Anyone whose record-buying memory goes back to 1976, and an urge to pick up some Iggy Pop records, will remember this well. Three original albums, The Stooges and Fun House on 69/70 Elektra, and the Bowie-bashed Raw Power from 1973, had either vanished without trace, or were available only as highly priced French imports. Metallic KO, a low-fi rendering of the band’s final live show, was floating on similarly Gallic seas, while the grapevine positively bristled with precisely the kind of rumors you’d expect to be attached to someone who...
...well, who did all the thing that Iggy was said to do to himself. Swan-dive off amplifiers into a sea of broken glass. Slice himself with razorblades, or bathe in peanut butter. Pour molten candlewax on his flesh, while being whipped by a bandmate dressed up as a Nazi. And so forth.
He was dead, he was crazy, he was finished, he was fried. He was hanging out with David Bowie. Oh, it’s a hard life being the world’s forgotten boy.
And then he came back. A backing vocalist on Bowie’s Low and the frontman of his own The Idiot. Touring Europe and the US, and working already towards a new LP. While behind him, the archive yawned open. The old albums were all reissued. Yet another French label, Siamese, released a pair of Raw Power out-takes on single, “I’ve Got A Right”/”Gimme Some Skin.” Bomp unleashed a pair of EPs, the pounding psychotic Yardbirds dementia of “Sick of You,” and the gloriously titled and packaged Jesus Loves the Stooges. A lost post-Raw Power collection of demos were finished off by ex-Stooge James Williamson, and released as the classic Kill City. Metallic KO was followed up by the 12-inch “(I Got) Nothing.”
And that was just in the course of twelve months. Skip forward twelve years, and even the most avid collector was getting sick of singing “sick of you” - if not to the Stooges themselves, then at least to the wealth of often ephemeral labels that were now pumping out the offcuts. Twelve years on from that, which takes us into the early 2000s, and it’s hard to believe there was a single note of Stoogey sound left out there that had not been recycled, repackaged, repeatedly, mercilessly.
Some of that material is priceless, of course, even when it’s clearly overkill. Practically every show on the Stooges’ last American tour, late 1973-early 1974, has now appeared on CD, with the sound quality ranging from near-pristine to something on the far side of “bleaugh.” When Rhino announced a box set devoted to Fun House alone, they did so in the knowledge that there really were people out there who saw nothing at all excessive in owning a six CDs comprising ten different songs, and highlighted by: fifteen versions of "TV Eye," eighteen takes of "Down In The Street," twenty-eight of "Loose." Because they knew they were the same people who, a few years earlier, had put out hard cash for two Raw Stooges collections of alleged alternate takes and mixes, that were really just the first two albums, messed around with (completely unofficially, of course) by someone with a sharp eye for the "balance" dial.
Apres the Fun House sessions set, lesser exhumations of the bookending Stooges and Raw Power albums quickly followed, appended to reissues of the original LPs themselves; while Bomp’s stewardship of the 1973 out-takes saw a bunch of other worthy curios emerge, not least of all a recording of Raw Power’s radio debut, Iggy carting an alternate mix acetate into a Detroit radio station, then proceeding to strip naked while the DJ spun the songs.
Other jewels, however, appeared piecemeal, or hovered just out of reach in the underground. Further London studio sessions in summer 1972. Rehearsals in Ypsilanti, Michigan before the Stooges played Detroit in March, 1973. More rehearsals in Detroit, later in the spring, and at CBS in New York in July. Even more live recordings. All of which finally emerged in stunning glory on the six CD box set Heavy Liquid (Easy Action) in 2005.
Again, the cynic can glance at the track list and wonder precisely how many takes of “I Got A Right” the average listener can need. “Thirteen” replies the box set, before piling on seven versions of “Head On Curve”; five of “Raw Power”; and three of “Cock In My Pocket,” a swaggering slab of degenerate fifties rockarolla that Elvis would have sold his pelvis to record. Or not.
Much of this material had seen the light of day before; the Detroit rehearsals, in particular, have been cherry-picked so often that you could fill a small skip with all the collections that Heavy Liquid now rendered obsolete. And there’s still more out there, whether aboard sundry badly-annotated budget comps, or lurking on hard to find bootlegs - as is the case with the previously unheard versions of “Penetration” and “Death Trip” that appeared from who-knows-where last year. Or rehearsal takes of “Purple Haze” and “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” “I’m a Man” and “I’m So Glad,” none of which are what you’d call essential listens for anyone, but which the completists need to own. (The Revenge label’s Open Up and Bleed is the best round-up if you’re interested.)
