It’s been a while since I’ve hit the heavy iron and given the
day week I’ve had, I feel like I’m due for a little muscle tissue-ripping stress venting. And, what better thing to stress your muscle tissue to is the self-titled album by The Stooges.
While the Stooges had a few obvious points of influence – the swagger of the early Rolling Stones, the horny pound of the Troggs, the fuzztone sneer of a thousand teenage garage bands, and the Velvet Underground‘s experimental eagerness to leap into the void – they didn’t really sound like anyone else around when their first album hit the streets in 1969 (Elektra Records).
It’s hard to say if Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, Dave Alexander, and the man then known as “Iggy Stooge” were capable of making anything more sophisticated than this, but if they were, they weren’t letting on, and the best moments of this record document the blithering inarticulate fury of the post-adolescent id. Ron Asheton’s guitar runs (fortified with bracing use of fuzztone and wah-wah) are so brutal and concise they achieve a naïve genius, while Scott Asheton’s proto-Bo Diddley drums and Dave Alexander’s solid bass stomp these tunes into submission with a force that inspires awe. And Iggy’s vividly blank vocals fill the “so what?” shrug of a thousand teenagers with a wealth of palpable arrogance and wondrous confusion.
One of the problems with being a trailblazing pioneer is making yourself understood to others, and while John Cale seemed sympathetic to what the band was doing, he didn’t appear to quite get it, and as a result he made a physically powerful band sound a bit sluggish on tape. But ‘1969‘, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog‘, ‘Real Cool Time‘, ‘No Fun‘, and other classic rippers are on board, and one listen reveals why they became clarion calls in the punk rock revolution. The 10-minute long ‘We Will Fall‘ is also a psychedelic masterpiece as filtered through the fractured punk kaleidoscope; easily at home in a grungy, all hours night club as it would in a trendy yoga studio. Part of the fun of The Stooges is, then as now, the band managed the difficult feat of sounding ahead of their time and entirely out of their time, all at once.
Of course, it goes without saying that this album is best enjoyed when played LOUD!
I mean, it’s The Stooges…how else are you going to play it?
In 2003, the album was ranked at #185 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The same magazine included ‘1969‘ in their ‘100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time‘ list. My own musical Bible (Mojo, August 1995) ranks the album at #79. The book ‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’ mentions this about the album:
“A collection of brilliant curios, which were neither full-on garage rock, nor out-and-out dirge.”
Yup. That about sums it up.