Fifty Years Ago The Stooges Release The Stooges.

James Newell Osterberg a.k.a. Iggy Pop had been the drummer in a number of bands based in Ann Arbor during his teenage years. This included The Iguanas and later, The Prime Movers. However, it was a chance meeting with blues drummer Sam Lay in Chicago that inspired the future Iggy Pop to form a new group to make a new type of blues music, which wasn’t a derivative of the past.

On his return to Detroit, James Osterberg started looking for the “right” musicians for his new band. This included drummer Scott Asheton, bassist Dave Alexander and guitarist Ron Asheton who James Newell Osterberg saw playing with the covers band The Chosen Few. He was recruited because James Newell Osterberg believed that: “I’ve never met a convincing musician that didn’t look kind of ill and kind of dirty, and Ron had those two things covered!” 

The three musicians joined James Osterberg in a new band that was originally called The Psychedelic Stooges. It would later change its name, and so would the lead singer. This came after the rest of the band started calling James Osterberg Pop after a local character who he resembled. However, it was only after seeing the MC5 that James Osterberg started calling himself Iggy Pop.

By then, The Psychedelic Stooges had played their debut gig at their communal State Street house on the ‘31st’ October 1967…Halloween. The best part of three months passed before The Psychedelic Stooges played their second gig in January 1968. It wasn’t long before The Psychedelic Stooges were familiar faces on the Detroit live scene.

This included sharing the bill with MC5 at the Grande Ballroom, in Detroit. During that concert, they were playing I Wanna Be Your Dog when Ron Asheton guitar neck separated from the body. As a new band, The Psychedelic Stooges’ instruments weren’t the best and they even used homemade instruments and used household including a blender and vacuum cleaner. Then there was The Jim-a-phone which was a homemade effects unit that was used to funnel feedback. The Psychedelic Stooges were a unique band who sometimes shocked the audience.

While The Psychedelic Stooges music was raw, primitive and wild, Iggy Pop’s behaviour was often confrontational and outrageous. He sometimes smeared his bare chest with peanut butter and hamburger meat and during gigs and took to stage diving. Other times, he cut his chest with shards of glass and on occasions exposed himself to the audience. Iggy Pop was unlike most singers and The Psychedelic Stooges were unlike most bands. 

Despite that, in 1968, Elektra Records signed The Stooges as they were now known. Elektra Records had sent DJ and publicist Danny Fields to watch the MC5 and that night, he also saw The Stooges. Realising the potential of both bands the MC5 and The Stooges were signed to Elektra Records.

While the MC5 was paid $20,000, The Stooges received just $5,000. The disparity between the rates of pay was a bone of contention between the members of The Stooges. However, they were soon sent into the studio to record their debut album The Stooges which was reissued for Record Store Day 2018 as a two  LP set. This version was the famous Detroit Mix of The Stooges which was mixed by John Cale, who produced the album.

The Stooges.

By thew time The Stooges entered The Hit Factory, in New York,  in April 1969, they intended to record five songs that were staples of their live sets. This included I Wanna Be Your Dog, No Fun, 1969, Ann and We Will Fall. During their sets, The Stooges would play each song for around two minutes, before improvising for several minutes. The Stooges thought that they could do this during the recording sessions .

Vocalist Iggy Pop, drummer Scott Asheton, bassist Dave Alexander and guitarist Ron Asheton recorded fives songs that are best described as a mixture brutalist garage rock and proto-punk. Once the five songs that The Stooges had recorded with producer John Cale were completed, they were handed over to executives at Elektra Records. For The Stooges this was a proud moment as they had completed their eponymous debut album.

Or so they thought. Unfortunately for The Stooges, when executives at Elektra Records heard the album they promptly rejected it. Their reason was that there weren’t enough songs for an album. When The Stooges were told about the lack of songs they bluffed, claiming that they plenty more songs they could record.

