Iggy Pop is a musician without equal. Without him, music as we know it would not be the same. The majority of the alternative heroes of the last fifty years would not exist without the man dubbed the Godfather of punk. He has released numerous albums over the years to critical and commercial acclaim. Iggy started his career as the lyricist and vocalist of proto-punk pioneers, The Stooges upon formation in 1967, quickly earning his spot as one of the most visceral entertainers of all time.
Although seminal, The Stooges have broken up and reformed many times since their first brief hiatus in 1970. Whilst that part of Iggy’s career was on hold, he continued on his influential trajectory, teaming up with other icons such as David Bowie, Glen Matlock and Josh Homme along the way, augmenting his trademark style. His position in the annals of rock was cemented when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 and won The Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 Grammy’s. Over the past couple of decades, he has also become synonymous with car insurance, designer fragrances and surfwear, showing there is nothing this icon cannot do.
Not only has Iggy become iconic for his poetic lyrics and deep, distinctive voice, his antics on and off stage etched him into pop culture. His embodiment of classic rock n roll excess is well documented, culminating in the ‘Berlin period’ of 1976-1978, when, along with David Bowie, he relocated to the German capital attempting to wean themselves off their respective drug addictions. This period also culminated in two of his most legendary albums, The Idiot and Lust for Life, in 1977.
This period, characterised by his great friendship and collaboration with David Bowie, also marked a period of experimentation for Iggy, no doubt influenced by The Thin White Duke’s increased interest in production and the avant-garde sonic revolution that had been started by Kraftwerk. In a tale as un-rock ‘n’ roll as one could imagine, in this period Iggy and Kraftwerk founding member Florian Schneider would go shopping for asparagus — showing a more human side to the Godfather of punk.
On-stage, his outrageous and unpredictable nature paved the way for future spectacle’s. He was one of the first performers to enact the stage-dive and popularised the activity. He would also roll around in broken glass, expose himself to the crowd and carry a confrontational demeanour at all times under the spotlight, to name just a few aspects of his intense act. Without his dynamic, progressive use of the stage as a performance space, it is hard to imagine a world where infamous, “shocking” performers such as GG Allin, Slipknot, Lias Saoudi et al. would exist. Additionally, his confrontational approach became a key aspect of the punk live show, and it still exists today, one only has to look at the more abrasive styles of punk to witness his direct and indirect position as ‘The Godfather’.
Over his long and illustrious career, Iggy’s music has incorporated numerous different styles including garage rock, punk rock, hard rock, heavy metal, art rock, new wave, industrial, jazz, blues and electronic. It is this commitment to experimentation and boundary-pushing, just like his peer and friend David Bowie, that truly confirmed his position as a legend in the realms of music and culture. He has influenced greats such as Sex Pistols, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Joy Division and Nirvana, without whom, culture would not be the same. Put plainly by Siouxsie Sioux “the man is a genius”.
Iggy’s career is still going strong, he released his eighteenth album Free in 2019. In addition to his sonic career, and his contemporary branch into advertising, the extent of his personal phenomenon can be seen in how he has influenced characters in The Crow, Super Mario Bros., and Velvet Goldmine.
Join us then, as we list Iggy Pop’s 10 greatest songs of all time. We have tried to cover all aspects of his career, in an attempt to evenly account for each element of his song writing. Consequently, there are a few notable admissions, including ‘Lust for Life’, ‘1969’ and ‘Candy’ to name but a few. Together, these ten greatest songs of his paint a succinct picture of the Godfather of punk. They show his place in the starting line up of rock ‘n’ roll’s first team is more than deserved.
Iggy Pop’s ten greatest songs:
10. ‘Sunday’ – Post Pop Depression (2016)
‘Sunday’, taken from Iggy’s 2016’s Post Pop Depression is marvellous and proves that, even now, in his seventies, he is still able to knock it out of the park. Backed by a supergroup consisting of Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkeys’ drummer extraordinaire Matt Helders, the album is a consistent showcase of Iggy’s talent. ‘Sunday’, is full of life and perfectly captures the essence of this.
The song starts with a trademark Helders groove on the toms, then breaks into a Bernard Edwards-esque funky bassline that slickly moves the song along. Perhaps showing his age, the track is about Iggy yearning for a chilled out, recreational Sunday, breaking from his daily grind. The production is clean, and typically Josh Homme, rich but with a haunting element. Homme’s classic backing vocals support Pop’s, the same ones that characterised Arctic Monkeys 2009 departure, Humbug.
The song gradually builds up as Homme’s trademark guitar weaves in and out, providing a cool, cacophonous riff that melodically compliments Pop’s vocal centrepiece of “Got all I need, and it is killing me – and you.” The song is also augmented by the atmospheric female backing vocals that support Iggy’s baritone.
