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Iggy Pop

The true Godfather of Punk, IGGY POP, has been at the core of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll since his halcyon days in the late 60s with Ann Arbor’s finest, The STOOGES. From his Iggy & The Stooges and solo alliance in the mid-70s with BOWIE, to his schizoid cameos for a certain TV commercial in the 00s, Iggy (or just plain “Jimmy” to his friends) has swaggered his way into people’s hearts and minds throughout a fiery and rebellious career.
Born James Newell Osterberg, Jr., April 21, 1947 in Muskegon, Michigan, and raised in a trailer park in nearby Ypsilanti by his father (an English teacher and baseball coach) and American-born mother, university dropout “Jimmy” would play drums for a raft of high school combos including The Iguanas; they issued a cover of BO DIDDLEY’s `Mona’ which was limited to 1,000 copies sold at gigs. In 1965-66, he joined local blues act, The Prime Movers (alongside brothers Michael and Dan Erlewine plus Robert Scheff), superseding drummer Michael “Spider” Wynn. But Jimmy’s real calling came in Chicago where he pounded the skins alongside former PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND session legend Sam Lay; a realization that maybe drumming was not going to be his true vocation.
On his return to Michigan in spring 1967 and witnessing the weird scenes in the “gold-mind” of The DOORS and their antagonistic spokesman Jim Morrison (MC5 and The SONICS were also prevalent to his nocturnal R&R studies), the newfound singer instigated The Psychedelic Stooges, going as far as to adopt a new stage persona of Iggy. With bassist-turned-guitarist Ron Asheton, his brother Scott Asheton on drums and Dave Alexander on bass, The STOOGES were born; Iggy would also make his celluloid debut in the avant-garde short, Evening Of Light, alongside girlfriend at the time, NICO. His subsequent marriage to Wendy Weissberg was annulled in just a matter of weeks around this period.
From 1968 to 1970, The STOOGES gigged constantly, signed a deal with Elektra Records and achieved cult status through a couple of ground-breaking LPs, `The Stooges’ (1969) and `Funhouse’ (1970); the first of these, produced by ex-VELVET UNDERGROUND man JOHN CALE. As if flower-power had never happened, tracks such as `No Fun’, `1969’ and `I Wanna Be Your Dog’ (from their debut), and `T.V. Eye’, `Dirt’ and `1970’ (from their sophomore set) were howling primeval garage-punk cornerstones, later heralded by a raft of second generation safety-pin punks: The SEX PISTOLS, The DAMNED, et al.
Subsequently dropped by their label, following drug-related problems and dissension in the ranks, Iggy moved to Florida, becoming a green-keeper while taking up golf more seriously, a healthier pastime than his penchant for self-mutilation and pioneering stage-diving. In 1972, he had a chance meeting at NY’s Max’s Kansas City with BOWIE (and manager Tony DeFries), who, in turn, persuaded the singer to re-form IGGY & THE STOOGES and sign a MainMan management deal/contract with Columbia Records. After flawed classic `Raw Power’ (not one of David’s best productions), Iggy, the Asheton’s and seminal guitarist James Williamson (Alexander suffered alcohol troubles and was to die in ‘75) folded again, citing drugs as the cause; the disintegration of IGGY AND THE STOOGES was heard on the well-documented “final gig” played out on the band’s riotous `Metallic KO’ bootleg-type LP, while `Kill City’ was Iggy Pop & James Williamson’s exploitative 1975 demo-type LP, released after the former’s new found success.
In between 1975 and 1976, Iggy checked himself into a neuropsychiatric institute, weaning himself off (and on) heroin; his only true compadre, the aforementioned BOWIE, regularly visited him in hospital, and invited the man to be present on his “Station To Station” tour. As a reinvigorated IGGY POP, the pair migrated to West Berlin, while Iggy also signed on the dotted line with R.C.A. So, with producer/co-writer/session man BOWIE at the helm (about to unleash his “Berlin period” `Low’ and `Heroes’ classics), things looked on the up-and-up for IGGY POP.