That wasn’t true. The Stooges had exhausted their supply of songs and were faced with the prospect of writing three songs overnight. This wasn’t going to be easy, but somehow, The Stooges wrote Real Cool Time, Not Right and Little Doll, which they played for the first time in the studio the following day.

With eight songs recorded, The Stooges had enough material for their eponymous debut album. They even had one song left over, Asthma Attack which didn’t make it onto The Stooges. Now that The Stooges was recorded, the next stage was mixing.

Producer John Cale took charge of the first mix, and used as a reference Lou Reed’s “closet mix” of The Velvet Underground’s eponymous third album, which had also been recorded at The Hit Factory, in New York, in April 1969. When it was handed over to executives at Elektra Records they rejected the mix.

The Stooges was then remixed by Iggy Pop and Elektra Records’ president Jac Holzman. This was the version of The Stooges that was released on August the ‘5th’ 1969.

Before that, critics had their say on The Stooges.The reviews of The Stooges weren’t good, and the  majority of critics struggled to find any merit in the album. Robert Christgau the self-styled ‘dean’ of rock critics reviewed The Stooges for the Village Voice and called the album: “stupid-rock at its best.” Edmund O Ward writing in the Rolling Stone said:  that The Stooges was: “loud, boring, tasteless, unimaginative and childish,” but did concede that he: “kind of liked it.” Most of the critics rejected The Stooges out of hand, which didn’t bode well for its release.

When The Stooges was released on August the ‘5th’ 1969, it was unlike anything else that had been released. It was a ferocious fusion of brutalist garage rock and proto-punk. Despite the quality of songs like 1969, I Wanna Be Your Dog, No Fun and Real Cool Time the album failed to find an audience. The problem was that neither record buyers nor critics understood The Stooges.

It was only later that critics started to change their mind about The Stooges. By then, The Stooges was regarded as one of forerunners of punk. The raw power and proto-punk sound of The Stooges inspired many on the early punk bands who cited Iggy Pop and Co. as an influence on the music they went on to make. 

Meanwhile, many critics who had slated The Stooges were now rewriting history. The Stooges was now regarded as a classic album and part of any self-respecting record collection. Some critics went as far as to say that The Stooges as a groundbreaking album that was way ahead of its time. The Stooges was held in such high esteem that it was ranked at “185” in Rolling Stones’ magazine’s list of the 500 best albums of all time.

By 2010, The Stooges were regarded as one of the most important and influential groups in the history of music. Meanwhile, their eponymous debut album was now seen as a classic album and a staple of numerous record collections. However, still The Stooges was reissued once more on CD and featured a bonus disc. It featured the original John Cale mix of The Stooges.

John Cale’s Detroit Mix of The Stooges was the first mix of the album, and the mixer’s reference was Lou Reed’s “closet mix” of The Velvet Underground. Whether this was what The Stooges wanted or envisaged is a different thing, as they were very different bands.However, even after a couple of listens it’s obvious that Lou Reed’s “closet mix” of The Velvet Underground was used by John Cale’s reference when he mixed The Stooges. 

Despite this different approach to mixing, the energy, defiance, raw power and rebelliousness is omnipresent as The Stooges swagger and tear through eight songs combining garage rock and proto-punk. The music was raw and primitive as The Stooges played as if their very lives depended upon it. This was a lo-fi recording, and it was important that John Cale’s mix didn’t try to make The Stooges something they were never going to be. Maybe the problem was that when John Cale used Lou Reed “closet mix” of The Velvet Underground he was trying to make The Stooges something they were never going to be?

Sadly, John Cale’s mix was rejected by Elektra Records and Iggy Pop and Jac Holzman’s remixed The Stooges. However, one can only speculate what would’ve happened if John Cale’s mix of The Stooges had been released in August 1968?

Instead, Iggy Pop and Jac Holzman’s mix featured on The Stooges and is quite different from John Cale’s original mix. However, fifty years after the release of The Stooges, and Iggy Pop and Jac Holzman’s mix is regarded by most critics as the definitive mix of this classic album.

Fifty Years Ago The Stooges Release The Stooges.


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