Buyer's Guide: How to buy the best of Iggy Pop
The godfather of punk with a lust for life who became the elder statesman of unfiltered rock’n’roll
Iggy Pop is rock’n’roll’s most notorious outlaw. Born James Jewel Osterberg in the industrial rust pile of Detroit in 1947, wired like a Frankenstein creature Iggy burst onto the stages of Motor City in the late 60s spray- painted like a killer robot, trussed up like a psychotic hussy, a mad bag of screaming skin ’n’ bones leading the scuzziest, loudest, most violent gang of hard-core stooges the world had ever recoiled from.
Iggy virtually invented every stock punk rock move in the book, all while stumbling through a fiery narco buzz in the searing summer of 1969. The early years of The Stooges will cement his legend forever, as Iggy took rock away from the squares and turned it into a dangerous, knife-wielding satanic sex orgy filled with criminals and thugs. And it was awesome.
An important part of longevity in rock’n’roll is adaptability and reinvention. When the monster kid routine dried up, Iggy met Ziggy and the two made beautiful music together, with David Bowie producing Pop’s seminal late 70s downtown-troubadour albums. Later on, as the 80s took hold with all of that decade’s dumb flash and hopeless excess, Iggy strapped on some chain-mail, hauled ex-Pistols guitarist Steve Jones out of the gutter, and re-emerged once again as a fried-haired hard rock howler, snapping up a whole new generation of Pop disciples along the way.
In the 1990s, Iggy Pop finally accepted his role as the elder statesman of true, uncut, unfiltered rock’n’roll, and spent less time bleeding to death on stage and more time writing introspective albums, acting in manic, violent B-movies (Sid And Nancy, Wayne County Ramblin’, The Brave) and soaking up his well-deserved accolades.
But you cannot tame the wild beast throb, and in 2002 The Stooges reunited, bringing some much needed vintage mayhem back into rock’n’roll. The band toured regularly until 2008, the crusty old bastards, in countries you’ve mostly never even heard of. Now barrelling head-first into his seventh decade, Iggy Pop continues to shake some action, still releasing albums, with no signs of slowing down.
He is the greatest rock performer to ever walk on the hands of his people, open up and bleed, and openly goad biker gangs into violence. He is the man without fear, without conscience, without remorse. Through it all he has remained compelling, provocative, wildly irresponsible, and skinny as a corpse. He is Iggy Pop, grand daddy of all rock’n’roll bad-asses, and we owe him everything.
Iggy Pop's classic albums
The Stooges - The Stooges [Elektra, 1969]
Although it’s important to remember that nothing like The Stooges existed before this album, and everything that’s remotely like The Stooges now exists because of this album, even the most virgin ears can hear, feel, and smell the panic and power of these timeless songs.
The Stooges’ debut explodes in your ears like a sonic grenade, and once heard it’s impossible to forget. No Fun, 1969, I Wanna Be Your Dog, Real Cool Time – only antisocial maniacs on a death trip could write searing, snarling, sexed-up punk rock like this.
Amazingly, half of this album was written in one evening, the night before the band went into the studio.
The Stooges - Raw Power [CBS, 1973]
The bad news is that the tin-eared production turned the dynamics of these songs into mud. The good news is that unhinged combat-rockers like Search And Destroy, Raw Power and Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell actually sound better buried under a wall of ear- shredding distortion.
This was The Stooges’ last stand, written and recorded in London under a sickly black cloud of betrayal, drugs and doom. The Raw Power album was a desperate, flailing last stab at infamy. And it worked. You simply cannot out-rock this perfectly-titled album. You can’t make it sound any better, either, as Iggy’s noisy, unnecessary 1998 remix attests to. Stick with the real thing.
The albums that sealed Iggy Pop's reputation
Iggy Pop - The Idiot [RCA, 1977]
Iggy’s first real solo record – not counting Kill City (see below), which is more like the soundtrack to a nervous breakdown – The Idiot really is a jumpy, freaked-out collection of funkified proto-synth pop that initially horrified his core audience of grunting, head-bashing stooges, but it eventually charmed the masses, due in no small part to the stellar songwriting, courtesy of Pop and David Bowie. Nightclubbing and China Girl have become often-covered classics (Bowie recorded a version of the latter for his multimillion-selling Let’s Dance album), and ultimately The Idiot paved the way for the robo-jerky new wave movement of the 80s.
