Shake Appeal: Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power at 50
Looking back on a half-century of a punk rock landmark
There is no consensus when it comes to the origins of punk, but if The Stooges didn’t invent the genre they certainly would have.
While the band’s self-titled debut and follow-up Funhouse only hinted at the nascent genre’s intensity, their third album Raw Power, released on February 7th, 1973, became a foundational album not only for punk but a classic release for rock music as a whole.
The leadup to the recording of Raw Power found the band in shambles, basically already broken up. The recording sessions were originally intended to be for Iggy Pop’s solo debut. He had enlisted James Williamson, the former second guitarist for The Stooges, but had not assembled a band beyond that. Pop and Williamson struggled to find suitable bandmates in England. Eventually, the former Stooges Ron and Scott Asheton were flown over from the states and the band was complete. The line-up couldn’t be denied and the group was christened Iggy and The Stooges.
Despite consisting of all former Stooges though, the sound on Raw Power is different. By moving Ron Asheton to bass, a change he was reluctant to make, Williamson was able to put a more personal stamp on the music. His guitar is bigger, filling in all the available sonic space. “Search and Destroy” opens with big, gritty guitar chords that threaten to drown out the rest of the band. The song itself, with a title that prods at the still-fresh wounds of the Vietnam war, possesses a feral quality and illustrates rock and roll at its most dangerous.
“Gimme Danger” follows and attempts to take the foot off the gas but by the time the chorus arrives, the intensity has returned. Pop’s vocal leans more towards the hypnotic but rather than being soothing it comes across as menacing. Meanwhile, “You’re Pretty Face is Going to Hell” sounds like a party thrown in honor of spite. The riffs are a raucous boogie, but the vocals spit venom.
“Penetration” returns to more groove-oriented territory. The main riff wouldn’t sound out of place on an early ZZ Top record but a repetitive keyboard line lends the song a unique feel. Pop grunts and growls his way through the song, trying to not kill the mood with a more over-the-top vocal.
The title track then emerges midway through the album and brings to mind the Rolling Stones’ “Rocks Off” in a more atavistic form. What The Stooges lack in refinement they more than makeup for in swagger. “Raw Power” hits deep with a physicality that short-circuits the conventional. The density of the guitars serves as a prelude to punk and hardcore to come and arguably heavy metal as well.
“I Need Somebody” is a slower bluesy number. It, along with “Gimme Danger”, were originally written to fulfill the record label’s demand for two ballads, yet they hardly feel like ballads the way we think about them now. “I Need Somebody” seems to serve as a bridge between the Stones and Elvis on one side and Danzig’s metallic solo career on the other end. And here some of The Door’s influence that was present on the earlier Stooges album returns but the difference in the guitar work remains. This is followed by “Shake Appeal” which brings back the rock, but now the bridge runs from fifties rock bands on one end with the B-52s and Ramones on the other.
The album closes with “Death Trip,” whose guitar and syncopated beats almost predict the post-punk stylings of Wire or, to a lesser degree, Gang of Four. Iggy Pop is all immediacy though. Much like the photo of him on the cover he seems to perform with a proverbial thousand-yard stare, a kind of intense focus that is unbreakable despite the debauchery present all around.
After the recording, the band didn’t fare any better than they did before. Iggy Pop mixed the record, but apparently didn’t understand the equipment he was working on. The band’s manager Tony Defries forced them to allow David Bowie to remix the album in order that it could be released. Not long after, Defries fired the band after finding out they had blown the majority of their advance on drugs. Iggy and the Stooges disbanded in February of 1974.
Despite the breakup, Raw Power was almost universally praised by critics. More importantly, its influence has been felt for generations after. It is a cornerstone record for punk and hardcore. The density of the guitar attack and Iggy Pop’s venom-drenched delivery would illustrate how the disillusioned youth could express their angst. But Raw Power’s impact goes beyond those genres. Songs like “You’re Pretty Face is Going to Hell” and the title track not only seem to be a direct influence on the New York Dolls but seemed to be later echoed in the rawer end of the Sunset Strip metal scene of the ’80s with groups like Guns N’ Roses and Faster Pussycat. Meanwhile, the record is seminal in the garage rock scene as well, a blueprint for those who wish to avoid coating their rock music in a commercial sheen. It is not hard to imagine Raw Power holding a special place in the hearts of musicians like Jack White and Jon Spencer.
The Stooges would eventually reform and release new music, first with Ron Asheton returning on guitar and then, after his passing, with James Willaimson. The newer material isn’t bad, but not surprisingly, it fails to capture the magic of the first three records, Raw Power especially. The young men who made that record probably wouldn’t have survived much longer if they lived the lives that produced that music.
It is often the catch-22 of the best rock records, although as many Iggy Pop records prove, it is not always the rule.
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One thought on “Shake Appeal: Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power at 50”
Reviled in 1973, revered in 2023. The fifty years since the release of this seminal album have done little to diminish its’ blistering intensity. This album was the template for the Sex Pistols, Nirvana, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Smiths, Black Flag, and everything else that followed in its wake.
Much has been written about the mix, but it doesn’t really matter. Sam Phillips of Sun Records spoke of capturing “lightning in a bottle”, when he recorded many classic tracks at his studio in the 1950s.
“Raw Power” did exactly that and its essence remains unrepeatable. It is pure rock’n’roll abandon that has echoed throughout the decades, a raging inferno of a record that even now can melt many stereo speakers in the 21st Century. Just listen to “Search And Destroy”.
johnny Marr’s love of the menacing’ “Gimme Danger” inspired him to write “Hand In Glove”.
Iggy has outlasted and outlived the naysayers. “We’re going down in history,” he yelled on the berserk “Death Trip”. Few knew at the time, but Ig proved to be right.