With a title inspired by Dostoyevsky’s novel, THE IDIOT (1977) {*8} found a niche market in the nascent “new wave” explosion of artists/bands, and duly broke him into the UK Top 30 and US Top 75. Working alongside BOWIE and his main guitarist Carlos Alomar (who helped co-scribe opener `Sister Midnight’), Iggy reflected a stylish, nocturnal, LOU REED-esque edge to his cool and funky new wave; `Nightclubbing’, `Funtime’ and `Baby’ the most sinister on show. Marked by the introduction of future BOWIE smash, `China Girl’, the record certainly helped catapult Iggy into the mainstream; ironically the finale piece was `Mass Production’.
POP’s sophomore solo release, LUST FOR LIFE (1977) {*9} – also produced by BOWIE – was even better, and deservedly reached UK Top 30 status; the arty title track was later resurrected in 1996 after appearing on the soundtrack to Danny Boyle’s cult Scots-based movie, Trainspotting, while the decadent and perennial `The Passenger’ (another belated UK Top 30 entry) has surfaced more than a few times since. Augmented by brothers Tony and Hunt Sales on rhythm (plus Alomar and Ricky Gardiner on guitars), Iggy found his hedonistic head via angst assaults `Sixteen’ and `Neighborhood Threat’, while the man gets in the groove on `Tonight’, anti-celebratory on `Success’ and almost smooch-y on `Fall In Love With Me’.
Knowing that his concert performances were still his pulling power, and with an OTT advance pay-off from his record company, Iggy shrewdly invested in some budget recording technique for his contractual third set, TV EYE: 1977 LIVE (1978) {*3}. Helped out by guitarist Scott Thurston, Iggy’s most recent star-cuts were showcased next to old STOOGES faves such as `Dirt’, `I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and `I Got A Right’. The near bootleg aspect of the ill-advised project lost him friends and fans as a result, while he himself moved along the corridor to Arista Records.
Retaining multi-instrumentalist Thurston and reuniting with former IGGY & THE STOOGES guitarist James Williamson (plus bassist Jackie Clark and former TANGERINE DREAM drummer Klaus Kreuger), 1979’s downgrade NEW VALUES {*7} ticked some boxes for at least two posturing posers, `I’m Bored’ (“I’m chairman of the board”), `Five Foot One’ and `The Endless Sea’; but track 3 `Girls’ had the cheek to interpolate nostalgia nugget `Summertime’. All ’n’ all, a tidy comeback from the founding father of punk, the set was rounded off by four other Thurston collaborations (he’d contributed to the title track), `Angel’, `Curiosity’, `African Man’ and `Billy Is A Runaway’.
The first half of the 80s saw Iggy desperately trying to carve out a successful solo career while combating his continuing drug problems. Albums such as SOLDIER (1980) {*5}, PARTY (1981) {*3} and ZOMBIE BIRDHOUSE (1982) {*4} marking the nadir of the singer’s chequered career. The first of these sets saw constant production arguments between Iggy’s friends BOWIE and Williamson, which led to guitarist Steve New being asked to pick up the pieces; he, in turn, was omitted from most of the final mix, a part-collaborative mix that consequently featured other former RICH KID (and SEX PISTOL) Glen Matlock, alongside Ivan Kral (of the PATTI SMITH GROUP) and XTC’s Barry Andrews. Fusing R&B pop with oddball assaults such as `Loco Mosquito’, `Dog Food’ and `I’m A Conservative’, the set has at least a few saving graces in `Knocking ‘Em Down (In The City)’ and BOWIE’s sole chunk, `Play It Safe’.
“Party” was Iggy’s stab at the mainstream, a quirky upbeat retro R&B-by-numbers (mostly penned with Kral); one could only cringe at the lyrical lows of `Eggs On Plate’, `Pumpin’ For Jill’ (about a gas attendant!) and `Bang Bang’. As if to give his listener some kinda end-of-night moon-dance, the set was stung by two patchy covers of `Sea Of Love’ and `Time Won’t Let Me’. Losing his idolatrous ignimbrite almost overnight, Iggy led his frustrated fanclub on another wild goose chase with his “Zombie Birdhouse” project. With Rob DuPrey on keyboards and co-writing duties, the Chris Stein-produced set (yes, he of BLONDIE fame) at least abandoned the dance-angle of his previous effort for a darker, skeletal approach; one could check out `Eat Or Be Eaten’ or `Run Like A Villain’ to fill in the blanks.
