A killer riff, the perfect punk rock ‘n’ roll riff, written by Ricky Gardiner. Iggy, narrator and punk outsider, riding around Mitteleuropa in David Bowie’s car, seeing the city’s ripped backside, the hollow sky and everything else, through the window of the car. Little touches can make such a difference in recordings- note the bell ringing at the start. I read somewhere that The Passenger is Johnny Marr’s favourite song. A song that is both impossibly exciting and as numb as it can be.
I really can’t better Swiss Adam’s description from the Iggy Pop ICA.
mp3 : Iggy Pop – The Passenger
I will always associate The Passenger with Friday and Saturday nights in the Student Union of Strathclyde University, 1982-1985. Please indulge me… and some of the details may be slightly wrong as it is now almost 35 years since I last set foot in the building (except on one occasion in 1995 when I had reason to visit with a politician whom I was working for at the time).
The building is eight levels in height. The first level had a games room, the second level had a bar and shop, immediately below a large canteen known officially as the dining room. Floors 4-7 were a mixture of bars, meeting rooms, a debating chamber, staff offices and places from where the likes of the student newspaper was produced. Level 8 was the home of a purpose built venue where bands played and discos took place….it was imaginatively called ‘Level 8’.
In my first year at uni, I never ventured much beyond the dining hall/canteen, shop and bars. I was still living at home and a lot of my social life was based around where I stayed. I began to venture out a bit more in second year and then I was never away from the place in third and fourth years, thanks to my moving out of the parental home and into a flat less than 800 yards away from the front door of the union.
Level 8 was a great venue for bands and almost as good for the disco nights, where the music was a mix of the current chart stuff, disco classics, bands who were on the student union circuits and the occasional bit of what we were increasingly referring to as indie. The gender mix was 50/50 and it was the type of place where blokes plucked up the courage to ask an already gyrating female if they could temporarily invade their space – no words needed to be exchanged, and if the female wasn’t up for it, she would simply turn her back on the bloke who would then shuffle awkwardly off to the side of the space and return to his drink. It was through such a method that I found myself of an evening when my ‘asking’ was accepted for a boogie by none other than Clare Grogan, only for me to blow it big time by talking to her during which I drunkenly asked for her hand in marriage, with my proposal turned down with the words ‘Fuck off creep’.
But Level 8 wasn’t the only place where you could enjoy a dance. As soon as the last student vacated the canteen on a Friday evening at 6pm, the tables and chairs were folded away and space was cleared for a decent sized dance floor with a raised platform brought in to host temporary DJ decks, all of which would remain in situ on the Saturday night, being put back into place by staff on a Sunday afternoon in time for Monday morning breakfasts.
Unlike up the stair on Level 8, there was no great lighting available and so the Dining Hall disco took on a cave-like appearance and feel, with the DJ making the conscious decision to play music that matched the ambience and atmosphere. It was also a venue where anything went as far as dancing, with no awkward shuffling up towards someone of the opposite sex and hoping they will take notice and/or pity on you. It wasn’t too long before I found myself being wholly attracted by its charms.
The thing is with the DJ, he knew what his audience liked and wanted. It was as if he was a finely-honed band out on a world tour with what felt like the same set-list being churned out night after night after night after night. – A Forest, Love Will Tear Us Apart, I Travel, Heroes, Enola Gay, Hanging on The Telephone, The Cutter, London Calling, Ever Fallen In Love and The Passenger were guaranteed among many others….and quite often he would play the songs more than once on the same evening with folk coming in, maybe after having watched a band upstairs, and complaining that they had missed out on a particular favourite. It was within these confines where I learned that dancing alone is no crime and carries no shame…..a trait I’ve continued to adopt ever since, often to the horror of work colleagues at Christmas nights out who just think it is weird behaviour, especially by a 50+ fat, balding bloke…..
I love dancing to The Passenger. It’s perfect for throwing all sorts of strange and awkward shapes, depending on whether you’re keeping time with the riff or reacting to Iggy’s vocal. It’s just magical.
Not too many folk will be aware of the fact that it wasn’t ever released as a stand-alone single in the UK until 1998, when it reached #22. It was only a b-side back in 1977 on the reverse side of this:-
mp3 : Iggy Pop – Success
Here’s a cover version, from 1987, by another of the bands who were given a regular spin in the Dining Hall Disco:-
mp3 : Siouxsie & the Banshees – The Passenger
Iggy is known to like this version, having said during an interview with MTV in 1990 : “She sings it well and she threw a little note in when she sings it, that I wish I had thought of, it’s kind of improved it…the horn thing is good.”
Sorry Mr Osterberg, we will need to differ on this occasion.