Iggy Pop-Just A Modern Guy
An Imaginary Compilation Album
Since 2016’s Post Pop Depression album, a record made as if to book end his career with a Berlinesque sounding set of songs, Iggy Pop has given the impression he’s winding down his activities. A radio show here and there, the odd guest vocal, but not much more. Then, out of the blue in summer 2018, Underworld announce an ep with Iggy providing vocals to four new songs, two, maybe three, of which sound like late-career classics. So, I thought an Iggy Pop ICA was in order. Part of me then thought that looking back at a back catalogue which can easily be described as patchy, the safest ICA would be to cherry pick 5 songs from each his pair of 1977 albums, The Idiot and Lust For Life, his solo career high points. Iggy has seemed to struggle to meet the sounds and standards of these two albums ever since. But that seemed a bit reductive so I’ve tried to limit myself to only two songs from each of the Bowie/Berlin albums and cast the net for the rest of the ICA a little wider.
Iggy has been part of my life since 1988. Dimly aware of his 1986 hit single Real Wild Child and his connection to Bowie I went to a basement bar in the student’s union of Liverpool University, only a few weeks into my first year there, in October 1988. It was deserted apart from two men playing the records, both of whom looked like they could have been members of Birdland (the late 80s indie band not the New York jazz club). I stood near a wall with a pint and shortly the opening chords of 1969 blared out. And that was that, at a time when Iggy Pop was a long way from the centre of popular culture, acid house and Manchester, indie and hip hop. It took me a long time to put the various pieces together. In the pre-internet, pre-cd reissue culture age, getting hold of records was a matter of searching, dedication and luck. In 1996 Trainspotting thrust Iggy back into people’s faces, the film opening with Lust For Life and suddenly Iggy was in the spotlight again (and finally getting paid). His music began to be used for adverts, he came over the UK for Tv and chat shows- his appearance on Channel 4’s The White Room in see through PVC trousers being a memorable television encounter.
For this ICA I’ve kept to the post-Stooges albums. The Stooges require and deserve an ICA of their own (for what it’s worth, it would might something like this- 1969, I Wanna Be Your Dog, No Fun, Real Cool Time, Loose, Dirt, TV Eye, Search And Destroy, Gimme Danger, Death Trip). Iggy Pop’s solo years are a different animal and his back catalogue has records to love and records to file away quietly and not return to. I’ve also not included anything from his very recent Teatime Dub Encounters record with Underworld but I think that given time one of the four songs on it would force its way onto a rewritten ICA in summer 2019. I haven’t forgotten his album with James Williamson, Kill City, recorded as a demo in 1975 and then polished a little and released in 1977. I just didn’t think anything from it, even the title track, was good enough. The other song missing from this ICA is Repo Man, title track from the Alex Cox film of the same name. A decent enough stab at 80s punk rock, written and recorded in 20 minutes. It just didn’t quite make the cut. If you want it as a bonus track, I posted it recently at Bagging Area. So, with Tony Sales’ drums thumping out Iggy’s calling card intro, we begin….
Lust For Life
The best Iggy Pop solo song and the only way to open an Iggy compilation (in fact more or less any compilation), Lust For Life is a raison d’etre, a justification, a celebration of survival, a middle finger to the doubters and the cynics. Bounding in on that huge, sped up Motown beat, a rhythm based on the Armed Forces network call signal and then Bowie’s guitar riff (written on a ukulele), Lust For Life is a guaranteed floor filler, an irresistible party song. The lyrics were partly inspired by William Burroughs, clearly partly autobiographical and also very funny. Trainspotting launched it into mainstream culture but it has survived many cover versions and TV tie ins because it is the very stuff that rock ‘n’ roll is made of.
1979’s New Values gave us seven good Iggy pop songs, more than any Iggy album would for a long time afterwards- the title track (which has a very tail end of punk lyric, from one of punk’s progenitors, ‘I’m looking for one new value but nothing comes my way’), the strutting, cocksure Five Foot One, The Endless Sea, Girls, Don’t Look Down (later covered by Bowie), the album opener Tell Me A Story and this one, I’m Bored. The jerky guitar riff is the base over which Iggy gives us his latest message, ‘I’m bored, I’m the chairman of the bored’. Once you’ve written that line, the rest of the lyric takes care of itself. Two former Stooges, James Williamson and Scott Thurston contribute with writing, playing and production and Iggy was still rolling from his ’77 albums at this point, signed to a major label and with some record company clout behind him.
