“I’ll tell you about punk rock: punk rock is a word used by dilettantes and, uh… and, uh… heartless manipulators, about music… that takes up the energies, and the bodies, and the hearts and the souls and the time and the minds, of young men, who give what they have to it, and give everything they have to it. And it’s a… it’s a term that’s based on contempt; it’s a term that’s based on fashion, style, elitism, Satanism, and, everything that’s rotten about rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t know Johnny Rotten.. but I’m sure, I’m sure he puts as much blood and sweat into what he does as Sigmund Freud did. You see, what, what sounds to you like a big load of trashy old noise… is in fact… the brilliant music of a genius… myself. And that music is so powerful, that it’s quite beyond my control. And, ah… when I’m in the grips of it, I don’t feel pleasure and I don’t feel pain, either physically or emotionally. Do you understand what I’m talking about? Have you ever, have you ever felt like that? When you just, when you just, you couldn’t feel anything, and you didn’t want to either. You know, like that? Do you understand what I’m saying, sir?”.
Iggy Pop 1977
Here at Pierce’s Press we are counting down the Top 50 Iggy Pop songs, solo and with the legendary Stooges. Strap in for a trip through self-destructive tendencies of this vital artist of titanic proportions, and some of the best music of all time stripped down to its animal essence. Unrivaled apocalyptic garage meltdowns, ripping and re-wrapping raw rock ‘n roll violence, immediate and dripping with aggression and deadly efficiency – I bring you the iconic Iggy Pop.
I always like to think this one is dedicated to Bowie: “Still when I was crying, you were on my side…except for you, I doubt that I’d be here.” Co-written by guitarist and ex-Stooge Scott Thurston, this slow-tempoed deep cut from Iggy’s first solo album without Bowie, the undervalued tour de force New Values (1979), surprisingly incorporates horns and female vocalists with lovely results.
49. Mass Production
The dystopian nightmare of Mass Production was one of the more experimental tracks from the session collaborations with Bowie, a major departure and a new beginning for both artists. Iggy came from the smokestacks and factories of Detroit and this colossal closer from the masterful The Idiot (1977), touches on themes of death and dehumanisation as tape loops grind harshly.
48. Wild America
The first and relatively successful single from strong solo album American Caesar (1993) this full bodied rocker with its scything, repetitive guitar line, was cut fast and loose in a New Orleans studio. It describes a night out Iggy-style: “Now I’m in a black car with my Mexicana / She’s got methedrine but I want marijuana.”
Based on the pair’s partying experiences in Berlin, this track off the creepy, necrophiliac The Idiot, is written in the first person plural, with Bowie’s backing vocal attacks confrontationally high in the mix. It has a deadpan and almost threatening delivery that juxtaposes the cheerful and reckless attitude in the lyrics, making it even more sinister and disturbing. The mechanical production and brutal singing represent repeatedly going through the motions when the fun is all but over.
Iggy is in no mood for pleasantries here on this wonderful Post Pop Depression (2016) closer. The sentiment is Iggy effectively resigning from life, packing his suitcase and retiring to South America to see out the rest of his days away from general modern day asshole-ary. The song ends with a vitriolic, spoken-word, expletive-laden rant from Iggy that has to be heard to be believed. The fact that the record ends with this song, where he’s going out to the jungle like Colonel Kurtz, seems very fitting.
45. I Need Somebody
The broken-glass blues riff with a steady backbeat punctuated by the ferocious assertiveness of the lyric guarantees this Raw Power (1973) track inclusion on this list. It’s a violent take on love, life and death, and like the vital album its taken from, holds up very well.
44. Tell Me a Story
Mid-tempo opener off marvellous James Williamson-produced New Values album, Tell Me a Story is a hyper-catchy, jangling guitar-driven Stones-ey affair with clever lyrics and confident and controlled singing from our hero.
43. Play It Safe
This weird track from 1980’s Soldier was recorded in Wales and features Bowie and Simple Minds on backing vocals and has a funny story associated with the recording process that’s worth a read. Soldier turned out to be an uneven recording with tensions in the studio reaching breaking point; legend has it initial producer James Williamson drank vodka heavily and brandished a gun in the studio, then clashed badly with slated co-producer Bowie, while Iggy disliked guitarist Steve New (Rich Kids) so much that he omitted many of his guitar parts from the final product. Williamson reflected on the experience in 2015: “Bowie showing up was just the last of many frustrations with being there. In hindsight, I should have never taken that job. It was recorded in a studio I didn’t want to be in, with music that was half-baked and with musicians I didn’t respect. It was my own damned fault it didn’t work out.”
