There’s nothing in my dreams
Just some ugly memories
Kiss me like the ocean breeze (Gimme Danger)
I was only just 17 when I got napalmed for the first time. In the cheap LP rack at Boots in Carmarthen I bought Iggy & The Stooges Raw Power mostly because I really liked the only other record of Iggy’s I’d heard and bought, the single Real Wild Child (Wild One) and partly because I loved the way that Iggy just looked like a creature on the back cover; a creature wearing Bacofoil trousers no less.
Raw Power was a real anomaly in my life too, it was the first music I had ever played where my mum came into my room and told me it was an awful racket. Yes!! You have no idea how bloody hard it was to rebel musically against my parents! Raw Power took me over that line and for that reason alone it will always have a place in my old cold black flinty heart*.
I was totally unprepared for the sounds that filled my bedroom on the evening of 6 October 1989. I still feel unprepared for them today. Raw Power sounded like nothing else did in 1973 and it still sounds like nothing else out there in 2018.
Way before anybody had labelled anything punk** there were the Stooges, who somehow rammed juvenile delinquency and a shamanic heavy-handed primitivism together like nobody and nothing else ever had. Drugs, volatility and all round heaviness fractured them and Mr Pop headed to England with guitarist James Williamson to record an LP under the patronage of David Bowie, thinking that he’d easily pick up a rhythm section there, couldn’t find one rough enough and so brought Ron and Scott Asheton back into the fold as hired guns; hence the fact Raw Power is credited as Iggy & The Stooges.
The album sounds like the death throes of rock and roll, it is feral and unpleasant, not an LP to trust around your womenfolk/menfolk (delete as applicable). David Bowie’s production gets a rough press historically, but I think he does a great job^ – nothing in the mix is where you expect it to be, trebly guitars lurch and cut at you from unexpected quarters. The whole terrain is utterly irredeemably hostile.
I’m not even going to say a thing about the proto punk genius of ‘Search And Destroy’, I don’t need to, just listen to everything the punks did 3 years later. The title track is the closest Iggy ever gets to a personal manifesto, to explaining the forces that coursed through him whether he wanted them to, or not:
Raw power got a healing hand
Raw power can destroy a man
There is just something about that aggressive pecking riff that gets me off every time I hear it, something about that piano^^.
But it isn’t all street walking cheetahs on Raw Power, two of my very favourite tracks are the slow rumbling duo of ‘I Need Somebody’ and ‘Gimme Danger’. The former is a numb yowl of lust and despair (‘Well I’m losing all my feelings / And I’m running out of friends’) and the latter is sometimes one of my very favourite songs. On ‘Gimme Danger’ Pop and the boys get to pretend they were the Doors; except they don’t manage it very well because despite the wonderful acoustic guitar tone and Iggy’s smoked mahogany croon, their essential delinquency just bleeds out all over the end of the track to great effect.
I love the way ‘Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell’ starts so abruptly, like someone just opened the door into the recording studio. Pop sings this shady misogynistic tale in a ogrish growl that he’s never used before or since. James Williamson’s plays his cojones off all over this track, what a player he is too^*. The production is just textbook for this album, the song just sounds like hostile terrain; which it is.
There is only one track on Raw Power that uses a celeste, ‘Penetration’, a track so good one of my fave punk bands named themselves after it, adopts a totally different sonic blueprint – low-slung, quiet menace. It sounds like Satan tried to cover David Essex’s ‘Rock On’ (also 1973) backed by a band of demons using instruments made entirely out of nuns. True story*^.
How did I never notice that ‘Shake Appeal’ is such an perfect distillation of 1950’s rock, before now? maybe because it has been filtered through the Stooges thuggish tendencies. It is the least substantial track on Raw Power by far, but is still better than most band’s whole careers.
In contrast the album closer ‘Death Trip’ is another drawn-out death rattle of a song, a nihilistic outpouring of all sorts of unsavoury rantings. Again Bowie lets Williamson’s guitar lurch out of the mix at you from unsettling angles, just like music shouldn’t, which is all fine with me.
Apologies, I’ve gone on a bit here but I’m excited – Raw Power was a real game changer for me, steering me away from the normal towards the decidedly unhealthy, forever. I am only ever a voyeur down at the dark end of the street though. I stare at the pictures on the LP cover, try to imagine the world inhabited by these creatures and fail, I can’t quite conjure up that critical deparavity; but that’s fine, we have the music and the power for that.
Dance to the beat of the living dead
Lose sleep, baby, and stay away from bed
Raw power is sure to come a-runnin’ to you
*when I had blasted AC/DC what did my fascist parents say? they told me that there was a band called Led Zeppelin they had seen back in the 60’s that I’d probably really like. Yeah, right old timers! Like you know anything.
**may not be strictly, strictly, strictly true – but for the sake of my flow we’ll pretend it is.
^I have heard various re-re-remixes of Raw Power, Iggy’s in particular – all of which are much more reasoned, measured and conventional and totally miss the point of all the queasy toxicity the album invokes.
^^when I saw Henry Rollins on one of his speaky-speaky tours hundreds of years ago he must have spent a good 10 minutes talking about this track – he came on to what sounded like a really badly recorded live bootleg of it too. True story.
^*as well as the best fighter by far in the Stooges, not an empty title when you had Scotty Asheton in the band too.
*^’Rock On’ is freakin’ brilliant too, of course. Hail Satan and David Essex!