The Stooges – Raw Power

Raw Power (1973)

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1. Search And Destroy 2. Gimme Danger 3. Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell 4. Penetration 5. Raw Power 6. I Need Somebody 7. Shake Appeal 8. Death Trip

 

Record companies are fucking idiots, aren’t they? I know, I know, you’ve heard it a million times before, and it’s the most predictable gosh darned thing anyone can possibly say beyond, “can I have another piece of pizza, please?” But sometimes it bears repeating. Why, I remember career day in 8th grade just like it was yesterday. Some of my friends and I got to tour a marble-and-glass palace that apparently acts as a Sony recording studio in order to get a little taste of the music biz. Before being shepherded around the halls to gaze upon such wonders as a bathroom where Aerosmith once took a shower (it was not specified whether they did this separately or all together), we found ourselves in a room having a brief meet and greet with a company exec. Soon enough, he began opining about the difficulty in the modern age of selling CDs to young people and submitted a plea to us for ideas like a pathetic sad sack. We offered the very simple suggestion that maybe if CDs didn’t cost $18, more people could afford to buy more of them. At this, he dismissively mumbled something like, “we tried that, it doesn’t work, mehhhh” and went into a spiel about how illegal downloading is evil and destroying the music industry and you rotten kids should stop doing it.

Similarly, Elektra decided that even though the Stooges had made one of the greatest rock albums of all time in Fun House, the record didn’t sell very well so it was obviously a good idea to just drop the band from the label. And the worst part is that Elektra never got their comeuppance, since they’ve been reaping the monetary benefits of Jim Morrison’s posthumous legend for 40 years now. Fuckers. The Stooges, on the other hand, were in precarious shape following the dump. Mike Alexander got kicked out of the band shortly afterwards for being too much of a junkie, which is sort of like getting kicked out of Tommy Chong’s house for smoking too much weed. After going through a couple of replacement bassists and welcoming a Texas-born, former high school bandmate of Ron Asheton’s, James Williamson, as a second guitarist, the band entered limbo by 1971. David Bowie then somehow entered the picture and convinced Iggy to move to England to start a new band. He brought Williamson with him and the two of them started writing songs, but were unable to locate a satisfactory rhythm section in the entirety of the United Kingdom, so they tapped the Ashetons for the job, with Ron agreeing to move over to bass. And just like that, the Stooges were reborn.

Not for long, of course. Any chance the Stooges (or, rather, Iggy & the Stooges, as they were billed for this album. This also marks the point where Iggy starts going by the surname “Pop.” Certainly beats the hell out of “Osterberg”) had of suddenly becoming a household name was obliterated during Raw Power’s notorious mixing stage. Iggy had the first go at it, and apparently made it unlistenable, so it was given to Bowie to salvage, but he fucked it up even more. Unfortunately, Bowie’s mix is what came out. I’ve never heard it, so I can’t speak to it, but from what I can gather, dropping the needle on Raw Power was not the most listener-friendly experience in the world back in 1973. So, like the previous two Stooges albums, it languished in obscurity until punk pioneers and enthusiasts discovered it and Iggy became famous. Then everyone loved the Stooges! But the album still sounded like shit. So Iggy finally did a remix in 1997, which is the version that I and mostly everybody else has now. The day is saved!

Now, don’t go thinking that the new mix is all orthodox and clean and shit. It ain’t. The guitars are almost comically overdriven to the point where everything crackles loudly with digital distortion, and I can barely hear the rhythm section back there. But you know what? It works. This album is called Raw Power, after all, and the music contained therein possesses nothing if not raw fucking power. And really, it’s all in those superloud guitars. Not that Iggy isn’t terrific on this album – he shimmys, shakes and squeals his way all over the place, not so much like the demented urban rioter he portrayed on Fun House, but more like the off-color, glammy rock star he appears to be on the cover. But it turns out James Williamson is a truly awesome guitar player, and he comes up with a ton of terrific riffs and songs – not to mention the torrents of piercing, furious leads he unleashes throughout just about every available second of musical space on this album.

The over-exaggerated, steroidal guitar assault is clearly influenced by the decadence of Bowie, the Spiders from Mars and the fledgling glam movement in Britain, but the songs themselves are soundly based in good old rock ‘n roll. I’d even argue Williamson is at times a bit too reliant on basic boogie rhythm playing. Of course, his playing is so vicious and impellent that it doesn’t actually sound anything like Chuck Berry, and, you know… who gives a crap? Maybe I’m just a teensy bit frustrated that he starts out “Death Trip” playing this really cool riff and then spends the next six minutes playing a two-chord boogie before bringing the riff back at the very end, but it’s still a kickass song. These are all kickass songs. You might know “Search And Destroy,” which is like a re-jiggered “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” both lyrically and musically, and rules. But why is it that the chorus is the weakest section of the song? It’s supposed to be the other way around! That unbelievably furious “Somebody gotta save my soul!” pre-chorus buildup section sounds like it wants to explode into something even wilder, but instead it just sort of hangs back… weird. Continuing with the Stones contiguity, “Gimme Danger” is nearly every bit as ominously powerful as the Stones’ own “Gimme” song. Not so much the Let It Bleed version, but the versions they used to play live in ’72 and ’73 where Mick Taylor would go off on wailing, chill-inducing solos for minutes at a time. Because after starting off in a creepy minor key, acoustic-based mode, the second half of the song is almost entirely instrumental and derives its entire sense of danger and menace from Williamson’s soloing – not many guitarists are capable of wielding that kind of power just from playing notes. The only other stylistic shift on the record is “I Need Somebody,” which is an awesomely twisted take on sleezy blooze. And I guess “Penetration” is a little slower than the others – great Iggy vocals on that one. Otherwise, pretty much every other song can be classified as  “overdriven rockers.” Like “Shake Appeal,” which might be my favorite song here despite being the stupidest. I just love the crap out of that melody! It makes me wiggle my head back and forth! Look, I’m doing it right now! Wiggle wiggle wiggle!

Look, there’s no denying that this mix is metaphorically an attempt to reconstruct a shambled-beyond-repair vagina after it had pushed out triplets, but, and this is all metaphorical of course, I still love putting my dick in that vagina. It feels really good.



2 Comments

  1. Emily wrote:

    Wow. Lovely image at the end there. But the metaphor works, I suppose.

    I had no idea the original mix of this was unlistenable. There’s a guy that comes to Ark open stages and plays Stooges songs on the mandolin.