Friday, July 12, 2024 
--archival-captured-cinematronic-continuity error-daily report-datastream-depth of field--
--drama-44.1 khz-gramophone-inquisitive-needle drops-picture book-twinklepop--
Neumu = Art + Music + Words
Search Neumu:  

needle drops
philip sherburne

++ Needle Drops is now an occasional music column that a number of Neumu writers take turns writing. All columns prior to March 2004 were written by Philip Sherburne.

++ Recently ++

Tuesday, November 29, 2005 = The Stooges Unearthed (Again)

Tuesday, November 8, 2005 = Documenting Beulah And DCFC

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 = Out-Of-Control Rock 'N' Roll Is Alive And Well

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 = Just In Time For Halloween

Monday, October 3, 2005 = The Dandyesque Raunch Of Louis XI

Monday, August 15, 2005 = The Empire Blues

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 = David Howie's Sónar Diary

Monday, July 25, 2005 = Hot Sounds For Summertime

Monday, June 27, 2005 = Overcoming Writer's Block At Sónar 2005

Monday, June 4, 2005 = Cool New Sounds To Download Or Stream

++ Needle Drops Archives ++

View full list of Needle Drops articles...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

++ The Stooges Unearthed (Again)

By Tom Ridge

++ For me, one of the highlights of Martin Scorsese's Dylan documentary, "No Direction Home," was seeing the infamous "Judas" incident being played out onscreen in grainy color. Suddenly something that had been a part of rock folklore was being projected into my living room.

Of course, Dylan's "Albert Hall" bootleg has been legitimately available in buffed-up form through Columbia for some time now, but this visual document was one step further. And yet, while it gives us more, this footage, by revealing the documentary "truth," also subtracts something from the mythology surrounding Dylan at the time of his electric conversion.

To my knowledge, no similar live footage exists of The Stooges in the immediate aftermath of Raw Power — any exploration of their compelling take on rock 'n' roll disintegration, of their particular mythology, requires a high level of subjective input when putting together an imaginary picture of the way they were. There are plenty of stills taken around 1973 and 1974, mainly of Iggy himself in various stages of undress/distress, but the main source of knowledge comes from the numerous bootleg recordings made of Iggy and The Stooges during this time.

++ Heavy Liquid, a six-CD box from Easy Action Records, is an attempt to give some sense of order to the chaotic last 12 months or so of The Stooges' existence, before their infamous last gig at the Michigan Palace in Detroit (as documented on the Metallic KO album). It's beautifully presented with two accompanying booklets, one of various essays and the other displaying Mick Rock's iconic Raw Power pics of Iggy in all his demented glory. Many of the recordings collected on Heavy Liquid have previously been released in various forms on numerous labels, most prominently on the late Greg Shaw's Bomp! imprint. Here, though, we get some unreleased gems and also probably the best sound reproduction thus far of recordings that are often as lo-fi as is bearable. What can be discerned over these six discs is that The Stooges were as tight a rock band as you could hope for, but also that their live performances' burgeoning reputation as some kind of confrontational freak-show sowed the seeds of their self-destruction even as they were evolving musically.

The story unfolds chronologically, beginning with London studio sessions from 1972, moving on through 1973 studio rehearsals in Detroit and New York, and finishing with live recordings from the West Coast. In rehearsal the band tears through extended versions of its repertoire, bolstered by some incongruous saloon-bar piano from Bob Scheff and later Scott Thurston. They sound drilled to perfection but willing to stretch out, carried by their own momentum. By the time they reach New York's CBS studios, they're an awesome amalgam of Stonesy swagger and vicious hard-rock bite. These sessions, previously released under a bewildering variety of titles, remain the Holy Grail of bootleg Stooges recordings, sounding more or less balanced between vocals and instruments.

Hereafter the sound quality plummets into murkier territory, and the listener has to find some way of filling in the gaps. The band's Max's Kansas City gig sounds hard but edgy — or rather it doesn't actually sound very clear at all, but it feels powerful, even as you hear the audience baiting Iggy and Iggy encouraging their antagonism. Further live dates at the Whisky in L.A. and Bimbo's in San Francisco are muddier still, with Iggy sounding distinctly frazzled even as the band rises to the occasion around him.

++ Ultimately the question surrounding this kind of material is: Is it worth it? These recordings certainly require more effort to get anything out of them, but that's part of the pleasure. There's nothing airbrushed here, no posthumous cut-and-paste approximation of the live experience. This sounds raw, sometimes unpalatable (Iggy's live rants as intro to "Head On" aren't exactly politically correct), but always intensely fascinating as it delivers its visceral charge.

It's also unlikely that this material is going to get the same sort of belated revival the rejuvenated Stooges have given Fun House recently in the live arena. There's one crucial reason for this, and his name is James Williamson.

Williamson is the great lost guitarist of the '70s. Officially retired for over 25 years, he's all over these recordings, where even the most throwaway stuff is usually rescued by one of his brittle but deadly solos. He's often cited as a big punk influence, but I don't think any punk-rock guitarist ever really sounded like James Williamson; with his impressive ability to switch in an instant between raw rhythm and explosive lead, the recordings here feature some of his best playing. In the end, Heavy Liquid is worth it just for this.

In effect, The Stooges existed as two separate bands: the one with Ron Asheton on guitar and the later incarnation with James Williamson. And there the dividing line is drawn, with nothing from the first two albums cropping up in any form on this collection, and none of the songs from Raw Power and beyond likely to be attempted by the recently revived Stooges (understandable when you consider the stylistic differences between Asheton and Williamson).

++ So what would a mythical post-Raw Power Stooges album have sounded like? If you discount the '72 London sessions, including the searing "I Got a Right" and the epic "I'm Sick of You," which aren't referenced subsequently by the band in rehearsal, then you're left with a core choice of songs that evolve in performance and practice. This stuff is noticeably less extreme than the Raw Power songs, with a pronounced leaning towards R&B-based hard rock. Sidestepping the underdeveloped riffage of "She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills," the blues-based practice jams and the simply moronic "Wet My Bed," this is my version of an imagined "lost" Stooges fourth LP:

1. "Head On Curve" — prefaced by Ron Asheton's kinetic bass riff before turning into a mid-paced rocker, this kicks off things in suitably intense fashion by building up the energy levels till Williamson's solo breaks the tension.

2. "Cock in My Pocket" — if the Stones could get away with "Star Star" (AKA "Starfucker") on Goat's Head Soup, there's no real reason to suppose the record execs would balk at this energetic ode to Iggy's manhood. "I just wanna fuck ya and I don't want no romance," he declares.

3. "Johanna" — a ballad, of sorts, albeit a suitably twisted one, which shows off The Stooges' more sophisticated side (relatively speaking).

4. "Heavy Liquid" — a furious MC5-styled groove, with ragged twin vocals and a sudden race to the finish line.

5. "Wild Love" — another caustic lover's ode with a squealing Williamson lead part.

6. "Rubber Legs" — flirting with '70s boogie, it still captures The Stooges' tattered glory and sense of inevitable momentum, and serves as a breather before...

7. "Open Up and Bleed" — a masterpiece of slow-paced thuggery expanded to a monolithic 12 minutes, complete with harmonica intro, pummelling lead breaks and an accelerated, extended finale that has the band ramming the point home with aplomb.

-snippetcontactsnippetcontributorssnippetvisionsnippethelpsnippetcopyrightsnippetlegalsnippetterms of usesnippetThis site is Copyright © 2003 Insider One LLC