42. Some Weird Sin
With its locomotive percussion from drummer Hunt Sales and dueling guitars of Ricky Gardiner and Carlos Alomar, Some Weird Sin appears midway through side one of Lust for Life (1977), and proved that whatever rocking tendencies Iggy may have shed since the Stooges, were alive and well.
Tied to a more R&B-raunchy trajectory than The Stooges’ garage-punk meltdown – in partnership with latter-day Stooges guitarist James Williamson – Kill City (1977) stands alone in his formidable canon. This track smeared by John Harden’s bleating sax, is a Stooges off-cut and strong riff-heavy rocker.
40. Fall in Love With Me
The album-closing extended jam on Lust For Life sees the band swapping instruments. Guitarist Ricky Gardiner played drums, Hunt Sales changed from drums to his brother’s bass, and Tony Sales picked up the guitar. Carlos Alomar plays lead guitar and Bowie is on the organ’s descending riff. Iggy does what Iggy does best: improvises poetry at the mic.
39. No Sense of Crime
Another track hard to overlook off the phenomenal Kill City. This stunning, bruised ballad beats the Stones at their own dissolute game with Iggy in desperate but powerful voice. The arrangement, which include piano and saxophone, simultaneously recalls the Stones’ Exile and prefigures Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers.
So harsh yet so awesome. The Stooges firing on all cylinders here on this masterful seven-minute dirge off the unstoppable Fun House (1970). Hints at things to come on Raw Power. So much uncertainty, passion, and tension in this song. Iggy addresses his vulnerability but there’s something strong that keeps him burning through despite feeling his dark undercurrent.
37. Bang Bang
One of the few great tracks off 1981’s patchy Party album, Iggy’s third and final album for Arista Records, this song was handed over to producer Tommy Boyce (who’d worked with the Monkees) to mix, in the hopes that it would chart (a decent #35 in the US). Its surging strings, throbbing bass line, booming drums, reverb-drenched vocals and punchy garage-rock organ line (plus a couple of crazy Chuck Berry-esque guitar solos) all blend together perfectly, making it one of Iggy’s most brilliant songs.
36. Lucky Monkeys
The dramatic Lucky Monkeys is a track lifted from the album (Kill City) Iggy made with guitar genius and ex-Stooge James Williamson in the mid-70s and eventually released on Bomp Records in 1977. Iggy was living in a psychiatric hospital, trying to get clean, and left on weekends to record the vocals for what were, at the time, demo tapes. With its Stonesy riffs and distinct vocals, the essential Kill City remains one of the most underrated albums of all time.
35. L.A Blues
The freaked out babble-jazz of the Fun House closer that is L.A. Blues is a demented, jagged instrumental horrorshow, making no pretense of song structure, Iggy’s guttural howl lands somewhere between James Brown and Jim Morrison. Accompanying this is saxophonist Steve Mackay spewing free jazz abstractions, L.A. Blues is the definitive freak-out track of its era.
34. Cry for Love
A successful single with an increasing focus on melody lifted off the mainstream Blah Blah Blah (1986) album. Steve Jones co-wrote this solid number released in the mid-80s, hence it’s slathered in synths and big drums more programmed than not. The lyrics had opened up a new vulnerability in Iggy’s writing on this minor hit.
33. Cold Metal
Iggy’s trashy hard rock years, this opening track is the best song on cod-metal plodder Instinct (1988), featuring Steve Jones on guitar and the unlikely production partnership with Bill Laswell, who has worked with everyone from the PiL to Herbie Hancock to Mick Jagger and the Ramones. Not sure it completely works album-wise, as it’s all glossy, primitive riffs, thudding drums and Iggy’s less-than inspired delivery; this is a good track though. and the video is regularly hilarious.
A very odd beat-poet number off the extremely odd, droning, Afro-style and lyrically free-associative album Zombie Birdhouse (1983). Produced by Chris Stein (Blondie), many tracks on this album find Iggy’s vocals frequently going totally out of tune. This track is no exception. A more disciplined performance, or Stein insisting on a cleaner take when his hero’s vocals were wandering off-pitch, would have made Platonic a much better record; although there is a great track in there somewhere.
