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Music

The Cover Uncovered: Iggy Pop’s classic album featuring David Bowie, ‘The Idiot’

In 1974, following their classic 1973 album Raw Power, The Stooges split up in disarray as Iggy Pop fell into a pit of trouble with his ongoing issues with drug addiction. This dark patch for Iggy reached its lowest ebb with him visiting a Californian mental institute for a time while he attempted to get his head straight. In 1976, David Bowie, who had stuck by his friend through thick and thin, invited Iggy to join him on his Isolar Tour

At the end of the tour, Iggy and Bowie agreed to geographically distance themselves from their addictions. They travelled to Château d’Hérouville, the same French location where Bowie recorded his covers album, Pin-Ups, in 1973. It was here where Bowie began recording his 1977 masterpiece Low, which would become the first instalment of his famed experimental Berlin trilogy. Meanwhile, Bowie helped Iggy to begin work on his debut solo record, The Idiot.

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The Idiot marks a change in direction from Iggy Pop’s raw, heavy and untampered music with The Stooges. The album appeared to rival post-punk before its existence with an intriguing mix of instruments and synthesizer sounds with added distortion effects that give it that perfectly eery industrial feel. 

While in France, Iggy Pop and David Bowie recorded ‘China Girl’ and ‘Nightclubbing’, the former co-written with Bowie and covered famously in his 1983 album Let’s Dance. ‘Nightclubbing’ allegedly arose when Bowie had been messing around on the piano playing a classic melody. The singer was inspired by Bowie’s playing to write the lyrics at that moment; they were “mostly based on my experiences tagging along to the discos of Europe [with Bowie],” as Iggy Pop recalled in a 2019 interview.

The recording of The Idiot was concluded in Germany between Munich’s Musicland Studios and Berlin’s Hansa Studio 1. It was here that the rest of the tracks, including the classics, ‘Sister Midnight’, ‘Funtime’ and ‘Dum Dum Boys’, were polished off with Bowie at the helm musically and Iggy lyrically. 

After this period of time living in Europe, Iggy decided to name the album The Idiot, after the novel of the same name by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose writing had inspired Iggy at the time of recording the music. The photograph used for the front cover was inspired by German painter Erich Heckel’s 1917 painting named Roquairol

The painting was also the major source of inspiration for the cover art used for Bowie’s album, Heroes, which was released seven months after The Idiot in October 1977. Bowie once recalled that the covers were inspired by “Heckel’s Roquairol, and also his print from 1910 or thereabouts called Young Man was a major influence on me as a painter.”

Listen to Iggy Pop’s ‘Nightclubbing’, from his seminal album The Idiot, below.

Iggy Pop, The Idiot