Undoubtedly though, the best part of the song is the ending. The track fades from building around the lyrical motif and moves into a surprising grand orchestral movement. It beautifully flows from the female backing vocals to provide a rich, emotive and theatrical end to the song. The infusion of rock and disco under the desert-dwelling gaze of Josh Homme proves that Pop is a master at marrying disparate genres.
Capturing the essence of the album and song, Homme explained: “‘Sunday’ was the last song we recorded, and I thought because it’s so new it might take a couple hours. He sang the whole thing in 30 minutes, and I felt awful because I was like, ‘That’s it. What do I do now?’ The melody line seemed like the happiest thing I’ve ever played. And then I wanted to surprise him with the ending, where the girls join in – what would be impossible to see coming? ‘Got all I need and it is killing me – and you.’ It seemed like the centrepiece… and now you’re descending.”
9. ‘I Need More’ – Soldier (1980)
‘I Need More’ is the eighth track off Iggy’s fourth solo album, Soldier. Recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales, 1979, the album is typically punk but encroaches into the new wave movement of the time. The album is also a standout as it is a collaboration with ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock and a plethora of other iconic musicians. It features legendary guitarists Ivan Kral and Steve New on guitar, Barry Andrews on keyboards, and Simple Minds provide backing vocals on ‘Play it Safe’.
Furthermore, ex-Stooges guitarist James Williamson was originally hired to produce the album but he left the project after a clash with David Bowie, who was assisting as a friend of Iggy’s, over recording techniques. Allegedly, the recording of the album was also fraught with tension, as Steve New punched Bowie for hitting on his girlfriend.
‘I Need More’, is the sum of its hard-rocking parts. Whilst, very ‘80s, it is classic Pop. Confrontational and anthemic, featuring sarcastic laughs that pan in your left ear. Sonically, it is reminiscent of the stance Billy Idol would take in the not too distant future. Regardless, ‘I Need More’ presents a vigorous, dirty platform on which Pop recounts a tongue in cheek tale of dissatisfaction.
8. ‘I’m Bored’ – New Values (1979)
New Values presents a series of firsts for Iggy Pop. It was the first record he released on Arista Records, the first post-Stooges album to not have any involvement from David Bowie, and the first time Iggy and guitarist James Williamson had collaborated since 1977’s Kill City. There is no wonder then that it sounds as close to early Iggy Pop as anything he’d released since 1977.
Although the album was critically well-received, it was not a commercial success. However, this does not impact its standing, and ‘I’m Bored’ is the perfect example of Pop reclaiming his roots. The song involves his classic nihilistic detachment, combined with a churning groove. As James Williamson was also back as producer, it is of course a solid garage-rock track driven by a strong bassline.
Additionally, former live Stooge Scott Thurston plays guitar on the track, providing that spikey guitar solo. The song also features the sardonic dad-joke refrain “I’m bored, I’m the chairman of the bored”.
7. ‘Down on the Street’ – Fun House (1970)
Although initially, Fun House was commercially unsuccessful, it developed a cult following and is now regarded as integral to the development of punk and metal. Released on Elektra, company head Jac Holzman asked former Kingsmen keyboardist Don Gallucci to produce the record. Holzman doubted the band and thought fellow Michigan-based outfit the MC5 had more commercial potential than them. Iggy and co. disagreed and took exception to the results of Gallucci’s recording techniques and studio atmosphere, as they deemed them too clean and standardised.
Consequently, in true punk style, the band and Gallucci stripped the studio down to the bare minimum, attempting to emulate their live performances. What resulted has had no end of influence. The album has been cited as a favourite by Joey Ramone, Henry Rollins, Mark E. Smith, Michael Gira, Nick Cave and Steve Albini, to name but a few.
‘Down on the Street’ provides a perfect example of this progenitor to alternative music. If the album catches The Stooges at their raw peak, ‘Down on the Street’ is the track that embodies this. It is a psychedelic wrecking ball featuring Pop’s trademark vocals; it is primal and certainly captures the energy of their live show.
The influence on Rage Against the Machine can also be heard. The band even recorded a rendition of the track for their 2000 covers album, Renegades.
6. ‘Funtime’ – The Idiot (1977)
The Idiot was the first time Iggy and Bowie converged musically since Bowie mixed The Stooges’ legendary LP, Raw Power in 1972. However, this was the first time they had composed music together, resulting in the release of two albums in 1977, The Idiot and Lust for Life. Recorded in Germany, The Idiot is covered in flecks of Bowie. It takes Iggy’s natural edge and elevates it through Bowie’s stylistic leanings, creating a unique sound, even for today.
