I feel like it’s a bit of a cliche at this point, but it really is true that without The Stooges, music as we know it wouldn’t be the same. Both Raw Power (1973) and its predecessor Fun House (1970) are often cited as being influential for both the punk and metal movements. The Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones once claimed that he learned to play the guitar by taking speed and playing along to Raw Power. Similarly, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain once referred to it as being his favourite album of all time.
The music of The Stooges is defined by the chaotic energy of Iggy Pop, the aggressive guitar style of James Williamson, and shamefully under-appreciated drumming of the one, the only, Scott Asheton. Although Asheton has never been offered a place at the table of the “greatest rock drummers of all time”, he was surely one of the most forward-thinking.
Asheton’s primitive style created the template for a generation of punk drummers, and today we’re going to look at six songs that prove his genius.
Six of Scott Asheton’s best performances:
‘1969’ – The Stooges (1969)
This first track is proof that Asheton was the beating heart of The Stooges. The tomtom-heavy shuffle of this track drives the song forward whilst remaining slightly baggy. Combined with the sharp handclaps layered over the top, the beat takes on an almost funky quality, as if the whole song is based on one extended break-beat.
It comes from The Stooges’ self-titled debut of 1970, an album born from the days in which the band’s raucous live performances confounded their audiences. The album got the same reaction, with many labelling loud, boring, tasteless, unimaginative and childish. And yet, somehow, it still continued something irresistible.
‘Fun House’ – Fun House (1970)
There’s something distinctly bacchanalian about this next track. Perhaps it’s the deep red and oranges of the album cover or the intoxicating saxophone arrangements, but I’d be willing to bet it has something to with Scott Asheton’s ever so slightly off-kilter drumming.
It treads the line between precision and drunkenness perfectly and captures one of the most enjoyable aspects of any Stooges record: the feeling that it could all fall apart at any moment.
‘Death Trip’ – Raw Power (1973)
In this track from Raw Power Asheton seems more like a man reigning in a team of horses, than a rock drummer. He smashes through this song with furious intensity, before pulling back and recalibrating – only to repeat the process again and again.
Raw Power very nearly didn’t happen. After the band succumbed to drug addiction and a tough life on the road, they parted ways for a time before re-uniting under the instruction of David Bowie. Bowie also helped Iggy to recognise Asheton’s unique talent, saying: “You’re so primitive, your drummer should sound like he’s beating a log!”
‘Search And Destroy’ – Raw Power (1973)
One of the ways Raw Power influenced punk was in its unrelenting speed. Here, Asheton drives the song forward with motoric energy, giving Iggy something to play with.
A symbiotic relationship between Asheton’s drumming and Iggy’s performance style emerged the day that Iggy noticed that if he threw himself around a bit, the band played way faster and way louder. In this track, we can hear the push and pull between Asheton and Iggy
‘Loose’ – Raw Power (1973)
One of Asheton’s most inspired drum fills open this next track. It sets the tone for this hedonistic groover before knitting itself to Williamson’s wailing riff with ease.
Supported by a meaty bassline, Asheton’s tight rock beat conjures up a tantalising electricity, without becoming intrusive. That was one of Asheton’s greatest skills. He knew when to pare things back, and understood that Stooges’ brilliance lay, not in the virtuosity of its musicians, but in their ability to play as a cohesive unit.
‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ – The Stooges (1970)
Undoubtedly one of the most recognisable drum lines in any Stooges song. Once the initial growl of Williamson’s guitar has faded, Asheton’s drums gallop forward – layered with sleigh bells – to create the song’s, hypnotic, primordial centre.
The drumming in this track is a testament to the band live prowess. It captures the debauched revelry of their live performances, whilst simultaneously holding everything together. Asheton’s drumming, despite its lack of showiness, provided the very backbone of one of rock’s most provocative bands.