If there’s anyone who embodies everything that’s great about rock and roll it’s Iggy Pop. He took his somewhat limited vocals and turned them into his greatest advantage. He can make any lyric sound sincere, even important. He might not be able to sing everything but he can howl and scream his way through. He’s always dancing. He’s always shirtless. He might age but he never gets older. You should already know him but if you don’t, here you go.
Where to Begin: Iggy Pop
Billed under Iggy and The Stooges, Raw Power (1973, Columbia) is the best place to get started. If you don’t like this album you don’t like Iggy Pop, and you may not like rock and roll. The album’s title lives up to its promise and then some. Power only begins to describe the feeling you get listening to these songs. Most of them don’t have intros, they just begin by punching you in the head and rarely let up. “Search and Destroy,” “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell,” and the title track are some of the hardest, heaviest, feel-it-in-your-guts songs ever written. And talk about raw. Raw Power has long been known for the harshness of its production. The guitars sound like an electric razor buzzing your hair and taking a little bit of skin. In the age of Pro Tools, it’s amazing to think that someone could make something so rough and it be completely revolutionary.
If you like Raw Power, the logical next step is to get the first two Stooges albums. 1969’s The Stooges and 1970’s Funhouse are the blueprint of punk rock. The music here was so noisy yet so minimal people didn’t know what to call it so they had to invent a name for it. This was years before the first albums by the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and The Clash. When parents were afraid of what rock music could do to their kids, this is what they feared most.
However if what you like best about Raw Power is the guitar playing, you may notice the absence of James Williamson. Williamson was not an original Stooge but he became Iggy’s greatest foil in his transitional period. After Raw Power, the two made an album called Kill City. The music on Kill City is not as punishing as The Stooges’ but Iggy’s voice still sounds great on top of James Williamson’s riffs. The musical approach became subtler here. Saxophones were used to play saxophones parts and not just to make noise. Kill City is a great album in its own right but it also led the way for Iggy’s next period.
In 1977, punk finally broke everywhere else. Iggy teamed up with David Bowie and made two virtually perfect albums. Finally working under his own name, the first to be released, The Idiot, is a beautiful anomaly in Pop’s cannon. Around this time he and Bowie went to Berlin to get clean, got very into kraut-rock. What they came up with first was this cold, dark record that was oddly funky but kind of scary.
Lust for Life is more upbeat and fun but still has that unique magic that he could only make when working with Bowie. The two musicians were influencing each other to make some of the best music of both their careers. (For a complete picture of this period you should also seek out Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy: Low, ‘Heroes’, and Lodger).
The rest of Iggy Pop’s solo career is kind of a mixed bag. Soldier is a very New Wavey keyboard-heavy album. It features ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock on bass and some of Iggy’s best singing. It’s definitely worth checking out. Brick By Brick sports a more radio-friendly version of Iggy’s punk rock that still doesn’t pull any punches. It just sounds more produced and its best moments, like “Candy” which features Kate Pierson of The B-52s, are career highlights.
The pinnacle of late-period Iggy is 2003’s Skull Ring, if for no other reason because it sees him reunited with The Stooges for the first time in about 30 years. His old band gets four songs while he also plays with Green Day, Sum-41, Peaches, and his touring band The Trolls, who for my money are the best backing band he ever had aside from the Stooges (who are really more of a complete unit anyway). The Trolls also play on the decent Beat ‘Em Up but Skull Ring feels like a big career moment. It shows where he’s come from and how he’s influenced what’s happened since. Most of all, it shows that he rocks just as hard and is still as crazy as he ever was.
Also worth checking out: Iggy is as much a performer as he is a singer. Unsurprisingly, this has led to him being cast in an array of acting roles over the years. Children of my generation may remember him as Nona F. Mecklenberg’s dad on Adventures of Pete and Pete although this is a relatively subdued performance.
For a taste of the real nut-job Iggy, check him out in Dead Man, as a mad, cross-dressing fur trader or as Belvedere Rickettes in Cry-Baby, where his character is introduced bathing in a washtub.