Tag Archives: The Stooges

The Ten Most Important Artists of the Last Decade: 1. The White Stripes

In 1973 the critically hated band Grand Funk Railroad claimed themselves to be “An American Band”.  But few bands are as strictly American as The White Stripes.  The ghosts of Son House, Robert Johnson, and Blind Willie McTell  live in Jack White’s basement.  Using old blues records and folk songs as a template, The White Stripes created some of the most authentic and engaging music to come out in decades.  Add to that they came from Detroit, perhaps popular music’s most important city.  It’s a city known for its blues artists in the 50s and 60s, and helped popularize Black Music with Motown in the 1960s, and conceived punk-rock with The Stooges and The MC5.  The White Stripes have almost exclusively ignored musical trends since the end of the 1960s, an era when Detroit seemed to fall out of favor with the music public.

Even as they’ve dug up the past, The White Stripes live in a world that very few artists have.  It’s a world that isn’t defined by time.  While Elephant and White Blood Cells they could easily  exist in the 50s just as they do in our age.  Just like The Basement Tapes, The White Stripes looked to Americana for inspiration, but in the process created their own version.

Crucial to their own version of Americana, is The White Stripes’ own myth-making.  It may seem silly in the age of information for Jack and Meg to insist on being siblings when in fact they were really married at one point.  But like their heroes, they created personas of themselves directly linking themselves to the past, even going so far as to change their names.  Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to play guitar. In In the early stages of his career Bob Dylan (another of White’s heroes) created the illusion that he was actually a ho-bo to make himself seem more authentic in the burgeoning folk-scene.  In “Ball and Biscuit”, White refers himself to “the 7th son” – a folklore concept in which the 7th son is given special powers due to his birth order.  It’s no coincidence that White makes this declaration in a seven minute showcase for his fiery guitar freak-outs.  By making such claims, The White Stripes are securing their place in American culture, right alongside other legendary artists.

But it’s really the music where The Stripes establish their credibility.  It’s a primitive and primal crunch, that has to be made two people.  Adding another instrument of person would take away from the rawness that harkens back to the blues records.  There’s a reason why they only recorded with vintage guitars and equipment.  It’s not just because they prefer that particular sound.  Anything else, would make them just another blues band, instead of blues purists.

That sound, while if not wholly original, must have been a shock to casual radio fans who weren’t familiar with the likes of Son House and others.  In era where everything on rock radio seemed homogenized, “Fell in Love With a Girl” was a blast of fresh air.  Not since “Blitzkrieg Bop” have two minutes sounded so exciting and fresh.  “Fell In Love With a Girl” helped established The White Stripes as a new voice in rock and roll to the mainstream (even though they had been receiving critical attention for a while), but it was really “Seven Nation Army” and Elephant that saw them conquer the world.

With that famous “bass riff”, Seven Nation Army”, has got to be one of the weirdest songs to grace radio in years.  The whole song is built around a variation of the same chord, and there’s no chorus. While some detractors have claimed that Meg White as a terrible drummer, no other drummer would have sounded right for this song.  White has claimed the title came from a childhood mispronunciation of “salvation army”, but the magic number 7 pops up again.

The White Stripes’ popularity suddenly make it possible for younger bands to realize that they didn’t have to be pigeon-holed by a particular sound.  Over the last decade, there has been a surplus in bands that just contains two members, or omit a bass player – The Black Keys and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, being the most prominent.  Numerous unsigned and local bands have also taking the cue as well.  But trying to be authentic, The White Stripes have helped create a rock revolution not seen since the punk-era or grunge.

As significant as their influence on younger bands is, The White Stripes remain legendary because they’ve established themselves as part of American culture in a way that few artists have.  The White Stripes could never keep going, because Jack White is always on the move – always between two places, never staying in the same place once.  Since their break-up they’ve truly managed to become what they’ve always wanted – artists that existed for a time, but never part of a particular time.

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Albums You Respect But Don’t Love

After reading Paul Trynka’s Iggy: Open Up and Bleed, I was struck by his observation that Pop’s first solo album The Idiot is more respected than loved.  I thought about the statement for a bit, concluding The Idiot is a far more interesting album if you look at its influence as a pre-cursor to the new-wave movement.  You can hear the ghost of The Idiot in much of Joy Division’s work (indeed Ian Curtis had the album in his record player when he hanged himself.)  Just as The Stooges’ stripped down had paved the wave for punk years earlier, it’s only natural that their lead singer would create a work that would signify the death of punk, just as it was starting.

But I don’t really listen to The Idiot very much – I tend to listen to Lust For Life or any of the Stooges albums.  But this got me thinking: what other albums do I respect, but don’t love?

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changing

Obviously, this is an important record.  It’s Dylan at the height of his protest-era.  The title track is among his best, and will always be immortalized as an anthem for  “the people” frustrated at the government.  The Times They Are A-Changing works extremely well as a protest album, but that is also it’s major flaw.  For me, Dylan’s albums have always been varied but  The Times They Are A-Changing is a little too one dimensional in its attack on the establishment.  It almost seems like a slight step backward after the masterpiece of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan which found Dylan humorous, angry, and sad.

The Clash – Sandinista!

It’s easy to make a snide comment about the album triple album monster that is Sandinista! I once commented  it was ironic that for a band that bitched about prog-rock, they made one of the most pretentious albums of all time.  I don’t entirely take back that statement, but I’ve grown to appreciate Sandinista! more in recent years.  This is the sound of a band taking on every single genre of music (with mostly mixed results.)  There a few gems – “Charlie Don’t Surf”, “Somebody Got Murdered”, and “The Call-Up”.  But what other band besides The Clash would dare put out a 36 track album and weave their royalty fee so it would be priced at lower rate?