The Stooges - Funhouse [Elektra, 1970]
The second Stooges album is even more dumb, dirty and primitive than the first one. Scott Asheton’s drums are a stoned, tribal thump that seems determined to raise the dead or soak the ground with Devil’s rain, Ron Asheton’s guitar is a looping, feral acid trip that throbs like a war wound, and Iggy is in full-on gonzo shaman mode, sounding like a savage messiah left for dead in a dumpster on droning psyche-punk classics like Down On The Street, TV Eye and 1970.
Marred by the meandering, self-consciously Doors-y title track and the jazz-skronk splatfest LA Blues, as an album Funhouse doesn’t quite have the bite of its predecessor, but it’s still a wild ride.
Iggy Pop - Brick By Brick [Virgin, 1990]
Not only does Iggy ditch the clanging metal of Instinct without a second thought on Brick By Brick, but in the propulsive put-down Butt Town (‘I’m tellin’ you, it’s a motley crew, in Butt Town’) he also dismisses the entire flash-metal movement he so briefly embraced.
Instead he presents us with a perfectly melodic collection of Lou Reed-y rockers, bursting with power-pop hooks, surprisingly tender love songs, and some of his finest lyrics ever. Highlights include Candy (a duet with the B-52s’ Kate Pierson), the heartbreaking I Won’t Crap Out and raucous groover Neon Forest.
Exit Iggy the stooge, enter Iggy the wizened elder statesman.
Iggy Pop - Lust For Life [RCA, 1977]
Okay, so thanks to the movie Trainspotting and various car, insurance, orange juice and tampon commercials you don’t ever want to hear Lust For Life again. And no one can blame you. But there’s much more to enjoy on this, Iggy’s second collaboration with David Bowie.
There’s the eerie Neighborhood Threat, the Stones-y freak anthem Some Weird Sin, the slinky Fall In Love With Me, and the rollicking gypsy swing of The Passenger, to say nothing of Turn Blue, a seven-minute nervous breakdown disguised as white-boy soul. Yes, in places it sounds more like Bowie than Iggy, but it was the 70s, baby, and we weren’t so goddamn territorial back then.
Iggy's albums worth exploring
Iggy Pop - Instinct [A&M, 1988]
Although with Real Wild Child (from 1986’s Blah Blah Blah album) Iggy had tasted mainstream success for the first time in years, his safe-as-milk new image and his art-poppy new songs had strayed so far away from the rabid Stooge of old that he jettisoned the squarehead routine completely, and came roaring back a year later with this chest-thumping pile of meat ’n’ potatoes metal.
Instinct was Iggy’s hardest album in a decade, a bruising clamour of slamming power chords and cold metal. With a crack band that included ex-Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, Iggy easily reclaimed his role as a gleefully vicious thug run riot in a spastic kingdom.
Iggy Pop - New Values [Arista, 1979]
Iggy’s first Bowie-free album in years found him punky and spunky, bashing out infectiously catchy power-pop songs about whatever bullshit is rolling around in his head, including his short stature (Five Foot One), boredom (I’m Bored), and girls (Girls), naturally.
The blunt simplicity of the songs on New Values leaves you wondering why more bands can’t be this honest and forthright. It also makes you wonder why Iggy spent so much time attempting to be deep when he’s really at his best when he’s shamelessly shallow, laughing at the squares and concocting gems like Billy Is A Runaway. Iggy ain’t no dummy, but he occasionally plays one on record. Brilliantly.
Iggy Pop and James Williamson - Kill City [CBS, 1978]
Okay, so Kill City isn’t exactly what people expected as Iggy’s follow-up after the dissolution of The Stooges. The pulverising punk madness of Raw Power is long gone here, replaced with saxophones, synths, and new-wave dynamics. But its creation is classic Iggy Pop. The vocals were all recorded in one weekend in 1975 while Iggy was on leave from an insane asylum. No wonder it’s such a dark, moody, doped-up album. Two years later, latter-day Stooges guitarist James Williamson patchworked the music together and mixed the whole mess into one greasy lump of mental-patient rock. Not an easy listen, but worth it for the sheer, sweaty desperation of it all.
Iggy Pop - Beat ’Em Up [Virgin, 2001]
Iggy’s hard-won reputation as the baddest motherfucker in all of motherfuckersville sometimes obscures the fact that we are, after all, dealing with a wealthy man in his 70s who would probably like to be doing something more interesting than fulfilling contractual obligations to his record company.
Every once in a while the cracks in the armour show, as on this painfully self-aware collection of ‘angry’ noise-punk songs that sound like Sonic Youth covering Big Black. It didn’t help Iggy’s case that it was released two months before the twin towers fell, rendering Mr. Pop’s angst rather insignificant compared to folks with real problems.