50th Anniversary Retrospectives #11: The Stooges - Raw Power

50th Anniversary Retrospectives #11: The Stooges – Raw Power

“I’m a streetwalking cheetah with a hide full of napalm,

I’m a runaway son of a nuclear A-bomb”

By 1972, The Stooges were, to all intents and purposes, finished as a band: “broken” as
bassist Ron Asheton often admitted. Outrageous frontman Iggy Pop’s appetite for heroin
was already insatiable, and, after the flop of their second LP, Fun House, their record
company, Elektra, had finally decided that enough was quite enough, taking what was left
of their cash, and their bruised business acumen, and running for the hills, quickly, leaving
the band to return home to Detroit with their tails firmly between their legs; seemingly just
another rock ’n roll casualty to be heard of no more.

I realised that there was almost no-one in the world who wanted to save The Stooges,”
Iggy told Uncut. “I knew our management didn’t want it, I knew that radio didn’t understand
it and I knew that most people wouldn’t get it. On top of that, we were all one step away
from becoming junkies and the ones that weren’t junkies were completely out of touch with

Enter a certain David Bowie, riding the crest of an innovative wave of creativeness
and emboldened by already resuscitating the floundering careers of Mott The Hoople and
Lou Reed. Everyone knows of the Berlin period that would come a few years later, and of the
albums that would emerge from the city’s Hamza Studios by the wall, but, according to the
Stooges’ guitarist James Williamson, not a lot of people realise just how much Bowie
would step forward and help the band in the years preceding that.

How much he helped us, Mott [The Hoople], or Lou [Reed]… Although I think we were
more grateful than Lou ever was – Lou never really had a good word to say for
David…most of the time
,” Williamson recalls. “We didn’t realise it at the time, but the guy
was a fucking genius… Without him Raw Power would not have happened
The friendship was basically that this guy salvaged me from certain professional and
maybe personal annihilation simple as that
,” Iggy Pop openly admitted to The New York
Times. “A lot of people were curious about me, but only he was the one who had enough
truly in common with me, and who actually really liked what I did and could get on board
with it, and who also had decent enough intentions to help me out. He did a good thing

As he would later add in Far Out Magazine, David Bowie was, “more of a
benefactor than a friend in a way most people think of friendship… He went a bit out of his
way to bestow some good karma on me

Although unnoticed, and certainly unloved at the time of its release, like a lot of
albums now eagerly held aloft and loudly acclaimed as “classics”, Raw Power is regarded
today as one of the first “real” punk, or alternative, albums, both aesthetically and within its
raw, chaotic sound of pounded drums and shredded guitar. It is uncompromisingly loud
and purposefully, unapologetically in-your-face brash, and, for 30-odd minutes, Iggy is
heard at his most powerful and exhausting, utterly unlike anything that could be heard in
the mainstream; a voice sometimes painfully raw and, with the benefit of hindsight, so
obviously addicted, yet still passionate and overwhelmingly compelling. There was found
in each song a poetic quality to all the pent-up angst that ran through every line, and that
descended and inter-whined with the loud and heavy riffs: intriguing and scary in equal
measure. Future Sex Pistol, Steve Jones, famously admits that he learnt to play guitar
taking speed and listening to Raw Power, whilst Johnny Marr told Gary Walker for the
website guitar.com , that Williamson, who had joined Pop for the writing and recording of
what would become Raw Power, had, “the technical ability of Jimmy Page without being
as studious, and the swagger of Keith Richards without being sloppy. He’s both demonic
and intellectual,
” he added, “almost how you would imagine Darth Vader to sound if he
was in a band

All three Stooges albums are equal to me,” Iggy would tell Uncut. “But Raw Power…
That’s the big one

Relocating to London in 1972 under Bowie’s persuasion, the plan was for Iggy to
write and record a new album with songwriter and guitarist, James Williamson.
I had nothing to look forward to,” Williamson revealed to The Guardian. “I had no money,
no prospects. Then Iggy calls and says David Bowie wants him to come to London to
make an album, and that he’s not going without me. We get a contract for £10,000 – a
huge amount of money back then – stay in Kensington Gardens Hotel, and hang out with
people that drive Bentleys. We go from absolute poverty to the lap of luxury. It was

