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Music

Six Definitive Songs: The ultimate beginner's guide to The Stooges

I don’t think anyone would argue with me for saying that The Stooges are one of the most important bands of all time. A visceral proto-punk outfit whose live shows built on the raucous energy of their records, alongside the likes of The Velvet Underground and Neil Young, they helped to lay the foundations for all alternative music moving forward.

Formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1967 by guitarist Ron Asheton, drummer Ron Asheton, bassist Dave Alexander and frontman Iggy Pop, the group would ride the back end of the countercultural wave. Alongside Michigan peers and labelmates The MC5, they instilled rock and roll with an unrelenting force, fuelled by anger, drug use and alcoholism, amongst other things. It was dark, sexy and taboo, and people loved it. 

Originally calling themselves The Psychedelic Stooges, the band started out by playing a primitive form of rock and roll, like a mix of The Sonics and The Kingsmen on speed. They quickly gained a reputation for their live performances, with Pop creating an antagonistic stage presence which was regarded as extreme for the time. Inspired by Jim Morrison of The Doors, Pop pushed the boundaries of stage performance and effectively laid the foundations for the likes of GG Allin, Marylin Manson and Slipknot. His stage performances would often include acts of self-mutilation, including rolling around in broken glass. 

The remarkable thing about The Stooges is that their original career was very short. They released their eponymous debut in 1969, which was followed by the cult classic Fun House in 1970, and afterwards, the band disbanded due to drug addiction and alcoholism. The Stooges reformed to record Raw Power in 1972, only this time Ron Asheton moved to the bass, with a friend of the band, James Williamson, joining as lead guitarist. Due to Asheton feeling that Williamson was a usurper, the band broke up in 1974. 

A string of live albums would be released over the years, and the band would reform in 2003. Their final album, The Weirdness, was released in 2007 without Williamson, and Asheton moved back to guitar. Asheton passed away in 2009, and in 2016, the band formally announced their breakup due to the deaths of Scott Asheton and saxophonist Steve Mackay.

The band’s legacy is huge. It is telling that Sonic Youth’s 15th and final album, 2009’s The Eternal, was dedicated to Ron Asheton. The impact they had on the world of alternative music with only three albums is truly remarkable. Johnny Marr, Depeche Mode, Rage Against the Machine, Melvins, Swans, Henry Rollins, The Ramones, the list of legends that cite The Stooges as heroes is dazzling. 

Accordingly, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to list the six definitive songs by The Stooges. It was a huge task, and this is just our opinion, but we hope it provides a suitable starting point for anyone wanting to get into the band but not knowing where to start.

The six definitive Stooges songs:

1969 – The Stooges (1969)

A fuzzy classic, ‘1969’ is the fitting opener for The Stooges’ iconic debut, and aptly titled at that. The proto-punk nihilism of Iggy Pop is as clear as anything on the track, the first portion of lyrics read: “Well, it’s 1969, okay /
All across the USA / It’s another year for me and you / Another year with nothing to do”.

Asheton’s guitar licks are unforgettable, and his use of the wah pedal in the introduction makes it one of the most notable from the era. It slowly builds its trudging tension, and was a statement of intent by the band. They weren’t any old rock band.

‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ – The Stooges (1969)

Another early belter, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, was perhaps the clearest example of The Stooges intent from their debut. The beat and the bells make it sound as if you’re entering some form of sinister trance, and Pop’s opening lyrics again reflected that The Stooges were not a band concerned with flower-power and airy-fairy hippidom: “So messed up, I want you here / In my room, I want you here”.

Dark and ominous, there’s a psychedelic element to the song, and Asheton’s guitar solo is brilliant. It’s almost infused with the kind of Eastern sound that George Harrison tried to emulate at many points across the latter half of The Beatles’ career, but via the amount of fuzz and attitude, goes way beyond that, particularly when you note Pop’s psychotic grunts in the background.

‘Down on the Street’ – Fun House (1970)

Another number that slowly builds the tension, the opener to Fun House, is one of the most unhinged in The Stooges’ back catalogue. On this record, the gloves were off for the band, and there’s no surprise that many of our favourite musicians cite it as an inspiration, including, The Fall, Jack White, The Damned and Steve Albini.

Asheton’s guitar playing builds on the pioneering steps of The Stooges, and his meandering, punchy solo is so good. A psychedelic freakout, one can only imagine how good this was live.

‘T.V. Eye’ – Fun House (1970)

Another classic from Fun House, this thunderous racket is marvellous. If you think you’ve heard the riff before, that’s because you have. Tom Morello’s riff for Rage Against the Machine’s classic stomper ‘Sleep Now in the Fire’ from 1999’s The Battle of Los Angeles, was directly inspired by ‘T.V. Eye’.

The build-up in the middle is genuinely insane. You hear Pop do his weird growls whilst Asheton and the band create a tension that has you on the edge of your seat. It then stops and pulls you back in for another brief round of fisticuffs at the end. You hear where bands such as The Vines and The Von Bondies got their inspiration for blues inspired six-string licks. 

‘Search and Destroy- Raw Power (1973)

So good. Williamson’s soloing at the introduction is amazing. Darker and faster than any of their other efforts, ‘Search and Destroy’ is perhaps the quintessential Stooges song. Lyrically, thematically and musically, it is them at their most eminent. The pace is punishing, and it is here where you can hear most clearly the bridge between The Stooges and the first wave of punk.

Famously, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols learnt to play the guitar by taking speed and listening to Raw Power. One of the finest album openers of all time, ‘Search and Destroy’ is brilliant even nearly 50 years later. Williamson’s licks at the end are just unbeatable. 

‘Gimme Danger’ – Raw Power (1973)

James Williamson take a bow. His acoustic work on ‘Gimme Danger’ is arguably the best guitar moment in the history of The Stooges. On this wicked effort, you can really hear the attitude of which Johnny Marr would take and augment into his own iconic guitar sound.

Other legends such as John Frusciante and Guns N’ Roses have mentioned the song as having a huge impact on their musical development. The most emotionally riveting moment The Stooges ever produced, you’re sure to have it on repeat.