Favourite Albums – Raw Power

Raw Power

Released in 1973 amid political controversies and social tensions, Raw Power was a wave of high energy that was kicking and screaming all the way from the studio to the listener’s ear. Just before the album was released The Stooges were kaput: they had officially broken up, bassist Dave Alexander was fighting alcoholism, and Iggy Pop’s heroin addiction was escalating prior to the intervention of David Bowie. Iggy would later recall, “Very few people recognized the quality of the Stooges’ songwriting, it was really meticulous. And to his credit, the only person I’d ever known of in print to notice it, among my peers of professional musicians, was Bowie. He noticed it right off.” Produced by David Bowie, who had been impressed with The Stooges’ music right from the early stages of their career, whose own music was vastly different to that of the Stooges. I mean if Bowie’s releasing albums like Hunky Dory (1971), The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972), and Aladdin Sane (1973) then how on God’s green earth does he muster the talent to produce such a brilliant hard rock album? He just does, he’s Bowie, it’s within his abilities and repertoire to touch anything and turn it into gold. Iggy initially produced and mixed the album himself, which contained 24 tracks, but cocked it up and MainMan records insisted that Bowie produce and mix the album. Iggy agreed, claiming that “the other choice was I wasn’t going to get my album out.” but insisted that his own mix for “Search and Destroy” be retained. Due to budgetary constraints, Bowie remixed the other seven songs in a single day in an inexpensive Los Angeles studio, Western Sound Recorders, in October 1972. Iggy said of the production:

To the best of my recollection it was done in a day. I don’t think it was two days. On a very, very old board, I mean this board was old! An Elvis type of board, old-tech, low-tech, in a poorly lit, cheap old studio with very little time. To David’s credit, he listened with his ear to each thing and talked it out with me, I gave him what I thought it should have, he put that in its perspective, added some touches. He’s always liked the most recent technology, so there was something called a Time Cube you could feed a signal into — it looked like a bong, a big plastic tube with a couple of bends in it — and when the sound came out the other end, it sort of shot at you like an echo effect. He used that on the guitar in “Gimme Danger,” a beautiful guitar echo overload that’s absolutely beautiful; and on the drums in “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell.” His concept was, “You’re so primitive, your drummer should sound like he’s beating a log!” It’s not a bad job that he did…I’m very proud of the eccentric, odd little record that came out.

Bowie later recalled:

…the most absurd situation I encountered when I was recording was the first time I worked with Iggy Pop. He wanted me to mix Raw Power, so he brought the 24-track tape in, and he put it up. He had the band on one track, lead guitar on another and him on a third. Out of 24 tracks there were just three tracks that were used. He said ‘see what you can do with this’. I said, ‘Jim, there’s nothing to mix’. So we just pushed the vocal up and down a lot. On at least four or five songs that was the situation, including “Search and Destroy.” That’s got such a peculiar sound because all we did was occasionally bring the lead guitar up and take it out.”

The opening track Search and Destroy, The Stooges’ most famous track, acts as a sarcastic ode to American diplomacy, equating Iggy’s mantra to that of the American military’s tactic of destroying villages in order to “save them”. Search and Destroy acts as a buffer between the horrors of the Vietnam war that people were exposed to in their homes through televisions and America’s culpability for committing heinous abuses of human rights. It’s almost as though Iggy is screaming “Yeah, America is fucking up over there but hey listen we’re all runaway children of the nuclear A-bomb so destruction and alienation for us. Let’s continue what we’re best at.” The theme of destruction rings throughout the album and for its time, 1973, it was a unique and relatively new phenomenon to lyricise (it’s a real word… Okay, it sounds real) about. We heard the nihilistic lyrics of Lou Reed and co. in the Velvet Underground’s music and the New York Dolls were still developing themselves but this was different, this was revelling in destruction and obsolescence. James Williamson’s riff-roaring guitar sets the tone for the album, that it’s going to be raucous, powerful and dirty. The subsequent tracks do not cease to disappoint me. The lyrics to Gimme Danger are troublesome, they’re masochistic and filled with self-loathing pain.

Gimme danger little stranger
And I feel with you at ease
Gimme danger little stranger
And I feel your disease
There’s nothing in my dreams
Just some ugly memories
Kiss me like the ocean breeze

Now if you will be my lover
I wish you were insane
But you can’t be my master
I will do you anything
There’s nothing left alive
But a pair of glassy eyes

Raise my feelings one more time

Penetration is about, well, it’s in the title and it is self-explanatory. The shimmering celesta riff in “Penetration” personifies what is great about the album, that the tiny nuanced features of the music adds to the uniqueness.

The album grabs you and repeatedly belts you in the face and screams your ears off but in the end it’s lovingly cuddling you, stroking you (and giving you the occasional BJ). That’s the overall impression you get, that through all the loud, hard, electrical feedback sound of the album, and the morally repugnant nature of Iggy’s lyrics, there’s a poetic beauty within it. Bowie’s production finds harmonic, melodic and rhythmic structure within the sounds. Beauty would be the farthest thing that Iggy would strive for within his music, but it’s a beauty that the listener feels obliged to search for, and subsequently destroy. It has a sophistication in its chaos. People generally assume and believe that Punk’s birth year was 1977 but this album challenges that and laid down the seeds for the Punk movement later formed. Truth be told, The Stooges are actually Punk’s ridiculously cool grandfather. The Stooges, and Raw Power’s, influence on later music was fundamental. Kurt Cobain wrote in his Journals numerous times that Raw Power was his favourite album of all time. In his list of the top 50 albums he thought were most influential to Nirvana’s sound entered in his journal in 1993, “Raw Power” appears in the number one slot. Johnny Marr of The Smiths has also spoken highly of the record, commenting on James Williamson’s guitar playing on the album: “I’m his biggest fan. He has the technical ability of Jimmy Page without being as studious, and the swagger of Keith Richards without being sloppy. He’s both demonic and intellectual, almost how you would imagine Darth Vader to sound if he was in a band.” Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols claimed that he learned to play guitar by taking speed and playing along to Raw Power. Morrissey once described the song as “great” and “a very LA song”.

All of the above opinions are why I love this album and remains to be one of my favourites. A hats off to The Stooges and Bowie for producing a magnificent album. I implore anyone with even a semi-decent taste in music to delve into this album and, if possible, make love to it.

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