‘Funtime’ has a mechanical, Kraftwerk inspired feel, that no doubt had an impact on the industrial genre. It is a great example of the all-encompassing Iggy, as it features his signature lyricism and vocals, but marks his acceptance of the new, ubiquitous electronics that were starting to dominate music. The track is also representative of Iggy at his most gothic, and the song is perfectly suited to a dark and dingy room awash with pale faces and black leather. Later, the track was covered by Blondie, who even named their tour ‘Camp Funtime’ after the song.
5. ‘Johanna’ – Kill City (1977)
Kill City was originally recorded in 1975 in the wake of the demise of The Stooges. It was then used as a demo, given to record labels in the hope of securing Pop a new deal. His vocals were laid down during weekends when he was allowed to leave the rehabilitation clinic he was residing in to treat his heroin addiction.
‘Johanna’, represents Pop at his coolest. It has a desperate, crawling groove that perfectly captures his situation at the time. It is the standout from Kill City, and in conjunction with Williamson’s sleazy guitar, it features a wailing saxophone and haunting piano. The song is also fantastic in the way it bridges the void between The Stooges’ Fun House and Raw Power. Pop’s lyrics perfectly sum up his mental condition at the time: “I’ve been a dreamer for my long lost love”,”I’ve been a mean one and I’ve been unclean”.
4. ‘Search and Destroy’ – Raw Power (1973
Raw Power is The Stooges opus, and ‘Search and Destroy’ is one of the standouts. It’s an aggressive romp that encompasses glam rock, hard rock and proto-punk. The title of the track was taken from a headline of Time magazine regarding The Vietnam War. The song is undoubtedly one of The Stooges’ and Iggy Pop’s finest. It encapsulates everything that made Iggy so iconic. Raw, visceral and political.
There is not much more to say about the song, apart from the fact it is a blistering archetype of the alternative music that was to follow. Without it, there would be no Sex Pistols, Ramones, Motorhead or Nirvana. It has that amphetamine influenced pace that would become so critical to heavier music in the not too distant future and feature Iggy’s classic lyrics and howling vocals.
3. ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ – The Stooges (1969)
Like the band’s eponymous debut album, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ is a landmark proto-punk release. The song features the trademark distorted guitar that uses only three chords, which would become integral to the punk movement that would blossom in the following decade. The track is also biting as it features a pounding bassline, a one-note piano riff played by producer John Cale of The Velvet Underground, and that repetitive use of the sleigh bells throughout. Guitarist Ron Asheton’s overdriven closing solo is almost psychedelic, and the influence on Queens of The Stone Age et al. is there for all to hear.
Topped off by Pop’s trademark vocals, together these elements create a raucous, visceral sound that placed the band at the cutting-edge of music. The song’s influence is massive, and has been featured on countless occasions in popular culture.
It has been included in Sid and Nancy, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Grand Theft Auto IV (Iggy played himself as a radio jockey) and even Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Even fashion megabrand Dior used the song in their 2004 SS Paris fashion show.
There’s no denying that this is a monster tune.
2. ‘Gimme Danger’ – Raw Power (1973)
If ‘Search and Destroy’ captures the blistering heat of Iggy and The Stooges on Raw Power, ‘Gimme Danger’, the following track, presents a cooler, Doors-esque song that is demonic and foreboding.
The effort carries all the hallmarks of the band and lives up to the album title. Williamson swaps his electric guitar for the acoustic, and Pop explodes in the chorus showing his vocal prowess. The lyrics support the foreboding sound: “Gimme danger, little stranger / And I’ll feel your disease”- perfectly displaying Pop’s penchant for lyrical darkness.
Legends Johnny Marr, Thurston Moore and Steve Jones have all commented on it’s majesty. It stands out from Iggy’s back catalogue as lyrically, he blends mystique with psychosexual imagery, adding to the song’s provocative impact.
1. ‘The Passenger’ – Lust for Life (1977)
One of the key tracks from the Bowie produced Lust for Life, ‘The Passenger’ is quintessential Iggy. It is a brooding, sinister travelogue, and the music perfectly conveys the journey that the lyrics describe. Guitarist Ricky Gardner wrote the music, it has a sped up swing tempo, and the guitar riff is reggae-inspired, two disparate compounds that provide a perfect basis from which Iggy recounts this dark tale. Again, showing the singer’s effectiveness at marrying genres.
The influence of The Doors also exists. Iggy has mentioned that the title and feel of the song were inspired by Jim Morrison’s poem The Lords and the New Creatures. On this classic, Pop’s vocal style and poetic lyrics certainly echo Morrison’s. Additionally, the song is also about being stuck in the back of David Bowie’s car while touring the US and Europe.
Unsurprisingly, the song’s influence and quality is everlasting. It has been covered by R.E.M., Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus to name a few. It’s a pure gem.