How Iggy Pop Rebuilt the Stooges for ‘Raw Power’
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Has an album ever had a more perfect title than Raw Power? What words could more accurately describe the contents of this classic by the Stooges – released in the U.S. on Feb. 7, 1973 – than “Raw” and “Power”?
That was the essence of the Stooges. They removed all the unnecessary pomp and fluff of rock and roll by boiling the music down to an exquisite primordial sludge. It’s so basic, it’s brilliant. How appropriate that Iggy Pop and company took their name from the Three Stooges.
The history behind Raw Power is a little more complicated. It both was and wasn’t the third album by the Stooges. A few years earlier, the band out of Ann Arbor, Mich., had recorded a pair of albums (The Stooges and Fun House) for Elektra, but gained more notoriety than record sales. Breakup and drug addiction ensued.
Enter Ziggy Stardust. David Bowie was a huge fan of their first two records and discovered a kindred spirit in Iggy after meeting him in New York. With Pop untethered to the Stooges and spiraling down the path of substance abuse, Bowie brought him to London. The newly minted glam superstar got Pop to sign to a management contract (with the same firm that handled Bowie) and landed him a deal as a solo artist with Columbia Records.
Iggy Pop knew he wanted the help of James Williamson – who had been added as a second guitarist in the waning days of the Stooges – on the new album, but the pair couldn’t find a rhythm section in 1972 London that shared their unique view of rock and roll. And so, they decided to reunite with original Stooges (and brothers) Scott and Ron Asheton. Scott returned to his seat behind the drums, while Ron was moved from guitar to bass.
So, what was supposed to be an Iggy Pop solo record became the third Stooges album, albeit with a bit of band member musical chairs thrown in. As a compromise between intention and reality, the band would be credited as Iggy and the Stooges.
Call the band whatever you want – these guys created the definitive blueprint for punk rock with buzzsaw guitars, breakneck rhythms, Iggy growling, “Your pretty face is going to hell”. It’s no wonder that future punks were taking notes. Even the record’s two ballads (a quota Columbia requested) are layered with a grimy, back-alley sleaze, proving that punk was potent at any speed.
Raw Power also proved that James Williamson was a worthy – although markedly different – successor to Ron Asheton as a Stooges guitarist. Williamson switched out Asheton’s bluesy, psychedelic sludge for a metallic knock-out that was more, well, raw and powerful. Refusing to be relegated to the background, Asheton created the perfect complement to Williamson’s barbed guitar with sledgehammer bass lines. It’s almost as if he was punishing the instrument for his switch to bass.
Iggy took first crack at mixing the album. When the results were lackluster, Davi Bowie was brought in to create a mix that Columbia would find suitable. Although he enlisted his pal’s help, no one in or around the band were happy with the result. Over time, Bowie’s mix has come to be viewed much more favorably – mostly because the album has never sounded as good when remixes (even one by Iggy) have been attempted.
Of course, just about everything related to Raw Power has become much more appreciated in time. Having only scraped the bottom of the charts in ’73, the project flopped and hastened the second breakup of the Stooges. Fast forward a few decades, and Raw Power is now hailed as an ahead-of-its-time classic and a major influence on artists from the Sex Pistols to Black Flag to the Smiths to Nirvana.
There are few punk anthems greater than leadoff track “Search and Destroy,” in which Iggy Pop declares himself to be a “street-walkin’ cheetah with a hand full of napalm.” Those Stooges certainly had a way with words.
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