). The sax solo is played by Steve Mackey.
Iggy is credited with inventing the stage dive, is famous for smearing food over himself, and was known to mutilate himself with broken glass on stage. While Iggy’s instability made for a great show, it also attributed to the unpredictability of the band. The Stooges broke up in 1971, after the release of Funhouse (1970). The band’s manager, John Adams, had introduced heroin into the mix, resulting in all members except Ron Asheton developing habits, and Dave Alexander was dismissed from the band after the Goose Lake International Music Festival, where he had arrived on stage too inebriated to play. Elektra Records dropped The Stooges due to their erratic behavior and unreliability.
During the break between Funhouse and Raw Power, Iggy Pop became acquainted with David Bowie, who was a fan of The Stooges and committed himself to seeing the band make a comeback. He had Iggy sign on with MainMan, the same company managing Bowie, and they recruited James Williamson (a childhood friend of the Ashetons and Alexander) to play guitar. Unable to find a rhythm section in London with the same musical aesthetic as the Ashetons, Ron and Scott were brought back on, but Ron was forced to switch to bass. Columbia Records signed the band for Raw Power, but insisted that the songs be cleaned up.
You can almost hear distaste for the Ashetons’ style in Bowie’s mixes — the bassist and drummer are nearly drowned completely out in the treble-heavy mix. Bowie showcased Iggy’s vocals and Williamson’s guitar, which is less psychedelic and more blues-influenced and heavy in contrast to Ron Asheton’s, and minimized the rhythm section, likely considering “primitive” to be a bad thing. That primordial, stripped-down sound is now considered ahead of its time. For Ron’s part, the basslines he developed are vital and pounding, as if to punish the instrument for his switch from guitar.
The original studio album is available in two iterations: the original mix, toned down and flattened out, by David Bowie, and the 1997 reboot mixed by Iggy, which is a little more true to the album’s title in sound quality. The Bowie mix has some die-hard fans, not only for nostalgia’s sake, but for it’s open, spacy feel and the ethereal quality of the ballads; whereas Iggy’s remix is a better jump-off point for new listeners since it maintains the stripped down force for which The Stooges are known. Most detractors of the remix cite its dynamic range compression. The tracks are all turned loud with a sometimes distracting amount of distortion applied, which does make the 1997 mix more primal and fitting of its name. However, the ambient details and artful fading in and out of parts that made the original mix intriguing are lost in the remix. A remastered version of Iggy’s mix was released on vinyl in 2012, and that may provide the best listening experience if you can find it. The remix is more true to the intention the band had: to be an all-out, raging mess of a spectacle.
The live recordings from Richards in Atlanta, Georgia in 1973, which were released alongside Bowie’s original remastered in 2010 as Raw Power [Legacy], are interesting not only for Iggy’s confrontation with the audience as heard on the tail of “Head On,” but for the frantically jangling keys played by Scott Thurston. The bass lines also stand out nicely on these live tracks.
The conflict bubbling under the surface of Raw Power adds to its uninhibited frenzy that was inarguably formative to punk and grunge acts such as Sex Pistols, Black Flag, and Nirvana. It is worth noting that the first two Stooges albums more heavily influenced grunge, noise, and stoner rock, whereas Raw Power reverberated more widely into pop rock. This is evidenced by the covers subsequent bands chose to do; Raw Power is more often covered by mainstream rock bands and The Stooges and Funhouse are favored by more underground bands.
The Sex Pistols (1977) cover of “No Fun” from The Stooges (1969)
John Mellencamp cover (1973) of “I Need Somebody” from Raw Power (1973)
The Birthday Party cover (1982) of “Loose” from Funhouse (1970)
Monster Magnet cover (1997) of “Gimme Danger” from Raw Power (1973)
Pig Destroyer cover (1999) of “Down on the Street” from Funhouse (1970)
L.A. Guns cover (2004) of “Search and Destroy” from Raw Power (1973)
- Berman, Stuart. (2010, April 14) “Iggy and the Stooges: Raw Power [Legacy Edition].” Pitchfork.
- “The Stooges.” (Accessed 2018, Feb 3). Wikipedia.
- Applestein, Mike. (2017, Aug). “In Search of The Untouchable.”
- Wawzenek, Bryan. (2010, Aug 7). “This Day in Music Spotlight: The Forgotten Goose Lake Festival.” Gibson.
- Wawzenek, Bryan (Accessed 2018, Feb 3). “How Iggy Rebuilt The Stooges for Raw Power.” Ultimate Classic Rock.
- “The Stooges.” (Accessed 2018, Feb 7). Who Sampled.