Classic Album: The Stooges ‘The Stooges’

‘The Stooges’ was out of time and ahead of the whole world

“Here’s a track from a new album coming soon on Elektra,” announced John Peel’s dulcet tones one Sunday afternoon in August 1969. Expecting the new Incredible String Band album, it came as some shock when the slavering wah-wah intro of ‘Little Doll’ heralded the first time that The Stooges were heard in the UK.

They immediately stood out like the sorest of thumbs. If Led Zeppelin’s debut album of the same year laid the musical blueprint for the first half of the ’70s, The Stooges forged another template for the decade’s latter years, although few would have believed it at the time. But it’s too simplistic to hail the monumental contents of ‘The Stooges’ as punk rock’s prototype, despite the obvious influence it had on the Sex Pistols (even down to covering ‘No Fun’). The Stooges didn’t set out to start a revolution; it took signing a record deal and being booked into a studio to get them off their arses to forge songs out of the chaotic stage act which had prompted Elektra’s Danny Fields to sign them at the same time as fellow Detroit-based ‘big brother’ band the MC5.

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The Stooges – I Wanna Be Your Dog

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They were just doing what came naturally, Iggy letting the dirty dog out a the same time as dumping on rock ‘n’ roll’s previously set-in-stone inhibitions, while guitarist Ron Asheton channelled his love for The Who’s raw aggression into his uniquely-relentless behemoth churn. Harnessed in the studio, The Stooges boiled rock ‘n’ roll down to its wired primal essence, Iggy’s lyrics written while he observed the ‘social patterns’ of school kids in a local burger bar, reflecting teenage lust and terminal boredom: the original blank generation manifesto.

Danny Fields’ choice of John Cale for producer was inspired. Although the Velvet Underground founder had just sculpted the icy, freeform backdrops for Nico’s ground-breaking ‘Marble Index’ album, this was Cale’s first assignment as Elektra’s new staff producer. Impressed by The Stooges’ live chaos, he took to the project with gusto and diligence, but also recognised the unbridled avant garde sensibilities which gave them extra untamed edge.

Before recording commenced and having just rehearsed structured songs for the first time, The Stooges hit New York, mixing with Cale’s hip chums, including Nico, who embarked on a fling with Iggy. Recording started on April Fool’s Day, 1969, at New York’s Hit Factory, off Times Square. While Iggy climbed around the speakers and Asheton fought for maximum volume, the pot-smoking Stooges initially laid into the five songs they’d worked up: ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, ‘No Fun’, ‘1969’, ‘Ann’ and ‘We Will Fall’. Elektra supremo Jac Holzman said they needed more so they returned to their Chelsea Hotel domicile and knocked up ‘Real Cool Time’, ‘Not Right’ and ‘Littl Doll’ overnight. Within a week they had an album.

Forty years on, ‘The Stooges’ still sounds untouchable, its cathartic bludgeoning and dum dum worldview still sounding timeless. “Another year for me and you / Another year with nothing to do”, spit-pouts Iggy on the opening ‘1969’, written after The Stooges had been booed off by punters waiting for Cream.

Ron Asheton built his monolithic riffs on anything from the Yusef Lateef blues which inspired ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ [effectively bolstered by Cale’s one-note piano] to a bassline snippet from Pharoah Sanders’ ‘Upper And Lower Egypt’ for ‘Little Doll’. ‘No Fun’ was constructed around a brief two-note riff from ‘Tribal Gathering’ on The Byrds’ ‘Notorious Byrd Brothers’ album (which he heard after taking LSD for the first time and losing his virginity at Iggy’s twenty-first birthday party). ‘Ann’ is widely considered to be named after Ron’s ever supportive mum.

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The Stooges – No Fun

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With the album’s seven rockers totalling around twenty-four minutes, respectable length was attained with ten minutes of dense mantra-drone ‘We Will Fall’, based on a chant by Indian guru Swami Ramdas, whose biography Dave Alexander was reading. After all, The Stooges had started out as an experimental band, which is also evident in the unconventional way that the rumbling beast of a rhythm section pusues and embellishes riffs and vocals rather than straight timekeeping. With Joel Brodsky’s suitably snotty cover staring like a punk version of The Doors’ debut, the album was unleashed to positive reviews in the underground press but some befuddlement in the mainstream, making 106 in the US charts.

Writing in Fusion magazine, future Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye declared, “1969 may well be the year of The Stooges”, while Detroit’s ever-supportive Creem ventured, “This is probably the guitar style of the future.” How right they were. Released in the same week as the Woodstock festival, ‘The Stooges’ was out of time and ahead of the whole world.

Words by Kris Needs

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