31. Dum Dum Boys
A tribute to/elegy for the Stooges that begins with the poignant spoken rundown of what happened to them: “What happened to Zeke [Zettner, bassist]? He’s dead on a jones, man. How about Dave [Alexander, bassist]? OD’d on alcohol. Oh, what’s Rock [Scott “Rock Action” Asheton, drummer] doing? He’s living with his mother. What about James [Williamson, guitar]? He’s goin’ straight.” The song itself (track one side two of The Idiot) is a slow grind, with session guitarist Phil Palmer’s work a major highlight. It’s also sad, with Iggy confessing that without the Stooges he “can’t seem to speak the language”, and ending with the devastating “Where are you now, I need your noise.”
This goofy singalong which closes side one of Lust for Life finds Iggy and band singing, “I’m gonna do the twist / I’m gonna hop like a frog / I’m gonna go out in the street and do whatever I want / Oh shit.” It’s a big, stomping slab of hand-clapping, shout-along rock ‘n’ roll, and somewhat ironic considering Iggy’s disastrous (at least commercially) next few years.
29. Five Foot One
New Values is a great album that belongs up there with Lust For Life and The Idiot as Iggy’s career peaks. After closing out his RCA contract with the shambling live album TV Eye Live (1978), Iggy moved to Arista, where he put out three strong studio records, beginning with New Values – one of the best records of his career. Former Stooge James Williamson, who’d stuck around post-Raw Power to record the 1975 demos later released as Kill City, came back as both guitarist and producer.
28. I’m Bored
Coming awfully close to being the perfect rock song, I’m Bored blasts through your brain like diamond bullets of punk-pop genius, yet another highlight on New Values. The blistering guitar work here is courtesy of superb session musician Scott Thurston, who was a member of Iggy and The Stooges in 1973/4. The footage of Iggy on Countdown in 1979 in interview and performance is nothing short of essential viewing.
27. Ordinary Bummer
The best track on Zombie Birdhouse is a tender ballad with some very pretty piano and a space-dub bass line; Rob Duprey’s guitar sears the air in the background. While no classic, this interesting album marked the end of an intriguing and experimental if erratic period in Iggy’s career.
With Bowie’s help, Iggy resuscitated his career with the commercial Blah Blah Blah, Pop’s first record with A&M. It also helped that it contained some superb songwriting and arrangements, none more so than this lovely sax-driven, melodically sturdy and romantically vulnerable number.
25. Knocking ‘Em Down (In the City)
A keeper from Soldier, this mini-classic is a snarky, proto-Jane’s Addiction-style cracker, in garage-pop territory. Iggy’s in great voice here and provides a rabidly intense performance.
24. China Girl
Iggy’s China Girl was originally a mid-album track off The Idiot. Co-written with Bowie, the song was inspired by Pop’s infatuation with Kuelan Nguyen, a beautiful Vietnamese woman. The singer warns that he will destroy her culture by imparting Western values of materialism and superficial beauty. There’s an element of danger on the original version that is lacking in Bowie’s thoroughly enjoyable Let’s Dance (1983) mega-hit.
This is a simple song about Iggy appreciatively receiving a pair of sunglasses from his girlfriend, off Blah Blah Blah, an album overdue for reassessment and celebration. The 80’s new wave influence is dominant here and Iggy takes the route of synthesisers and electronic drums to great effect.
22. Don’t Look Down
“The riff to ‘Don’t Look Down’ was written in my apartment one rather sad rainy day in my little duplex apartment in Hollywood. It almost came to me as a whole – including verses, choruses, and everything. I wasn’t playing in the band or anything at that time, so it just laid dormant for a couple of years until Iggy asked me to produce his album, which would become New Values. During the pre-production, I showed him that song, and he immediately wrote the lyrics. I always loved the way it turned out.” – James Williamson
21. I Wanna Be Your Dog
This track, off debut album The Stooges (1969) produced by John Cale, operates in a throbbing, psychedelic-yet-bummed out mode. Iggy’s vocals are a near monotone, until he starts screaming at the climactic moments. One of the great perverse love songs of all time heading straight into the darkest corners of sexual obsession.
20. New Values
The title track off Iggy’s 1979 ‘new wave’ album. Co-writer Scott Thurston establishes a driving circular groove and some blistering punkish guitar solos. The lyrics are sharp and funny too, Iggy says he’s “healthy as a horse/ but everything is spinnin’.”
This song kicks things off on The Stooges self-titled debut album and pairs a tribal beat with a primitive classic Stooges riff. Producer John Cale plants Ron Asheton’s guitar in the far left and right corners of the mix, with Iggy and Dave Alexander’s bass and Scott Asheton’s drums hovering in the middle. This makes it easy to hear just how important their interplay was, and how thick a groove they could set up.
