The ever-impressive and never-shirted icon of rock Iggy Pop, has selected the five songs that have influenced him the most as a young and hopeful musician and, from this list, it’s no wonder he got so far in the music industry.
Iggy Pop is undoubtedly one of the bastions of rock and roll and perhaps the living embodiment of ‘Punks Not Dead’, so when he sat down, in 2010, with ABC’s Nightline at a whiskey bar in New York to discuss his musical influences we were all ears.
The journey of James Newell Osterberg is a long and winding one. The enigmatic artist, though inflammatory and engaging in his early years with The Stooges struggled to find his place in the years following. While helping hands from David Bowie and Danny Boyle would provide some needed lifts along the way, for the most part, Iggy Pop has had to struggle and strive, unlike many other artists—but he has always found a way through by harnessing his innate power.
As he admits to ABC though, you still have to start somewhere and nobody is born a rock star. “If you’re gonna write music, you must start with a vocabulary,” he tells Nightline, “So I took mine from blues, jazz, hillbilly, and the English invasion.” It’s true. All of those influences were ingrained in Iggy from the very start and it all stemmed from the music he listened to.
Frank Sinatra – ‘Young at Heart’
As the forefather to pretty much everything New York ever produced, Frank Sinatra has a place on many people’s musical mantels. None more so than Iggy who has often cited Sinatra as his original muse.
While the velvety vocals of Frank must’ve intrigued him it was more the connection music offered that caught the eye of a young James sitting in his father’s Cadillac: “I was in the backseat and Frank Sinatra had the hit ‘Young at Heart’ and my father would sing along,”
He continues: “When people would ask me after that what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, ‘well maybe a singer?!’ I didn’t know why exactly. It wasn’t that I liked the song that much, but I think because it made such an impression on my father.”
The Ronettes – ‘Be My Baby’
An iconic moment in musical history is the sudden influx of ’60s girl groups which dominated the airwaves during that, the headiest of decades. A way of keeping in touch with the doo-wop scene that proceeded it, these pop ditties had a way of getting into your head and staying there. It was also perfect ‘make-out music’.
Iggy remembers that this track was a constant during his teen adolescent days. “I had the single and I would go into my girlfriend’s basement after school and we’d make out on the couch and then there was a table with a phonograph 45 player box across the room and you’d have to play the 45 and then make out for 2 ½ minutes.”
The starry-eyed teen at heart added: “I remember I’d jump up and put it on again to keep the mood going. Just looking at the Ronnettes; I wanted to go wherever they came from.” It is this desire to pursue and follow challenges or the unknown which has kept Iggy on his toes all these years.
The Shangri-Las – ‘Remember (Walking In The Sand)’
Little known to even most of his fans, but Iggy Pop didn’t start out life on the stage as a singer. No, he actually started out way in the back as the drummer for his High School covers band called The Iguanas—ergo, Iggy.
The band had a small amount of success in their local area, so much so that they often found themselves as the house band at a small teen club during the summer. There, a lot of bigger acts would come through which saw Iggy playing the drums for some notable artists. “I got to play drums behind the Shangrilas, the Crystals, the Four Tops. Learned a lot,” he said. “Mary, the lead singer of the Shangri-Las, had a really beautiful head of hair…and I just remember being very happy in the back you know playing ‘ts, ts, ts,’ while she was going, ‘remember, walking in the sand.'”
Muddy Waters – ‘Rolling Stone’
By the time Iggy was 18 he had already set his sights on the finer side of music and was keen to study the works of bluesman from across America. The more notable of acts to begin with? Of course, Muddy Waters.
The iconic guitarist and singer would influence much of the musical landscape with Eric Clapton and Keith Richards citing the icon as their inspiration. Iggy was no different and even managed to get his mother to get a piano into their trailer park home. “I would sit on the piano and try to work out these Muddy Waters’ songs, what notes he was playing. I remember a great one was ‘Rolling stone,’ basically his story the social life he lives to put it in a nice way—drinking and having sex—as he roams the countryside as an itinerant bum basically.”
Link Wray – ‘Rumble’
The next track is maybe a little more expected. The song, which Iggy describes as like being “a soundtrack to a knife fight” is a balls to the wall punk pre-dater that has us feeling ready and raring to go, switchblade or otherwise. “It influenced Peter Townsend from The Who very much in his writing and pre-figured everything you heard after from ACDC, the West Coast glam bands and punk rock,” Iggy said. “And I just remember listening to it and thinking, ‘It’s simple! I could do that, that’s bad. It sounds bad.'”
Iggy caught wind of the song while attending the University of Michigan in the ’60s and the juxtaposition of songs like this in a scholarly setting seemed to engage him, he continues: “And I was also thinking, ‘Why is this playing in the student union of an institute of higher learning?!’ That whole side of things interested me about early rock ‘n roll. The real raw down stuff.”
So there you have it, the five songs which influenced Iggy Pop musical journey more than any other—quite the list.