The Stooges - 'Heavy Liquid' [Easy Action]
Here I am writing about The Stooges for the third month running. And why the fuck not? The Hammersmith Fun House gig ranks as probably the best of the year, the first two albums have been revitalised in their revamped reissues and now this - the perfect follow-on companion to the Elektra pair but given the Easy Action mega-packaging treatment. Six CDs in a box, plus stickers, booklets and all the trimmings. I can't imagine that more care has gone into many other resurrection projects this year. And it has the co-operation of The Stooges, which should be enough.
It's easy to say that such a painstaking project is for train-spotters or obsessional completists only, but this is more than something to be played once then filed next to your spunk-encrusted Sting CDs. Anybody with any interest in the history of punk rock will be fascinated, if only to hear for themselves how there was a group running amok that was harder, faster and madder than any of the class of '76 FOUR YEARS EARLIER! Meanwhile, Stooge-nuts will probably explode by the time they get to the Detroit rehearsals of Disc Three. The sound quality will never be pristine but the sheer ferocity, attitude and stun-rating of the playing repeatedly sends the jaw to the floor.
The one thing the set really proved to me was, despite all the tales of ragged shambles performances and full-time itineraries of oblivion, the Stooges in '72-'73 were an awesomely tight unit who rehearsed like dogs. The stars of the project are the Asheton brothers, Scott and Ron, who was then relegated to bass but still steals the show on several occasions. That's often because you sometimes can't hear Iggy and I have a litle built-in resentment for James Williamson, who basically nudged Ron to the side and took over. He is a great guitarist - loud, lethal and liquid in his lightning-fingered exercises. But for the combination of subtle soul, economy and sheer fire-power, Ron was the man. The rhythm section here never lose the beat and, on one version of 'Head On', the later Stooges classic which appears on every CD except one, takes off on its own leaving Ron to rip out a blinding little solo. I'm just pleased he finally got his props this year in what he calls 'the Real Stooges'.
The music within this box - some of which has appeared before on independent labels, most of it hasn't - straddles the period before the recording of 'Raw Power' and finishes up in the '74 death-throe period which spawned 'Metallic K.O.' [which would've been a good closer but contractual bollocks intervened].
Spring '72 and the new line-up of the Stooges is in Olympic Studios in Barnes, working up stuff for the album which will become 'Raw Power' as step one of the career revitalisation planned by his new production company, MainMan (via Bowie). The same studio where the Stones did 'Beggars Banquet' and the Vice Creems and Mick Jones did 'Danger Love'! This is a surprising gem because, although it's always been known that 'Raw Power' was recorded at CBS Studios, Olympic Stooges sessions have remained unknown. Set compiler, Carlton Sandercock at Easy Action, happened on the master tapes when the studio was having a clear out.
The material here was recorded between July 17 and 21 and is dominated by 13 attempts at the immortal 'I Got A Right', which wouldn't make it on to the album. You get different variations, false starts and the triumphant near-finished rendition. It's still one of the great introductions - that single scathing sheet of noise before the pile-driving groove steams in and Iggy hoists an anthem up the flagpole which should've been up there with 'Say It Loud I'm Black And I'm Proud'. One of the Stooges' best songs which would have wait until it got a release on Bomp! before it saw the light of day. Because of the plethora of 'I Got A Right' versions, this is the only disc which might merit the 'trainspotter' label - but what a song to hear developing and tested to perfection!
Elsewhere, there are versions of 'Money', 'Gimme Some Skin' and the only known studio recording of 'Louie Louie', plus bonus additions of the great 'I'm Sick Of You', 'Tight Pants' [which became 'Shake Appeal'] and 'Scene of the Crime'. These last three were a now hard-to-find EP. The group sound so bright, eager and on the button. After the plummet into oblivion which had followed 'Fun House', Iggy was pretty clean at this point and it shows, although he comes out with a great quote on the damage factor he'd sustained during the previous bout of excess. 'My particular insanity bar was raised so high at that point and nothing sounded bent enough - ever. I liked the songs and we were trying 'em out and it became an intermediary step on the way to the 'Raw Power' record.'
March '73 and the Stooges are in Morgan Sound Studios, Ypsilanti, Michigan, outside Ann Arbor. The studio was a converted barn owned by Scott Richardson of S.R.C., a long-forgotten group who released a couple of albums on Capitol around '67-'68 [and Peel was quite fond of]. The Stooges were rehearsing for their assault on the US with temporary keyboards-man Bob Scheff, a music teacher. 'Raw Power' had been recorded and released with its infamously dodgy mix.
Tony DeFries had arranged a rare live show at the upmarket Ford Auditorium - home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra - as a big Detroit homecoming. Big, prestigious showcase and one of the few times MainMan backed up Bowie's initial enthusiasm. The Stooges are honing the 'Raw Power' songs and sound great. That year they were supposed to be fucked, so how come they sound like a band possessed, attacking and running rings around their new material? 'Raw Power' itself is a metronomic blitz, while 'I Need Somebody' gets to stretch for 18 minutes into 'I Like The Way You Walk'. 'Gimme Damger' turns into a subtly brilliant extended instrumental and 'Search & Destroy' will singe the sternest loincloth. This is the one where they're working up 'Head On' - here called 'Head on Curve' [elsewhere it's also been called 'Head On The Curb']. It starts like a Stooges take on The Who's 'I Can See For Miles' before dipping into a Latin-flavoured samba groove with riff not unlike the Doors' 'LA Woman'. The Stooges were never just the bludgeon riffola sonic thrash they've been painted. The chemistry between Iggy and the Ashetons allowed for all kinds of musical subtleties and twists to creep in. But Williamson, as Iggy says, 'was out to kill.'
