“Holy fucking shit!”
I think every single person I’ve played Raw Power for has uttered that line at some point. Hell, those words have entered my own brain practically every time I put the album on, and sometimes even escaped my mouth while in the solitude of my car or my room. At various times, the music of the Stooges has created within me a sudden urge to crash my car into a telephone pole, or go out into the streets and find someone to punch right in the face, just so he or she will punch me back.
No other band has caused me such deep emotions, and few collections of songs cause me to start screaming along with the singer at the top of my lungs, not caring if anyone sees me or hears me. I’m positive I’m not alone, and such is the true power of Raw Power.
The story behind the Stooges’ third and final album (sorry, but The Weirdness doesn’t count) is as fabled and legendary as the finished product. Most of this can be found on ye olde Internet, so a quick summation: it was 1971, the Stooges had broken up, but David Bowie convinced Iggy Pop to get them back together. He did just that (although in a new line-up that featured James Williamson on guitar in place of Ron Asheton, who switched to bass to fill in for professional alcoholic Dave Alexander, who would die in 1975) and they went into the studio with a bunch of fresh songs written by Pop and Williamson. Pop produced and mixed the initial record, Columbia freaked because it sounded like shit, and had Bowie remix the entire record in one day. The record came out, people freaked about the sound anyways, and it remained a point of contention amongst audiophiles until 1997, when Pop remixed the record for its first CD remaster – only to crank the levels to the point of critical distortion.
So, in a nutshell, Raw Power has been one of the most crazily debated records, sound-wise, in rock history. But all of that shit-talk has tended to overshadow the actual songs and performances on the album, which absolutely, quintessentially, and dangerously tap into the pure spirit of rock and roll. Williamson slashes and burns throughout, creating a new guitar language that takes Ron Asheton’s style from the first two records away from the blues and into somewhere else entirely. When people talk about how the Stooges defined punk rock, it’s usually Williamson’s style they are referring to.
Meanwhile, Ron Asheton and his drummer brother Scott create a rhythm bed as primal and amateurish as before, and yet it still comes off tighter and harder and meaner than that original period. Call it brotherly instinct, but Ron taps into Scott with a flair that outstrips Alexander’s finest moments on Fun House – no small feat.
And then there’s Iggy. Raw Power is where he finally catches up with the legend he had already created as an onstage performer, laying down a vocal tour de force that once and for all solidifies his reputation as the Godfather of Punk. Like Jim Morrison and Alice Cooper before him, and John Lydon and Morrissey afterwards, the way Iggy method-acts his way through each song makes him one of the best vocalists in rock history and provides the key to each song’s individual power. He’s a prowling leper in “Search and Destroy,” a charmer with a murderous twinkle in his eye for “Gimme Danger,” a vengeful vigilante in “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell,” the creep in the bushes outside your house throughout “Penetration,” a revolutionary on a soapbox for “Raw Power,” a lovelorn loser in “I Need Somebody,” a demented basket case during “Shake Appeal,” and finally, for “Death Trip,” a psychotic Jack the Ripper intent on taking the band, the listener, and the world into the grave along with him.
I could go on, but there’s not enough space in this paper or anywhere else for me to truly spell out how much this record moves me. Besides, “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell” has just launched into its chorus, and all I wanna do is ram a spike through someone’s chest. That’s just what good rock and roll does. No wonder the church thought Elvis was the devil: this kind of music makes people do bad things. But also good things. Raw Power is a good thing.
Originally published April 2010