18. Kill City
Kill City is an edgy and erratic blur of driving James Williamson riffage in the style of The Stooges, with Pop grumbling about surviving in the city, “until you wind up in some bathroom overdosed and on your knees.” Record companies passed on the album demos, at least until 1977, when Iggy stock was on the rise again thanks to The Idiot and Lust for Life, and Bomp! Records gave Williamson funds to complete and release the album.
An optimistic and beautiful love ballad from Lust for Life, something of a psychological rebirth for the man. Co-written and backing vocals by Bowie, Iggy famously paid tribute to his friend at Carnegie Hall’s Tibet House Benefit in 2016 saying: “It’s a wonderful, elegant song with a deceptively simple lyric, and I think it’s the right lyric for right now and for tonight.”
16. TV Eye
The Stooges’ TV Eye recorded live, off Fun House, opens with a full-throated, blood-curdling scream of “Loooord!!” and blazes from first power chord over a relentless see-sawing bass line, to the final drum blast, via Iggy’s otherworldly howls, and a quick reprise of its lethal riff that’s both darkly psychedelic and brilliantly no-nonsense.
15. The Passenger
The guitar riff to this Lust for Life classic (and B-side to single Success) was written by the marvelous Scottish guitarist Ricky Gardiner (Low, Lust for Life) and is now an immediately recognisable rock staple. Says Ricky: “When I was invited to join David and Iggy in Berlin, I did not realise that they needed material, so I was unprepared when they asked me if I had anything.” Gardiner played them his chord sequence on an unplugged Stratocaster. Iggy abandons the raunchiness and bravado of The Stooges and concentrates on the romantic side of the lyrics, inspired, by a Jim Morrison poem.
The first song on side two of Fun House was originally called ‘I Feel Alright’ and is another wall-melting behemoth. Steve Mackay’s inflammatory saxophone makes its first appearance here and is the album’s secret weapon. He starts out in gutsy R&B mode, honking and howling, but by the time the song ends, he’s screeching and squealing like Eric Dolphy, ripping it up free jazz style as the band crashes and burns like a forest fire behind him.
Making few qualms about its double entendre of a title, this side one closer has a vicious James Williamson riff while Rock Action’s close-miked drums, all tracked into a flat and oppressively subterranean thud, leaving three quarters of the mix to spotlight one of Iggy’s many shining moments as a vocalist. A backwards guitar solo erupts and cuts through the murk. The Stooges truly locked into the groove, so Iggy is free to yelp, howl suck in the air. The track soon chugs off at its measured paces into a twinkling twilight.
Unhinged is too weak a word for the wildest moments of Fun House. One of these moments is the mighty Loose. Muddily-mixed this is the ultimate garage rock song. You can almost smell the abandon as Pop yells “I’ll stick it deep inside…’cos I’m loose!” And he declares: “I took a record of pretty music and I’m putting it to you straight from hell.” Iggy’s vocal performance is as chaotic and disturbing as the album’s artwork – he grunts, yelps and screams like a man’s nightmarish descent into the fires of hell.
11. I Got a Right
Initially released as a single in 1977, this fiercely berserk 45 was recorded in London in the early summer of 1972 prior to Raw Power, the same sessions that yielded the terrific Tight Pants, Gimme Some Skin and Sick Of You. The lineup here is James Williamson on guitar, Ron Asheton on bass and Scott Asheton on drums. I Got A Right had been in The Stooges’ live set since 1971, and is nothing short of a pile-driving monster that has to be heard to be believed.
10. Lust for Life
The immortal classic. A massive drumbeat and layers of piano and guitar, all hammering out that simple Morse Code-like riff underneath Iggy’s wild braggadocio: “I’m worth a million in prizes.” The unlikely idea for Lust For Life came when Bowie attempted to imitate the Armed Forces Network call signal with his ukulele: “It was one of the few things that was in English on the telly in Berlin”, said Bowie, “and it had this great pulsating riff at the beginning of the news.” The insistent beat was fleshed out in the studio and reinforced by drummer Hunt Sales and his brother Tony on bass.
9. Fun House
Saxophonist Mackay and guitarist Ron Asheton are the dueling lead voices on the colossal title track, cranking up the mayhem over Dave Anderson’s throbbing bass and drummer Scott Asheton’s primal beat. Iggy is literally reduced to commanding them to “Lemme in!”, and as Fun House progresses, it seems to become increasingly deranged, descending into an avant-jazz freakout inspired by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf. The rhythmic jam is vehement and primal, drawing out the deepest, most barbaric of rock and roll songs, making for something, uncategorisable, transcending the simple mold of rock, jazz or even punk.