I Need More
A moment of clarity from Iggy. ‘I need more intelligence… more culture… don’t forget adrenaline’. Despite his dum-dum Iggy persona, James Osterberg is an intelligent and well-read man. Iggy is the persona that performs the songs. This one, co-written by Glen Matlock, rattles along at the start of the 80s, a decade which would be pretty dismal for Pop. I Need More was also the name of his 1982 autobiography, now out of print and going for silly money second hand. If you ever see it cheap, buy it. The album I Need More was off, Soldier, came out in 1980 on Arista (for whom Iggy recorded three duff-ish albums). There was conflict throughout the making of it, between James Williamson and Bowie and between Bowie and Glen Matlock (whose guitars allegedly went missing off some songs in the final mix). Simple Minds were recording next door and ended up doing backing vocals on Play It Safe. The only other song off Soldier you might consider worth keeping, to these ears, is Loco Mosqioto which has a fairly chaotic sound and Iggy naked in the bath in the video.
Sister Midnight opens The Idiot, an Iggy/David Bowie/Carlos Alomar co-write and deeply entrenched in the Chateau d’Herouville and Berlin sessions that would deliver not just Iggy’s best pair of solo albums but also three of Bowie’s (Low, ‘’Heroes’’ and The Lodger). Sister Midnight opens with a lurch and Iggy’s vocal, a numbed out, reverb drenched rasp- ‘calling sister midnight, you got me reaching for the moon’. The synths and rhythm keep the song grounded, the beat dragging slightly behind the music, and the sound is wonderfully murky, a three-note bassline pushing things along. Iggy sounds like he’s singing from a hole. ‘What can I do about my dreams?’ he pleads. I’d love to include Nightclubbing here as well, a song which is so well recorded, so detached and so cool, so Iggy, that it deserves a place but I’m trying to avoid including multiple songs from the 1977 high points.
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.
The comeback. Joshua Homme sought Iggy out and they corresponded by letter and postcard before meeting at a studio at The Joshua Tree to record an album. Gardenia is a tribute to a stripper that both Iggy and Allen Ginsberg were ogling, decades earlier. The band were totally simpatico with an aging Iggy, who suddenly sounded tuned in and was making a record he wanted, needed, to make. Somehow, there’s as much James Osterberg in the voice on this album as there is Iggy Pop. Other songs off Post Pop Depression could easily take this one’s place- American Valhalla, Panama, Break Into Your Heart. Iggy saw this album as the end. ‘I feel like I’m closing up after this’ he said, a 68-year-old man still expected to take his shirt off every night on tour and throw himself into the crowd.
A 1981 single, from the album Party, co-written by guitarist Ivan Kral. There’s some tension here, Iggy sounds engaged and focussed on what seems to be a song about girls. New Wave keyboards and some organ flesh out the song while Kral contributes some squealing guitar parts. The best thing on a pretty ropey album that doesn’t sound much like a party. Not one you’d enjoy being at anyway.
Funtime, also from The Idiot, is a must for any Iggy compilation. Another Bowie co-write with the Thin White Duke playing guitar, synth and providing backing vox. Funtime was inspired by the Sex Pistols cover of his own No Fun and by Neu!, plus Bowie playing a riff borrowed from The Rolling Stones. All this combines to make Funtime a blast of Motorik tension. ‘Hey I feel lucky tonight’ Iggy sneers, ‘I’m gonna get stoned and run around’. Sounds like fun. Bowie’s guitar is part deranged. The room at Hansa Studio never sounded so good.
In the late 1990s post-Trainspotting, Iggy discovered a new way of singing, much deeper, almost crooning and made a different kind of album. Eventually this would lead him to make a jazz album based around Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility Of An Island, in French in 2009. Before that, in 1999, he put out Avenue B which had several songs in which Iggy unpicked the end of his marriage to a younger woman and concluding that it wasn’t her, it was him. The album split opinion but it is much overlooked and showed Iggy a way out of cool, dumb fun. And while the album is on the whole reflective, melancholic, laid back, and a response to divorce and turning 50, it also has some rockers, a song in Spanish, a cover of Shakin’ All Over and a song called Nazi Girlfriend.
Breaking my rule about only having 2 songs from an album, I had to include Success (from Lust For Life), an ad-libbed, on the verge of falling apart song. Another Pop/Gardiner/Bowie co-write, Iggy apparently made the lyrics up in the studio and the backing singers were told to just follow what Iggy did- which they did, brilliantly. The idea that Iggy Pop would see success in 1977 must have appealed to his and Bowie’s sense of humour but having been rescued from a mental hospital, moved to Berlin to clean up and having little in the way of support, financial or otherwise, the sheer glee in Iggy’s singing, the backing vox and the band’s playing, is success in itself.
Iggy has contributed guest vocals to various tracks over the last few years, Peaches and the group currently calling itself New Order for example, but the starting point was back in 1999 with Death In Vegas and their Contino Rooms album. I’d like to have found room on the ICA for Iggy’s guest vocal on Aisha where he dons the role of a serial killer. When Iggy growls ‘Aisha I’m confused, Aisha I’m vibrating’, he sounds completely believable. If you only have one guest vocal track, it’s this one.