Studying the ‘Fun House’ sessions

By Dave Thompson

Upon its original release in 1970, the late Lester Bangs greeted Fun House with a 10,000-word review — and the album was only 36 minutes long.

Imagine what he’d have done with 2000’s limited-edition boxed set 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions — eight hours and six discs (plus a bonus mono-mix single) of full takes, false starts, studio backchat and, for those moments when 28 near-consecutive versions of “Loose” get too much, two previously unknown outtakes.

Considering the band’s reputation for sloppiness, the sessions progress smoothly. Just 24 false starts testify to the band’s consummate togetherness.

The album itself retains its original form, opening with the churning “Down In The Street,” which proves that The Stooges chose the correct version for immortality. One of Fun House’s more straightforward numbers, “Down In The Street” kicks off with a lurching riff and a battery of Iggy’s most evocative animal grunts and yelps, before developing into the kind of downright nasty, bluesy swagger that wouldn’t have disgraced The Rolling Stones. Compared to the rest of the record, it might have been a smart choice for a single as well. (It turned up on the B-side of the less well-chosen “1970 (I Feel Alright).”) The box set wraps up all 18 stabs at the song that the band made (they eventually went with Take 15), together with the slightly edited version issued on that single. All have their good points, but familiarity with the firepower suggests that the issued version was the right one.

Ah, there’s hours of fun here — “TV Eye” rolling forever and ever, “Fun House” itself battering doors down eternally. But there is a strangely prescient exchange of conversation early in disc three. Frustrated with the amount of time the band had spent trying to nail one particular song, the lurching “Loose,” a voice from the control booth suggests they forget their other songs and just release an album comprising 22 versions of “Loose.” Thirty years later, Rhino did just that — and then some. Thirty-two different takes of “Loose” consume close to one quarter of the box set.

Slow and filthy, “Dirt” closed side one of the original LP with a change of pace so abrupt, so unexpected and so malevolent that one was almost afraid to flip the record over. The most dynamic cut on Fun House, and by far the most atmospheric, “Dirt” has a deceptively scenic beauty to it — the protracted fade, as the rhythm rocks Iggy like a hammock, is almost soporific, and absolutely hypnotic. But something is still squirming unpleasantly beneath the surface.

Like the tuneless, formless mess of “L.A. Blues” that wraps up the album, the boxed set’s true fascination lies not in carefully crafted progressions, the solo shifts or the odd ad-libbed lyric, because The Stooges weren’t that kind of band. Every take is the same, but subtly different — imagine 20 flawless versions of the same LP, where each one reminds us that The Stooges weren’t actually about songs at all.

They were about force and brutality, and music with the primal immediacy of a surprise punch in the face. In its original form, Fun House left you counting the bruises. And then it came back and it brought some friends.

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