The Stooges never truly made it outside of Detroit. The legendary proto-punk were a big enough draw in the city to survive for the last few years of the 1960s and into the early ’70s, but outside of Detroit, their footprint was marginal. At least in the beginning.
Drug use, infighting, and their stance as complete iconoclasts made the band a combustible proposition from the very start, and at a time when psychedelia, folk, and more polished hard rock were on the rise, The Stooges uninhibited wildness was still too raw and too confrontational to survive. Most audiences were going to shows to see what frontman Iggy Pop would put himself through rather than listening to the music.
But audiences eventually start listening to the music. It started small, with burned-out kids in major cities who were living on the fringes of clean-cut society. Thanks to praise from figures like Lou Reed in New York City and David Bowie in London, young punks gravitated to the chaotic sound of The Stooges and eventually started their own bands with names like The Ramones and the Sex Pistols.
The Stooges attempted a restart in England with David Bowie being their major guide for record deals and live performances. The band put out one more album, Raw Power, before the band split for good and Pop eventually embarked on a solo career.
Thanks to the success of albums like The Idiot and Lust for Life, Pop was able to taste more mainstream rock success than The Stooges ever did, but as punk became a phenomenon in the mid-1970s, The Stooges’ profile rose as one of the forefathers of the genre. Pop would continue to include songs like ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ in his own setlists, and when he appeared on the BBC’s The Late Show in 1994, he brought an acoustic guitar and talked about the song’s origins.
“I was in a band called The Stooges in a little town in Michigan called Ann Arbor,” Pop explains about the song’s genesis. “We weren’t a very empowered group of people. We were basically a kind of far-fetched group of dreamers, and our dream was to have a little rock band. A lot of people used to laugh at us.”
Adding: “We used to get pretty stoked on hash and grass, and one thing that we’d do on this hash and grass, we’d sit around and we’d imagine these kind of savage tribes, like ‘How are the Mongols when they just came in and killed everybody?’ Think of how it must have been when these little guys with these fierce faces on their little ponies going ‘Wooooo!’ Just killing and riding over all opposition in their path, and that was the kind of thing we were talking about.”
Pop eventually explains that, through those conversations, guitarist Ron Ashton came up with the song’s signature riff. Pop claims that he was sitting in his room just trying to think of something good to sing over it, and that’s where the words for ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ sprung up from. The original idea was to sing about something big, and Pop had an epiphany. “The biggest thing I knew about was God,” he said. “I wasn’t that in to singing about God, but then one day I thought, ‘If you turn god backwards, what would you have?'”.
The results were one of the most memorable early punk songs ever written. Check out the clip down below.