M.I.A. – Kala

I actually bought this album before “Paper Planes” blew up all over the charts due to the glowing reviews it got.  I listened to it a few times and forgot about it.  It’s an interesting album – full of samples from The Clash (“Paper Planes”) and the Pixies (“20 Dollar”) and setting third world music to a hip-hop beat.  Perhaps Kala will be seen as a water-mark for music in a few years.  For now my consensus is that it sounds awesome when you’re listening to it, but except for “Paper Planes” I couldn’t tell you how any of the songs go.

Beck – Odelay

One of the defining albums of the 90s for sure, but I’m not sure it’s aged well.  Its reliance sound relies on a collage of sounds, it seems stuck in the late 90’s.  Like Kala it sounds awesome, but too often I find Beck is so full of ideas that he incorporates as much as he can into one song – “Hotwax” and “Where It’s At” for instance.  And “Where It’s At” mock-rap just sounds embarrassing 14 years later. A great product of its time, but ultimately not timeless.

The White Stripes – Elephant

This album used to be on the “love” list actually.  “Seven Nation Army” remains of the best guitar-heavy singles of all time.  It also was inventive – the guitar sounded like a bass, and its hook wasn’t a vocal melody but rather a hypnotic guitar line.  If I complained Odelay was too scatter-shot, Elephant sounds too focused even while the songs rock.  Jack White wanted to achieve his own place in rock history with Elephant by making a modern days blues record.  But with the exception of “Seven Nation Army”, he failed to add bring anything new to the table.

What albums do you respect, but don’t love?

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Raw Power Legacy Edition Vs. Iggy’s Remix of Raw Power

As I’m sure most of you are aware, Iggy & The Stooges’ Raw Power is one of my favorite albums.  It was recently reissued as a double-disced set containing the original David Bowie mix of the album (which has been out of print for a while in favor of Iggy Pop’s new mix in the 90s) and a live CD as the bonus disc.

Raw Power more than lives up to its title.  This is the album that almost single-handed created the blueprint for punk. So how does the original Bowie mix stand up to Iggy’s reworking?

The original Bowie Mix:   This recording is more primitive, making the album sound like it was recorded in a tin can.  Also, I’m not a fan of the fade-outs particularly on “Search & Destroy” and “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell”.  Pop has often described Shake Appeal as him getting his Little Richard on, and I’ve often wondered what he was talking about.  Bowie’s version has a little more bounce, so now I finally see what Iggy was talking about.

Iggy’s remix: This version is loud. Even in its original incarnation, Raw Power was musically one of the loudest albums ever, but Iggy’s re-mix ranks as one of the loudest sounding albums ever.  Pop put the audio levels in red, so it would purposely cause distortion.  He also added in vocals that originally had been taken out.  While I like Bowie’s mix, I prefer this one because this is the version I am used to, and it sounds like a band pummeling everything in their path.

Georgia Peaches Bonus Live CD. Iggy has often said that the Stooges were more musically proficient than they were sometimes given credit more.  This live CD showcases both the anarchy and musical power of the Stooges at their best.  At first I wondered what the hell the Stooges were doing with a background piano player, but without the addition of the piano it would be too out of control.  Somehow, the piano holds it together.  Iggy baits the audience even yelling, “you want to get your faced?” to an audience member.  While other groups may have had better stage shows in the mid 70’s and control, there was a true sense of urgency with the Stooges live shows that makes them among the most exciting acts ever.

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The Stooges – Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

As Billie Joe Armstrong says at the end of this speech, “It’s about fucking time.”  More so than any other band, The Stooges represented the wild side of rock and roll.  When their self-titled album came out in 1969, the country was in turmoil.  And while other bands and artists protested through their words, The Stooges protested in the only way they knew best – loud, aggressive, and in-your-face rock and roll.  It didn’t matter if the word sounded like they were thrown together.  The simplicity in the lyrics and the music was a double finger finger to both overblown lyrics and psychedelic rock.  Without Iggy and the Stooges there would be no punk rock.  Period.  

One of the things I’ve noticed about their self-titled debut though, is how much it is based on the early rock & roll of the ’50s.  Even though I Wanna Be Your Dog and 1969 are drenched in Ron Asheton’s wah-wahs they also contain a Bo Diddley rhythm and Buddy Holly-eque simplicity in the songwriting.  1973’s Raw Power is a bit different, but it still retains the same spirit.  Coming at at time when rock was at its most bloated – The Who’s Quadrophenia, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon were released that year, and Led Zeppelin was touring the US  playing 45 minute versions of “Dazed and Confused” – Raw Power lived up to its title.   Rock singers with the golden god complex were put in their place when Iggy screamed, “Your pretty face is going to hell!”  

Jim Morrison (who I can’t stand) and Mick Jagger (who I love) are often cited as two of the greatest frontmen in rock.  But the title really belongs to Iggy.  He (almost) single-handed invented the stage-dive, and proved that peanut butter was good for another thing besides eating. Sometimes you get the feeling that a lot of front-men have a persona on stage.  Though Iggy says he does turn off the stage act, I can’t see the energy that he possesses dissolve instantly.  I can totally see him bouncing around his living room to whatever he’s listening – because that’s simply how he exists.  

Audio only, but check out The Stooges playing live in 73:

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