This stuff has never been heard. Worth the price of admission alone.
Further Detroit rehearsals captured between February and April '73 show that the Stooges were still hard at it for the three months before their US tour. Iggy on the ball and working hard [It'd be LA coming up next when he clocked into junkie time again, with Johnny Thunders in tow]. This CD is mainly developing new tracks, [although 'Death Trip' puzzlingly sounds like the album version. ropey mix and all]. Works in progress include 'Till The End Of The Night', 'How It Hurts' [which became 'Rubber Legs'], 'Johanna', 'Wild Love', and intriguing stuff like the lowdown reflective 'Born in A Trailer' and a hacking Doorsy thrash by Iggy and Ron called 'She Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills'. 'Open Up And Bleed' was destibned to become the Stooges' next set closer and is here in an early version. Gutter-crawlingly slow and blues-wailing, before storming to a mighty climax. There's also one of my favourite late-period Stooges tunes - the incendiary 'Cock In My Pocket'. Short, manic and unshakeable - like a horny dog with a rampant hard-on.
July '72 and they're in New York. Scheff has been replaced by Scot Thurston and Iggy's already hit the mad, downward spiral which predictably began in LA with devotees bearing gifts. In short, the work ethic has given way to the crazed, unpredictable Iggy personna which would rule for the next few years. The CD starts with seven songs recorded at rehearsals at CBS Studios. Most are on Discs 2 and 3 but there's also an interesting outing called 'Cry For Me/Pinpoint Eyes' [Yes we see]. Then it's a Max's Kansas City set from July 30. Crowd recording but worth it for the sense of occasion. This was a momentous stint with Iggy having to reschedule halfway through the four-day stint due to injuries sustained. He turned up at the Felt Forum on August 3 to see Mott The Hoople and the New York Dolls and walked straight into a glass door. It's the set of the time: 'Raw Power', 'Head On', 'Gimme Danger', 'Cock In My Pocket', 'Search And Destroy', 'I Need Somebody' plus a new one called 'Heavy Liquid', which recalls manic Hendrix in the riff department. From here on in, there's a sense of impending doom descending as the sound becomes wired from a group double-energising to stop itself toppling into the abyss.
'It was pretty wild and woolly on the personal side,' recalls Iggy in the booklet. 'I'll leave that to your imagination. On the musical side we were still trying to forge ahead...in other words, we weren't standing still for all the of the chitter-chatter about this band in that period. Listen - heroin wasn't chic yet unless you were the Rolling Stones. We were baaaad fucking news, and people were scared to admit they knew us.'
Another spectacular gig. This time LA's Whiskey A Go-Go on 17 October. Or that's the date it said on the cassette but no real record exists of a Stooges gig on that date. They did something like six shows in a row, two a night and were definitely in the area in August-September, so maybe that's it. Basically the same set again, but delivered with a wrecked turbo-drive which hot-wires outings like 'Head On' and - especially - 'Cock In My Pocket', which is a pure punk rock juggernaut. The closing 12-minute 'Open Up And Bleed' is a real tour-de-force and proves that they were indeed still forging ahead musically. It's great to hear the Stooges captured on a stage with a crowd shouting, Iggy shouting and the Stooges cranking into that sonorous roar which can be mistaken for no other group on the planet before. The quality is fine, apart from some dropouts from ageing tape. Who cares? This is gold dust.
I've heard 'Metallic K.O.' a thousand times so welcome this alternative document capturing the Stooges a month earlier in January '74 at Bimbos 365 Club in San Francisco. Only four songs. Now 'Head On' is nearly eleven minutes, there's a new one called 'Wet My Bed' and a gorgeous, surprising ballad in 'I Got Nothing'. 'Open Up And Bleed' has been developed, mangled and stretches for nearly 13 minutes. It's magnificent car-crash in slow motion stuff but no less compulsive. The Stooges transformed in less than two years from eager grafters to psychotic reactors. This is the end of this set's journey. Nothing quite like it would happen now for another 30 years - until they got together again as Ron's real Stooges.
Quite a package then, but that's not all. There's a booklet of info, interviews, photos, newspaper cuttings, etc, which fills you in on all the background. There's also a booklet of classic images by Mick Rock, whose succinct notes contain an Iggy quote about 'Raw Power' that pretty much sums up the whole Stooges thing:
'There was mess after mess waiting for the release of that record. No-one knew how to handle it or the band. The music didn't fit into any recognisable category and the Stooges were speaking in tongues. I became very unsound. I was on a mission to basically destroy the world. By the time the record came out management and the record company had basically washed their hands of us. I had a band and it had gone to hell.'
[Cue: 'makes the perfect Christmas gift' punch line].
Kris Needs – tMx 22 – 11/05