Some days ago, on April 21, James Newell Osterberg (aka Iggy Pop) turned 70 years old. Seventy. Since the Stooges‘ debut in 1969, he’s been an untamed, sinewy…entity, haunting the world of rock’n’roll with his wry barytone, flailing arms and sinister demeanor.
He invented punk rock before the seventies had even started, to little or no acclaim at the time (people were too busy grooving to the bubblegum nonsense of The Archies and the criminally overrated not-saying-anything-but-has long-guitar-solos tyrannosaurus rock of Led Zeppelin). With their brooding guitars and equally brooding, and introvert, lyrics, the Stooges went on to invent post-punk before anyone had even heard of punk.
And Iggy is still around. He is still relevant and hungry. Just last year he released an amazing, universally acclaimed, album – his first to be acknowledged and lauded upon its release, according to himself. And to quote one of the driving forces behind that album, Josh Homme: “He’s the last of the one-and-onlys”. He’s got a point. In my book, Iggy’s one of the huge ones, and I’m grateful that he’s around. He’s much needed.
To celebrate this genius, this giant, and his birthday, I’ve compiled a top 10 of some of his greatest songs, solo and with the Stooges. Let’s begin.
– Released this year, in January, accompanying the film of the same name. A collaboration with Danger Mouse, Gold is a introspective, slow burner that brings to mind late era Cohen or –Cash. Gorgeous.
– One of many stunning songs off of last year’s Post-Pop Depression. Chocolate Drops is an ode to survival and perseverance, by one of rock’s greatest survivors (perhaps THE greatest survivor – only Keith Richards would argue).
When You get to the bottom You’re near the top
The shit turns into chocolate drops
8. Gimme Danger (The Stooges)
– Iggy goes seductive and ominous, accompanied by some mean guitar by James Williamson. Completely ignored upon its release in 1973, the Stooges third album Raw Power is now considered one of the best rock albums of the 1970’s, and rightly so.
– Bar Lust for Life, this was the first Iggy song I ever heard, and it was love at first listen. One of those moments of hearing something unique for the first time. This celebration of travelling and movement and vigor and the pure drinking in of the outside world will never sound out of date.
– Again, Iggy the seducer, the romantic. This time the setting is a cold and wet West Berlin, circa 1977. With a combination of post-punk moodiness and attitude and the blues, Iggy is trying to attract someone who apparently is younger than she looks and who can’t keep from falling over. Bizarre and just great.
5. I Need Somebody (The Stooges)
– Here, Iggy knows he’s being duped, but he’s losing his nerve, his friends and his feelings, and he needs somebody. Sometimes you just can’t face yourself alone again. This is perhaps the moodiest song off of Raw Power, and it’s the best one.
– Iggy, the ultimate outsider. Here, he turns his outsidership into a catchy pop-rock song with an amazing riff (courtesy of Ricky Gardiner). And then there’s the lyrics… Iggy addressing and facing up to the fact that he’s been 30 years on the planet and more than ten years in the rock’n’roll business, and is yet to feel at home or be accepted.
Well, I never got my license to live
They won’t give it up
So I stand at the world’s edge
I’m trying to break in
Oh, I know it’s not for me
And the sight of it all
Makes me sad and ill
– The (glorious) albums The Idiot and Lust for Life (both released in 1977) were recorded in Berlin and produced by David Bowie. At one point they lived together, and toured and traveled together. Mass Production is perhaps the Iggy song that sounds the most like the mythical West Berlin of the late 70’s. Moody, heavy atmosphere, chilly electronics, and weird lyrics about loss, dying and yearning. Gorgeous.
2. Cry for Love
– Co-written by Steve Jones (the Sex Pistols). The lead single off of his commercially most successful album, Blah-blah-blah, Cry for Love is very much a 1980’s mid tempo rocker-ballad. It would sit perfectly on a Billy Idol album. But it doesn’t sound dated, or if it does I’m completely oblivious to it – it’s such a beautiful song. A melody most would murder for, paired with vulnerable, personal, yet witty lyrics about desperately wanting to connect with someone special. Stunning.
1. Dirt (The Stooges)
– Post-punk meets the blues (at least seven years before anyone had even considered the term post-punk, let alone punk!). Can anyone think of a better stanza than this to sum up (what would be become) post-punk:
I’ve been dirt
And I don’t care
‘Cause I’m burning inside
Seven minutes of coal black perfection.
I love you, Iggy. I hope you’ll outlive us all.