Thursday, February 02, 2023

Suburban Voice blog #151--50 years of Raw Power

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the release of Iggy & The Stooges “Raw Power” album (the actual release date was 2/7/73), it provides another opportunity to tell the story of how I discovered this life-changing album. I published this years ago on a MySpace blog (remember MySpace?) and I’ve made a few revisions.

It was the summer of 1976 and I was in the middle of a somewhat lonely adolescence. I spent a lot of time in my room listening to records and devouring music magazines and books like Circus and Creem. I had a paperback book called “Rock Revolution,” about different genres and eras in rock. And you bet I still have my copy. Two of them, in fact, sans cover. I probably picked them up for a quarter at a used book shop or discount store. 

There was one chapter called “The Heavy Metal Kids” written by the legendary Lester Bangs. His definition of heavy metal was pretty broad—he considered the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” one of the “definitive heavy metal statements.” He also mentioned Blue Öyster Cult, the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges. It definitely piqued my interest and I ended up checking out all of those bands over time. Bangs offered very high praise for the Stooges “Raw Power”:

The Stooges have more rage in their music than any other band that ever walked the earth. It's just bottled molten urgency and general disaffection turned to switch-blade aggression. The Stooges had so much of it they burned themselves out after two years, but then they pulled it back together and now they're re-unleashed, as Iggy and the Stooges, and they got this album called "Raw Power" that will turn you to a raving idiot. They're that good. They're the best. All other heavy metal is farina next to them., Just imagine all those vicious whipping guitars, jackboot drums, and Iggy snarling “Search and Destroy!" "Gimme Danger!" "Your Pretty Face Is Goin' to Hell!" "I Need Somebody!" "Death Trip!" The titles alone tell the story. Get 'em.”

I mean, how could I not want to hear that? So not too long after that, I was in downtown Lynn and hit up a head shop called Headlines Boutique. What was a head shop, you ask? A place where they sold drug paraphernalia--bongs, rolling papers, pipes, etc, along with the requisite tapestries and t-shirts (I later got a light blue Kiss one with an iron-on transfer). I can still remember the smell of incense or maybe it was something else. I never did smoke weed (still haven't). Those stores disappeared when Governor Ed King, a right-wing Democrat (he eventually became a Republican) signed a bill that outlawed the selling of drug paraphernalia in Massachusetts. 

LONDON, 1972 (photo: Mick Rock)

Headlines had a small crate of used records on the floor. I flipped through them and came across an LP with a strange-looking guy on the front cover. I flip it over and the white dripping letters say "Iggy and The Stooges--Raw Power." It was the album I’d just read about! I asked the clerk if I could hear a bit of it. The minute I heard the opening chords to "Search and Destroy," I was sold. He skipped from one track to another--"here's quieter one," which was "Gimme Danger" or maybe it was "I Need Somebody." So I pulled $3 (can't remember if I paid sales tax) out of my pocket and the record was mine. Best $3 I ever spent.
I don't remember how many times I played that record over the first few weeks I owned it but it was a lot. It was absolutely vicious-sounding--James Williamson's guitar lashing out like a snake's tongue and Iggy’s seething, sometimes sensual/sensuous vocals. It was pure overkill. And then there was David Bowie’s production, which was crude and tinny but that’s also lent to its uniqueness. I remember "Gimme Danger" being used effectively in the Mad Magazine movie "Up The Academy," every time the villainous commanding officer entered the room. That was about the only good thing in that movie, one of the worst ever made. There was the surging title track, with a plinking piano meshing perfectly with the rhythm. There was the ass-shaking "Shake Appeal" (duh). Then there was the incendiary conclusion, “Death Trip.” And then there’s one of the greatest opening lines in rock ‘n roll history on one of the greatest songs in rock ‘n roll history, “Search and Destroy”—“I’m a streetwalkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm.” Genius-level stuff.
I have the album in multiple formats—no 8-track or the super deluxe 2010 reissue--but other CD pressings and even a cassette. I finally upgraded my vinyl version recently. It’s the double LP package, with the original Bowie mix on one disc and Iggy’s remix on the other. About the latter—I can’t stand it. In the liner notes, he says “everything’s in the red.” Well, it’s a case of making it worse. I’m glad that the original Bowie mix was restored on the 2010 CD reissue. It was tweaked a bit but remains true to the original. And I’ll never part with the first copy.  
“Raw Power” was unlike any album I’d heard up to that point. I didn't realize it at the time and never really thought about it for many years but "Raw Power" was the first punk record I owned. I just thought it was a great heavy metal or hard rock album, as Lester had described it. I wasn’t aware of punk, yet.  And since it came out in 1973, they were well ahead of the curve. Whatever 
the case, it completely changed my perspective about rock ‘n roll. I wanted to hear more music that was edgier and dangerous-sounding. Fortunately, punk came along for me at just the right time, about a year later.

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