Rock ‘n’ roll is a dangerous thing. At one time Iggy Pop was a studious young man eyeing up a bright future perhaps as some sort of accountant. Then he heard one single song and it warped his mind to such an extent that he burnt his graduate gown and started trying to get high on spiderwebs. Now, that’s what you call one hell of a song.
Soon after the music followed. In his early days, he was influenced by the likes of The Shangri-Las, in fact, they still are. As he once recalled, “My cover band… had a professional engagement the summer that we graduated high school at a teen club called The Ponytail in northern Michigan. They served Cokes. And a lot of big acts came through. I got to play drums behind the Shangri-Las, the Crystals, the Four Tops. Learned a lot.”
However, there is a difference between noodling away in a covers band supping colas and ending up smashing beer bottles over yourself most gigs. Indeed, Pop is the prototype Hulk of punk and its distortion that rips his shirt off. In fact, by February 1974, The Stooges legend was even taking on an entire Detroit biker gang, dubbed the Scorpions.
The Stooges had been booked to play their local hangout, The Rock & Roll Farm in Wayne, Michigan. When Iggy emerged wearing only a skimpy leotard it was not to their liking. What followed was a melee of abuse and a steady salvo of eggs. Bathed in a gloop of chicken zygote, Iggy decided not to follow his band’s lead in a scramble for safety and instead leapt into the crowd only to be promptly stopped in his tracks by a big old biker fist.
So, what started all of this madness? How could this have been caused by one solitary song? And it happens to be an instrumental one at that. “There was a guy named Link Wray,” Iggy Pop once said, “I heard this music in the student union at a university. It was called ‘Rumble’ and it sounded baaad.”
Pop’s head was turned, and from the on, this crystalising moment that prognosticated his future in a sonic crystal ball, and, needless to say, that future didn’t involve the university where he sat listening to it with a pencil behind his ear. “I left school emotionally at the moment I heard ‘Rumble’,” he concludes. Thank God for the campus DJ, I suppose.
The song itself has a similar humble backstory to Pop’s tame covers band origins. Apparently, Link Wray was playing at some sort of fare in an early incarnation of his known as The Ray Men. A DJ asked his band to play ‘The Stroll’ by The Diamonds, Link Wray agreed, but having never heard of the song he and his bandmates found themselves in a sink or swim predicament.
Thus, in a glorious ratification of the old adage of ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, if you wanted to be bold you could easily declare that the necessity of invention spawned one of the most influential cornerstones in rock history – and you don’t have to take my word for it, there’s a legion of the biggest stars in music in line to back me up.
Wray’s brother, Doug, who in various corroborated reports sounds like a sticksmith who drummed louder than a hurricane passing over a rattle factory, beat out a rhythm with the wrong end his sticks and Wray strummed out a few heavy sustained vibrato-laden chords which is how he imagined a song called ‘The Stroll’ to sound (it doesn’t).
In order to hear the guitar over the pounding beat that Doug was mercilessly concocting, a microphone was placed in front of the punctured amplifier and the blown-out sound caused a frenzy amid the exhilarated crowd as they basked in a sonic boom that would later become known as ‘Rumble’. Although the song would weave its own mystic journey thereafter, it was eventually foisted upon the world in 1958 and it has been blowing minds and amps ever since.