Where Heavy Liquid stands head and shoulders over the competition, however, is in its attention to detail. Few of those earlier sets ever bothered to explain, or maybe even inquire of the provenance of the material that they showcased. Heavy Liquid packed a chunky booklet that nailed everything into its chronological place, then followed that up with best ever sound quality. Truly, and no less than the Fun House box, if you only ever need four alternate/live versions of “I Need Somebody,” or four more of “Open Up And Bleed,” this is the box for you.
But the story isn’t over. For also hot on the Easy Action catalog is another box set, four discs this time, filling in the blanks on another era of the Stooges - one that had more or less been completely overlooked except by rumor in the past.
A bootleg off-air recording of the band’s 1970 Soldier Field show, as aired on TV back in the day, has been floating around for a while. A Thousand Lights, from the same era, came out a few years back (Easy Action again). But it was 1971 that saw the Stooges sink into the deepest, darkest obscurity; shunned by their label, ignored by the industry; drowning on dry land, in a sea of drugs and dismay. And 1971 that has always haunted collectors' dreams. We just never imagined we'd get it, spread across the quartet of discs that make up You Don’t Want My Name, You Want My Action. And bundled into a super-sexy purple booklet-style box whose subtitle, 1971: The Missing Link, truly tells it like it is.
The sound quality is much as you’d expect. Rough. But that doesn’t detract. Forget that this is historic stuff; even on their uppers, the Stooges rocked like somebody who enjoys a very powerful physical attraction to their mom, and the fact that the band had already been informed that they would never make another record again, at least for the label they were signed to, didn’t stop them going out with a whole set of new material.
We hear “I Got A Right” in its earliest form here, as the four discs devour four spring 1971 shows in New York, St Louis and Detroit. We meet “You Don’t Want My Name” and “Big Time Bum.” The delightfully titled “Fresh Rag," and the macabrely flavored “Dead Body.”
Yes, this is the Stooges in extremis - meaning, even Metallic KO feels more hopeful than these shows, because at least that ended with a bang and a crash, and the sound of broken bottles bouncing off protesting skulls. The Stooges fade out here, following a show at the St Louis Factory, without even a whimper, just the ineffable whine of a disinterested audience, and the sound of Ron Asheton getting decked when Iggy’s microphone hit him on the head. It goes THUD, then Iggy says “oh shit.” And then the promoter refused to pay them because they didn’t finish the show.
The new material is... well, you probably need to hear it. Iggy himself once described this phase of the band as being closer to free jazz than rock’n’roll, which is territory the Stooges visited on the final cut of Fun House, the free-for-all “LA Blues.” Here things are a little more structured... actually, a lot more structured than that.
But you can’t imagine even the most open-minded record company head truly welcoming a band whose idea of a good time was a song (“Fresh Rag” again) whose alternate titles included “New York Pussy Smells Like Dog Shit” and "Sweet Revenge for Treating Me Like a Piece of Shit,” or who wrapped up two nights at the Electric Circus with a cacophony they claimed was called “Over My Dead Cock.” Actually, it’s “Big Time Bum” again but really, boys, do you think that’s any better?
With an admittedly somewhat older incarnation of the Stooges seemingly functioning again, and Iggy compensating for what they lack in new songs by finding ever more inventive ways of squeezing multiple F-bombs into even the shortest onstage announcement, the story of the Stooges on record shows no sign of ending any time soon. Sadly. (Sorry, did I write that out loud?)
Like the revitalized Velvet Underground that trundled round the world twenty years ago, the band’s reanimation is certainly cause for anyone who missed them the first time around to celebrate the fact that at least they’re still alive (mostly, anyway), and can still remember the words to the songs they wrote before. They are living legends, international treasures, and the fact that the Stooges are unlikely ever to write a new “We Will Fall” really shouldn’t bother us. They wrote the old one, and that’s what counts.
Their history, though... now that’s another matter. Arguably, and again in the same manner as the Velvets, the original Stooges were responsible for some of the most important, influential and still absolutely spellbinding albums of the end of the 60s and early 1970s. And just as we will never tire of having the same old Velvets classics served up again and again and once more for luck, so long as we can be bribed with another bunch of out-takes, or an hitherto unreleased live show, so we should never turn our noses up at another chance to hear the 1970s Stooges, unchained and uncaring, in despair or disrepair, painting one more slash of myth-mashed feedback graffiti across the self-satisfied smugness of the modern reissue rack.
I mean, seriously. Another box set of the Beatles, singing “love, love me do”?
Or Iggy Stooge gazing out across a crowd of rioting hometown bikers and declaring, “this next one’s a song that was co-written by my mother. It’s called ‘I Got My Cock In My Pocket’”?
Oh, decisions, decisions....