Wednesday, January 14, 2009

the Stooges - The Stooges

I had heard about the Stooges repeatedly in the pages of Creem magazine, but I didn’t hear them for myself until almost the end of the second stage of their career (with James Williamson on guitar). I’m honestly not sure what I thought when I first dropped this onto my turntable but this has since become one of the records that I point to when describing what I consider to be rock’n’roll!

Iggy once said that some critics at the time complained about his almost monosyllabic approach to lyrics and it is true that all of the titles are pretty simple but he did manage to convey the desires, frustrations, annoyances and mundaneness of mid-west teenage life. Yes, this was simplistic, but in an almost hypnotic, trance-like way, that still manages to project the power and monotony of the suburban Detroit area in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Iggy wanted to create a white teenager version of the blues and in a way, he did just that.

Ron Asheton (RIP) starts the record with a wall of wah-wahed guitar and damn near creates a whole new genre. Repetitive power chords are accented with fuzz and wah to make up for his limited playing skills. “1969” is autobiographical at its best – “last year I was 21, didn’t have a lot of fun, now I’m gonna be 22, oh my and a-boo-hoo”! Maybe it’s not such a surprise that the band only had a couple of songs when they were signed (they were “playing” a blender and a vacuum cleaner on stage shortly before this recording) and most of this was written in the studio, but it does give it some immediacy. They didn’t seem to know how to end any of the songs and most of them simply fade out on a guitar solo. Kinda genius!

Massive fuzz chords and feedback introduce “I Wanna Be Your Dog” while drummer Scott Asheton and bassist Dave Alexander pound out the backing. Even producer John Cale gets in on it – obviously understanding the brilliance of the simplistic – by pounding out a single piano chord throughout the entire song!

The band certainly owed a debt to Jim Morrison and the Doors – particularly Iggy who took Morrison’s stage show to a self-destructive extreme by jumping in the audience, beating himself, starting fights with audience members and rolling in broken glass. Besides the live act, the band practically emulated the Door’s first album in cover design and even in song presentation. Hence, the last song on side one is their longest, slowest and most psychedelic. “We Will Fall” is the sound of a stoned and qualude laden mid-west teen who had played with Eastern tones and listened to the Velvet Underground! Cale adds some viola to this, as well, creating more texture.

Side two opened with the Kinks’ inspired “No Fun” with its repetitive chord riffs and pounding drums. The Sex Pistols covered this regularly and in fact, this is the last song the band ever performed together before they broke up. More amazing sustained feedback guitar takes this through the fade-out ending.

3 chords and plenty of noise describes “Real Cool Time” with Ron overdubbing leads on top of the entire song as Pop asks “can I come over tonight? / we will have a real cool time”. Who could say no?! Slower and moodier is the ethereal “Ann” with Ron’s wah-wah creating basic waves of tones over an open drum beat. Suddenly, Iggy shouts “right now!” and the group explodes into a massive slab of slamming guitars which continues until the fade! An unusual arrangement to say the least!

I think they evolved to 4 chords for “Not Right”, while Iggy keeps it as primordial as ever – “she’s…not right, I want something tonight, I want something alright, but she, can’t help cuz she’s not right”. This was punk at its most basic, long before anyone thought of it as a genre!

Dave Alexander rumbles out the intro for “Little Doll”, another mesmerizing noise fest! “Little doll I can’t forget, smoking on a cigarette” – beautiful! As with the others, this delves into more guitar psychosis bringing the album to an end as it began – with utter cacophony!

Funhouse is the “better” album but this is one of the most incredible testaments to the majesty of crazed, stoned musicians being let into a studio with tons of amplification! Wonderful stuff!