Minimalist, electronic and experimental, this Kraftwerk-inspired track on The Idiot throbs with icy detachment and the sleazy ambience of an underground Bergmannkiez club. With a persistent disco thud slowed down to create the kind of disorientating effect one might experience while heavily sedated, Iggy recalled: “We recorded the song with a lousy drum machine, Bowie kept saying, ‘But we gotta call back the drummer, you’re not gonna have that freaky sound on the tape!’ And I replied, ‘Hey, no way, it kicks ass, it’s better than a drummer.’”
7. No Fun
From the skipping, stumbling attack of the drums bolstered by finger-snaps and hand-claps, to the guitar riff’s growling rasp and Iggy’s Jagger-esque sneer, this fine track lifted off their debut album finds the Stooges’ effortlessly nailing the pop song, a white blues worthy of Eddie Cochran. A needling Ron Asheton guitar solo is introduced at 2:49 and pleasingly sticks around until the fadeout.
6. Sister Midnight
The Idiot album opens with Sister Midnight, which was the only largely-complete song coming into the sessions. It has a funky Carlos Alomar guitar lick, accompanied by Bowie’s rhythm section: George Murray and Dennis Davis on bass and drums respectively. Sister Midnight represents a clear thematic introduction for an album that draws a relationship between thrill-seeking and bitter regret. Interestingly an early version of the track was played during The Thin White Duke’s 1976 ‘White Light’ tour, and to bookend the Berlin period Bowie also reworked it as Red Money, the final track on Lodger (1979). Both sound surprisingly conventional when compared to this version. The 1977 Dinah Shore performance and interview is a must-watch.
5. Gimme Danger
With James Williamson’s snaky acoustic guitar figures and minor key dramatics, Iggy and the Stooges employ a groove that had been driving rock for the last half-decade, only with a truck load more menace and foreboding. Vile ramblings delivered by a narcotic-addled junky, Pop delivers the sickeningly defeatist line, ‘There’s nothing in my dreams, just some ugly memories, kiss me like the ocean breeze.’ Gimme Danger is a pivotal track off Raw Power – the most important punk record ever.
4. Search and Destroy
Raw Power is fast, noisy, dangerous and hugely influential. The production is a bleeding, staticky mess, with guitars jumping in and out of the mix almost at random. Once you get past some of the production values there is a wealth of pure rock energy just waiting to lay waste to your ears. A good example is this impressively filthy lead-off track which thrashes with such abandon that, in the course of three-and-a-half volcanic minutes, Iggy and the Stooges brutalise you into a sense of maddened fury with their unadulterated aggression, riffing in a way that neither Zeppelin nor the Stones were capable of.
3. Down on the Street
The animalistic oomphs and grunts of Iggy’s performance, and the unrelenting impact of the moment this Fun House opener crashes in with such power, the immediacy the Stooges exudes is unrivalled. This sinister hard hitter presents no message of peace and love. Instead the lyrics focus on the subhuman lust of a man haunting the streets, lost in his own depraved desire and violent passion. Add to that mix a barrage of swampy, guttural guitars, and the song takes on a frightening tone.
2. Raw Power
Coming galloping out of the speakers is the the testosterone fuelled posturing of Raw Power’s libidinous and totemic title track – an unforgettable primal classic. A blend of Iggy’s inspired cajolings and James Williamson’s precise spiky guitars, this is rightly regarded as one of the seminal tracks off the most ferocious, uncompromising, crude, sleazy, nihilistic rock albums of all time. As timeless as the Mick Rock cover, Raw Power remains a rock landmark.
1. Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell
“A pretty face and a dirty look / Knew right away that I’d have to get my hooks in you.” A seethingly bilious classic, this track more than lives up to its title. The centrepiece of Raw Power, the crazed electricity of Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell is an amphetamine steamroller, levelling everything in its path. Originally entitled ‘Hard to Beat’, visceral energy oozes from every note. Aside from the cataclysmic musical impact of listening to this song, one of the best things about it is how it’s a convergence of several musical signposts: there’s twisted good-time 50’s rock n’ roll in in the tempo; vague 60’s cultural references without the flower-power gobbledygook; definitive 70’s hard rock in the lead guitar solos; commanding Punk rock in the rhythm guitar, and on top of all that Iggy’s uncaged-animal vocal style. Unbeatable.