The Second Disc

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Back Tracks: The Stooges

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We continue our ongoing Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pre-game coverage by looking back at another batch of reissue offerings from one of the inducted artists.

The Stooges were one of those bands that were in the right place at the wrong time. Their music was raucous and energetic, their antics were nothing short of ostentatious. But when they rolled onto the scene in 1969, they really had no place in the rock music landscape behaving the way they did. Sure, other big rock bands of the day were into mind-altering substances and disturbing the peace and challenging the status quo. But those bands were photogenic about it, if not glamorous per se. The Stooges – led by wild frontman Iggy Pop, a performer not above smearing himself with foodstuffs and mutilating himself onstage – lacked the kind of image that got their rock ‘n’ roll brethren on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Then a funny thing happened. Years after the band dissolved, punk music took the same sonic sensibilities and the same on-stage tropes that The Stooges adopted and presented them to a more receptive public. Early British punk bands, and later American hardcore bands, were happily paying a large debt to the Ann Arbor, Michigan band that sold next to nothing when they were together. Before long, Kurt Cobain was naming The Stooges’ Raw Power as his all-time favorite record, and Iggy Pop – still ragged but more sober – was appearing in television shows and video games aimed at kids.

Thanks to this resurgence, The Stooges have enjoyed a lot of catalogue action over the past 15 years or so – some more official than others – and the best is presented to you here for your learning pleasure.

The Stooges (Elektra, 1969 – reissued Rhino, 2005)

The band’s self-titled debut had an appropriately ragged sound thanks to producer John Cale of The Velvet Underground, and spawned a few seminal protopunk classics, notably “No Fun” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the latter of which was a live favorite of Sid Vicious. The Rhino remaster included a bonus disc worth of alternate mixes and uncut takes. It was slim pickings compared to the reissues of the band’s next disc (see below), but it’s a top-line product for any Stooges devotee.

Fun House (Elektra, 1970 – reissued Rhino, 2005) / 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions (Rhino Handmade, 1999)

With Fun House, The Stooges upped the ante with a saxophonist (Steve MacKay) and another batch of underground classics, including “197o” and “T.V. Eye.” The catalogue treatment of Fun House was actually a huge turning point in the reissue world. The 1999 box set – a seven-disc affair compiling every take on every master reel that comprised the LP sessions – was an early limited-pressing release for Rhino Handmade. When it sold out all 3,000 copies, it proved that there just might be an audience out there for niche material. For the less hardcore fan, highlights from the box comprised a bonus disc on a 2005 reissue of the album.

Raw Power (Columbia, 1973 – reissued Columbia Legacy, 1997 and 2010) / Rough Power (Bomp!, 1995) / Heavy Liquid (Easy Action, 2005)

After two commercial failures with Elektra, The Stooges were without a label. But a fortuitous meeting with David Bowie landed them another record deal, still as obnoxious as ever but with a few menacing “ballads” thrown in at the label’s request. While it may be looked at as The Stooges’ greatest achievement today (besides Cobain, other famous fans include Johnny Marr and Henry Rollins), it was perhaps even more of a disaster than previous LPs when it was first released. Particularly, the mixdown process was a complicated affair that started with a botched mix by Iggy Pop and ended with a frantic final mix by Bowie himself.

It was that mix that led to some of the Raw Power-oriented catalogue material out there. First, the Rough Power compilation produced the best-quality copies of Pop’s original mix for the first time. Two years later, in what may be one of the most bizarre reissue decisions ever, Legacy Recordings bought Iggy in to oversee a new mix; the resultant product (referred to by both Pop and Sony as “the violent mix”) was excoriated by audiophiles for being insanely loud.

Mix intricacies aside, fans were also looking for as many outtakes as they could and hit the motherlode when the band sanctioned Heavy Liquid, a six-disc set (obviously emulating Rhino’s Fun House box) jam-packed with session takes, live rehearsals and other Raw Power ephemera. Amazingly, though, Legacy discovered enough alternate material not included on Heavy Liquid to merit not only a double-disc Legacy Edition to be released in April but a supersized Deluxe Edition as well – the perfect cherry on top of the Rock Hall induction.

Written by Mike Duquette

March 12, 2010 at 18:42

Posted in Box Sets, Features, Reissues, The Stooges

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