POP’s autobiography, I Need More, was a fascinating insight into the man’s rock’n’roll lifestyle; a much-needed balance to his recent releases. Iggy loved his movies he was more than happy to accept an invitation to contribute the rollicking title track to Alex Cox’s Repo Man cult flick in ‘84; for the same director, he also appeared in the 1985 punk bio-film, Sid & Nancy. Subsequent cameo appearances came through The Color Of Money, Cry-Baby, Shannon’s Deal, Tales From The Crypt and Miami Vice, The Rugrats Movie, Snow Day, Tank Girl, Dead Man, The Crow II: City Of Angels, etc.; he also contributed the soundtrack to the Johnny Depp/Marlon Brando flick, The Brave (1997).
Finally combining again with BOWIE for 1986’s A&M introduction, BLAH BLAH BLAH {*5}, the proclaimed “Godfather of Punk” at last gained some belated pop recognition, his revival of a 1957 Johnny O’Keefe hit, `Real Wild Child (Wild One)’ (for the album’s opener), giving Iggy his first UK Top 10 hit. With most of his punk traits stripped bare, Iggy played it strictly by BOWIE’s book of cool on synth-dance fluff like `Shades’, `Fire Girl’ and the second best track here, `Cry For Love’.
Adding yet another ex-SEX PISTOL in guitarist/part-co-writer Steve Jones, Iggy consolidated his recovery with the Bill Laswell-produced INSTINCT (1988) {*5}. Also featuring drummer Paul Garristo (ex-PSYCHEDELIC FURS), Seamus Beaghan (keyboards) and bassist Leigh Foxx, the album was strong on metal licks and arena-rock posturing, courtesy of `Cold Metal’, `High On You’ and `Tuff Baby’.
His new lease of life prompted Virgin Records to give Iggy a fresh contract. BRICK BY BRICK (1990) {*7} – produced by Don WAS (NOT WAS) and garnering the talent of GUNS N’ ROSES heavyweights SLASH and Duff McKagan alongside L.A. sessioners DAVID LINDLEY and Waddy Wachtel – the frontman’s acerbic and street-smart lyrics were polished, provocative and profound, humbling modern and immorally rich America “brick by brick”. While there was room for a minor hit duet (`Candy’) with The B-52’s Kate Pierson and a hit take of Jay Rifkin’s `Livin’ On The Edge Of The Night’ (the other cover was of JOHN HIATT’s `Something Wild’), the comeback was complete on `I Won’t Crap Out’, `Home’ and the title track. To end the year, POP combined with another former punkette, DEBORAH HARRY, on AIDS benefit Top 50 single, `Well, Did You Evah!’ (a mighty smash in 1971 for NANCY SINATRA & LEE HAZLEWOOD).
With his commercial pop foibles firmly behind him now, Iggy resurfaced again in 1993 with AMERICAN CAESAR {*7}, a double-length set which contained some of his raunchiest tracks for some time, including `Wild America’, `Fuckin’ Alone’ and Richard Berry’s `Louie Louie’. With new compadre Eric Schermerhorn as his guitarist, the stark and “raw power” of the Ig was back in full flow; `Jealousy’, `Hate’ and `Sickness’ were particular grunge-busting faves.
Busying himself with more film work, the singer eventually broke his recording silence with his umpteenth album, NAUGHTY LITTLE DOGGIE (1996) {*5}. Bookended by `I Wanna Live’ and `Look Away’, the latter in homage to fellow proto-punk JOHNNY THUNDERS, the hard-rock here was decidedly brash and bare-knuckled on others such as `Pussy Walk’ (from the eyes of a dirty old man) and `Innocent World’.
POP was back in circulation (he’d just split from second wife Suchi Asano) on semi-autobiographical album AVENUE B (1999) {*4}, a record again produced by Don Was, and featuring his unlikely collaboration with jazz-groovers, Medeski, Martin & Wood. Delivering an unusual raw-nerve power with all the finesse of a man taking a motorcycle ride to Hell, irreverent crooners like `Nazi Girlfriend’, `Long Distance’ and `I Felt The Luxury’ (but not the cover of JOHNNY KIDD’s `Shakin’ All Over’), were all testament to a guy that might be ready to get out his pipe and slippers.
