by Jesse Hudgins
All my life, whenever I’ve listened to punk music, there’s been one artist I always heard was an inspiration to all. I didn’t start listening to them until late in high school, but that didn’t hinder my understanding of their legendary inspiration. The band in mind are the grandfathers of punk, The Stooges.
The Stooges formed in 1967 in Ann Arbor, Michigan with members Iggy Pop, Ron and Scott Asheton, and Dave Alexander. Pop, born James Newell Osterberg, formed the band from influences like The Kinks and The Sonics. After their first performance on Halloween, the band gained a reputation for wild live performances, especially from the performance of Pop himself. Elektra Records approached the group in 1968 while they were scouting out MC5. The scouting resulted in both The Stooges and MC5 receiving contracts to Elektra records albeit The Stooges receiving a lower pay rate.
When The Stooges was recorded in 1969, it was supposed to only feature seven songs. The band took inspirations from other musicians from the time like Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds, and Johnny Cash. One song on the record that appears differently than it was originally written is “Asthma Attack.”
Pop said that the original version of the song was a “repetitive descending set of chords” before it turned into the version that was heard on the album. The band had a meeting with Elektra executives in which the head of the board rejected the first draft of the final record saying, “There aren’t enough legitimate songs that contain structured lead vocals.” The band responded by lying that there was more material that was far more structured. After a week of writing, they presented four more songs for the album, each restructured in some way before fitting into the album in their own special ways. Those four songs were “We Will Fall,” “Real Cool Time,” “Not Right,” and “Little Doll.”
On August 5th, 1969, The Stooges was released with the singles “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “1969.” At first, the album didn’t receive the praise that garners today. One of the harsher reviews it was given at release was from Rolling Stone. The magazine labeled the record as “loud, boring, tasteless, unimaginative, childish, obnoxious…” It sadly fell under the case of a record that didn’t receive the attention it deserved right away as it was ahead of it’s time.
This album is an album of its time. It’s a record that while not punk outright, it contains punk aspects that fuse with other genres that were present during its era. When this album is punk, it is as punk as it gets for the era. Songs that fit this description are “Not Right,” “1969,” and “Real Cool Time.” “Not Right” is a personal favorite of mine, with its pounding instrumentals and distorted guitars. The lyrics describe someone Pop was attracted to, but when attempting to get into the relationship, it just didn’t work out. Pop’s vocals take a back seat on this song with the instrumentals, guitar and drums especially, taking the spotlight in the song. The guitar solo at the end of the song is a high moment overall.
There are two slower songs on the album, “Ann” and “We Will Fall.” While not personal favorites these showed an experimental side of the group.
As with many records like it, The Stooges didn’t create an impact right away. Over time, though, the impact the album and the band left impacted many areas of punk. One scene was in New York, where Pop had interactions with The Ramones, The New York Dolls, and Television. It was The Ramones who proved to Pop that the band sold more records than he thought when they mentioned to him that they were inspired by the group. During the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong wrote a list of 100 bands influenced by The Stooges. The extensive list included bands like, Bad Brains, Bad Religion, DEVO, The Germs, and Rancid.
When I was younger, I may have not understood it, but I truly do now. Without The Stooges, punk wouldn’t be the same as so many groups have been inspired by the album and the band.