How Iggy and The Stooges turned up the intensity on ‘Raw Power’
For a brief moment in rock history, there was no band more intense, more fervent or deeply entrenched in the explosion of punk rock that was about to happen than Iggy and The Stooges. Fronted by Iggy Pop, the band had quickly asserted themselves as the most ferocious, ludicrous and determined bands around. It seemed as though this gang of rockers were never going to be defeated.
Of course, like so many indestructible outfits, the group imploded on themselves, only a few short years after their inception. While they didn’t leave behind a particularly lengthy back catalogue, the impact they had on music as a whole cannot be understated. While the self-titled debut is a classic album to look at, it was actually in the band’s dying throes that they created arguably their best record and most certainly one of the most influential albums of all time — Raw Power.
The Stooges may have only begun as a band in 1969 but just a few years later, by 1971, the group were ultimately finished. Dave Alexander had been fired for being a drunk and the rest of the band’s heroin use had grown wildly out of control. It had seen them already begin to erode in the wind and their once sharp musical features were beginning to dull. One man would rescue the band deliver one last album before becoming a lifelong friend. Of course, we mean David Bowie.
1972 was Bowie’s year. Not only had he become the biggest rock star in the universe but he had also sat behind the desk for Lou Reed’s Transformer for his breakthrough solo album. It had been a marvellous success. Next up was his other favourite band and he brought Iggy Pop and James Williamson into the studio to record Raw Power. Iggy remembered the experience: “His concept was, ‘You’re so primitive, your drummer should sound like he’s beating a log!’ It’s not a bad job that he did…I’m very proud of the eccentric, odd little record that came out.” It is, without doubt, one of rock’s formative albums and deserves recognition is a deep-laid stone in the pantheon of music.
The group only needed eight songs to make their impression. Though the original mix was notoriously thin (something attested to when Iggy Pop re-recorded the album in far beefier circumstances), the album still had so much intense energy that it was difficult to contain it. Of course, more notable songs on the record include ‘Search and Destroy’ and ‘Gimme Danger’, but the album’s real value comes from its overall feeling, not the individual songs.
It also gave Iggy Pop the creative push he needed: “I learned a helluva lot being over there in England and I started thinking differently,” recalled the singer when discussing the new mixes of Raw Power in 1997. “It led to a very ambitious piece of work, and that’s fine. But the fact was that neither Bowie’s mix nor my previous mix could do justice to the power of the band or even to the legibility of the vocal…I feel that now I have the wherewithal, the position, and the expertise at my disposal to give this thing its due sonically, and I didn’t have that before.
“So it’s kind of like I’m finishing that off. I don’t think you can beat David’s mix, it’s very creative. But this is just a simple, straight band mix of a powerful band. I feel like there’s a closure on it and that’s a nice thing.”
It is almost impossible not to see this album for what it was — the foundations of punk rock. No matter where you get your story of the genesis of punk rock from, chances are you will have a different set of circumstances. Whether it was the Ramones, Sex Pistols or The Clash who gave punk its appeal, to deny that this album was at least one of the stepping stones to cross the river of dad-rock is to be ignorant of the power of Iggy and co.
This was the moment that Iggy & The Stooges kicked things up a notch for music and turned intensity into something everyone could sell. It’s a potent record that does everything it promises it will. It delivers Raw Power at every turn.