Pop and Williamson; New Wave’s Lennon and McCartney, or Jagger and Richards!
Soon reunited with Ron and Scott Asheton, and to be credited as Iggy Pop and The
, the recording sessions took place over the September and October of ’72 at CBS
Studios, with both Bowie and Iggy producing, and, under new label Columbia’s insistence,
mixed by Bowie.

Although it would pass largely unnoticed, some critics did praise the album upon its
initial release. Reviewing it for Rolling Stone magazine for example, Lenny Kaye wrote,
the Stooges have used the recording studio as more than a recapturing of their live show,
and with David Bowie helping out in the mix, there is an ongoing swirl of sound that
virtually drags you into the speakers

The sessions did not go smoothly though, at least according to some of those
present. Iggy, it is said, would often, and quite suddenly, pass out whilst high on heroin,
during conversations, writing sessions and, on at least one occasion, whilst recording one
of his vocal tracks. Rock legend has it that CBS had a young sound engineer, who, it was
claimed, found Iggy sprawled across the floor in some dark corner of the studio. The
young engineer immediately thought that the singer was dead and is said to have spent
the next few moments running around desperately trying to get help, apparently panicking
and screaming for an ambulance. During all this commotion, Iggy abruptly came to, singer
and young engineer, “promptly scaring the shit out of each other!

Williamson remembers the sessions differently though, telling The Guardian some
years later: “We didn’t know where to get any hard drugs in London. The most we could score was abit of pot. So we got our heads down and worked, realising this was a shot at being a real

Upon hearing the first tapes, Bowie would tell Iggy and Williamson that they could
do better. So they did.

We wrote more and came up with more sophisticated work,” Iggy told Rolling Stone. “If
we were going to be in his stable, he wanted us to do work of the very best quality
Bowie had an important effect on Raw Power, and Iggy and The Stooges, that was to go
far beyond the mixing desk in a CBS Studio.

I learned a lot from him,” Iggy admitted to Rolling Stone. “I first heard the Ramones,
Kraftwerk and Tom Waits from him. He also had a certain rigor. If he saw something in
another artist he admired, if they didn’t pick up that ball and run with it, he didn’t have any
problem saying, ‘Well, if you’re not going to do it, I will. I’ll do this thing you should have
done.’ And that was very valid

Over the ensuing years there have been various celebratory re-releases of Raw
, all received with vastly differing critical reception, just as the original; rather fittingly
one might say? The contentious issue mainly centres around the various mixes now
available: the Bowie original or Iggy’s 1996 remix for the “Deluxe” release, for example?

Hands down, I much prefer Bowie’s mix,” Williamson admitted to premierguitar.com. “With
all of its flaws and even despite Bowie’s artsy stamp and all that, it’s still the one
everybody knows. You can’t change that or its place in time. There are technical reasons
why that mix happened that way…
” Iggy is reported to have originally given Bowie the
recording containing all of the guitars on one single track… “And Iggy’s thing was kind of
just ham-handed: put up all the faders and make it loud! There was a lot of digital distortion
in that mix and it just didn’t work for me, but what it did do was get the album reissued,
because it was out-of-print when he did that, so there’s a silver lining

Bowie would admit in a 2002 interview to preferring his version, saying that it had,
more wound-up ferocity and chaos and, in my humble opinion, is a hallmark roots sound
for what was later to become punk

As James Williamson told Greg Prato in an interview for Louder: “The songs on that
album have survived multiple/dubious mixes, the test of time – everything… They still rock
and people still like them… What else can you say? I think that’s a testimony to the
songs… ‘Search And Destroy’ has now become a classic song, and I think ‘Gimme Danger’
is kind of an ‘epic song,’ if you will. I like so many of them

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