Seeing as he’s only ever enjoyed fleeting run-ins with the pop charts, it probably didn’t bother the Ig one iota that BEAT `EM UP (2001) {*5} didn’t come within sniffing distance of the Top 40. Still, he’d always got plenty of other subjects to rail against (the PiL-like `Mask’ for one) and this record was no exception; guttural axeman Whitey Kirst was again at his side. `L.O.S.T.’, `Howl’, the title track and `Weasels’ were certainly of the rock-fest, nu-metal variety.
In 2003, Iggy brought out yet another dose of high-octane retro-punk via SKULL RING {*7}, backing courtesy of The Trolls, GREEN DAY, SUM 41, PEACHES and a reunification with The STOOGES (aka Ron and Scott Asheton and former MINUTEMEN bassist Mike Watt).
Capturing speed-freak Iggy in a menacing, no-holds-barred barrage of aggressive punk-rock, one had to salute the pace of the man on head-bangers such as `Little Electric Chair’, `Perverts In The Sun’, the title track, `Superbabe’ and just about everything on show here.
The man’s subsequent decision to reunite The STOOGES was one of the best he ever made, finally slaying global audiences with the best music he ever made. Their `Telluric Chaos’ comeback of 2005 was a veritable Stooge-fest recorded in Japan; for those unlucky not to get one of the hottest tickets of the last few years, this live set wiped the floor with most of the bootlegs which had been doing the rounds since the band’s heyday. Iggy kept in high-profile through film appearances (Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee And Cigarettes (2004), among them), while TV ads with a Spitting Image-like dummy on the Swiftcover TV ads ensured more big bucks. Sadly, the news of Ron Asheton’s death in early 2009 side-lined the newfound STOOGES frontman for a lengthy spell; they’d been back in on/off circulation since their aforementioned regrouping and had returned to the studio in 2007 with `The Weirdness’.
Further weirdness was POP’s next solo venture, the COHEN/GAINSBOURG-esque PRELIMINAIRES (2009) {*5}, a set showing he could cut it with the crooners. Touted as a jazz album, Iggy got all melancholy and austere via late-night exercises `Les Feuilles Mortes’ and the record’s only other cover, `How Insensitive’. If one loved Iggy as the carefree c-rocker, then one might want to avoid his re-interpretation of New Orleans legend Louis Armstrong’s `King Of The Dogs’; `Nice To Be Dead’ was the closest thing to rock (or punk) on the album. But somehow Mr. POP still managed to pull it off. The one-time wildman of rock now lived with his third wife Nina Alu, whom he recently married. After another Gallic crooning set that went awry, the best-forgotten APRES (2012) {*4}, was understandably left for French fans to decide. Iggy duly re-grouped for a STOOGES set, `Ready To Die’ (2013), which restored the faith somewhat. He became part of BBC 6 Music array of radio DJs.
LOU REED dying in October 2013, Scott Asheton the following March, and former cohort BOWIE passing in January 2016, the iconic glam/punk mortality rate was on a sticky wicket. Thankfully, with the help of seasoned “young-gun” Stooges, Joshua Homme, Dean Fertita (both from QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, etc.) and drummer Matt Helders (of ARCTIC MONKEYS), IGGY POP clawed back the hands of time with a rock-rehab set, POST POP DEPRESSION (2016) {*8} – his best and most profitable solo album in yonks. A well-kept secret until its surprise announcement to the media (it was produced at Homme’s Rancho De La Luna), Iggy’s “lust for life” was locked within `Gardenia’ and `Sunday’, whilst the subliminal `American Valhalla’ wracked one’s brains from whence it came. Opening salvo, `Break Into Your Heart’, might well’ve been aimed at croon-land had Homme and Co not come on board. Each and every track an earworm of cool hard-rock/dirty-punk; `In The Lobby’ and the creepy `Vulture’ buzzing with all the confrontational angst of old, the Iguana man left his animalistic, vitriolic rants to the very last on the explicit `Paraguay’.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up May2012-Mar2016

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