Welcome to a new series of features entitled ‘This album changed my life’. Over the coming weeks (or maybe months), we’ll be jaunting down memory lane with members of the Pure M staff, delving into the album that defines them and the music that got them into the biz in the first place.
This week, I’ll be taking you on a death trip to an album that should need no introduction, Iggy and the Stooges’ 1973 third album – Raw Power.
It was 2006. I was 17, bored, and skipping a class with two friends, gone into town with the best of intentions – to play guitars we couldn’t afford in Music Maker until they kicked us out on our arses. It didn’t take long; I think the breaking point for the acoustic-keeper was the 12 minutes we spent jamming around Sweet Child on guitars none of us could tune properly by ear. It could also have been the fact that we’d done the same thing every week for the past month.
Tower Records on Wicklow Street was the next stop. We’d gone in with the idea that I needed some new music and that each of the lads would pick out an album for me to buy, sight unheard. The only criterion was that it had to f**king rock. To their credit, they both did, but you know it’s a special occasion when a Hanoi Rocks double album is the second best thing you bought that day.
Raw Power was sold to me on two basic truths.
“It’s more of a description than a title.”
“Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell is the reason I’ve already started losing my hearing”.
The enthusiasm was contagious. I don’t think I’d ever seen two guys more psyched about anything, and looking back on it, putting myself in their shoes, I can understand exactly why. In the 9 years it’s been since I first played that album, I’ve bought it 4 times and been happy about it each and every one of those. The first copy was loaned to someone not long after I bought it, same with the second and I’ve never seen either since – like a sisterhood of the traveling silver leather pants, but with a bad f**king attitude. The third was brought to a house party and destroyed along with the stereo and the kitchen. I’ve been a lot more careful with copy number four.
Coming in at 9 tracks and only 34 minutes, there are probably Led Zeppelin solos longer than the entire album, but in Raw Power, there is no filler and there are no thrown-together B-sides (with the possible exception of Shake Appeal – but let’s be honest, claps like those could make me enjoy Justin Bieber’s new song). It’s (im)pure, explosive, and dirty from the first note to the last. It’s no surprise that it’s earned itself a place on critics’ greatest of all time lists and in the hearts of any bona fide rock n’ roller from Steve Jones and Johnny Marr, to Slash, Nikki Sixx, Alice Cooper, and Henry Rollins. Raw Power just speaks to that base animalistic part of us that just wants things to be different, dangerous, and most importantly, loud.
There are songs on this album that have literally broken speakers. I’ll let that sit with you for a moment, because I don’t mean slightly distorted them or caused them minor damage. I have seen a speaker melt and spit flame on the infernal whim of this album – it’s a beast in the truest sense of the word.
I got one final piece of advice that day. Listen to it as loud as you can – if it doesn’t hurt, it’s not loud enough. That is a rule never to be broken. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a bus beside a 90 year old dear with a heart problem, or in a church at your best friend’s funeral, you blast Raw Power at 110% and rock out like Iggy after a kilo of coke and two demonic possessions.
There’s no long-winded intro, no easing you in. Raw Power wants to rip you and everyone you’ve ever met to shreds from the get-go. Opening with one of the most savage riffs and lead licks you’ll ever hear, Search and Destroy is a mission statement.
I’m a street walking cheetah
with a heart full of napalm
I’m a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb
If that doesn’t stir up something in your long-forgotten defiant days, there’s nothing there to stir – you’re a pussycat without claws or a dog without bollocks. If it doesn’t give you goosebumps all over your body, then you don’t fit my description of a human being – get out and stay the f**k out. This song IS rebellion. Search and Destroy IS rock and roll at its heart-pounding, drug-fuelled best.
Whether it’s the looming darkness, violence and beautiful self-destruction lurking just under the skin in Gimme Danger, or the balls-to-the-wall, deafness-inducing screech of Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell, Raw Power doesn’t hit the brakes for a moment. In your darkest fantasies, I Need Somebody is playing – I’ve often pictured myself knee-deep in someone’s intestines with this in the background. The title track is the daddy of rock and roll, with more of an attitude problem than the Sex Pistols’ tour bus and twice as much sting below the belt. Penetration is filthier and sexier than actual f**king penetration, for Christ’s sake.
It’s a runaway freight train of attitude, swagger, energy, and lunacy that you’ll keep coming back to, regardless of mood, timing, or anything else.
This album is the musical embodiment of Iggy himself. Powerful, strange, terrifying, and extremely loud. It’s everything we know to be bad and good at the same time. For some people, who live the closest to the edge of us all, this is a philosophy, a mantra, and so much more than a collection of songs. It’s savagery that can’t be contained to the mere limitations of a human vocal – Iggy has this inane ability to shapeshift into something utterly unnatural and horrific at points and it’s amazing. Yes, the guitar isn’t the tidiest thing you’ve ever heard, but it couldn’t matter any less – with the Ashetons on Rhythm and James Williamson taking the helm on lead guitar for this album and this album only, it’s superhuman. Let’s not forget that the mix was done by David freaking Bowie at the height of his near limitless power. If 1969 and The Stooges’ eponymous first album was the birth of punk, Raw Power was it being dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood.
Raw power got a healin’ hand
Raw power can destroy a man
Raw power it’s a more than soul
Got a son called rock and roll
In the end, the words that ring out over the permanent damage this has album has done to my eardrums are the first ones I ever heard about it, because nothing more or less could ever do it any justice.
‘Raw Power is more of a description than a title.’