How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s

Punk.jpg*Image from the internet and probably copyrighted

I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking a lot about that whole Grunge era in the 90s lately. I think the whole Grunge thing was the last musical movement that I actually got caught up in. On my first date with the Rock Chick, back in my swashbuckling bachelor days, we actually talked about music and she said, “I hate that Kurt Cobain destroyed everything that came before him.” That was sadly a very true statement. When Cobain came along – and lets face it, it wasn’t just him, there was an army of bands who came with him & Nirvana, like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, the Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden (to name a few of my favorites) – he laid waste to everything that came prior.

The Rock Chick went on to say that day, “I liked some of those hard rock, hair-metal bands like Motley Crue, Van Halen and Cinderella. You just don’t hear that kind of music any more.” Talk about love at first conversation. This was our first date! My heart throbbed, but enough of that mushy stuff. It wasn’t only those “hair bands” who bit the dust in the wake of Grunge, everybody went down. Billy Joel crawled off to write symphonies. Bruce Springsteen decided he was John Steinbeck with a guitar. Grunge shook rock and roll to its foundation. Grunge was rock and roll stripped of its artifice, more primal and visceral in nature. Gone were drum machines and synths… enter guitar, drums and a whole lot of angst. No hair spray or frankly, bathing needed.  The Rock Chick, ever adaptable, did morph into a huge “alternative” rock fan, the offspring of Grunge if you will. One door closes, another opens as the saying goes.

Of course, this isn’t the first musical wave to rise up and challenge the established order. Punk rock, which one could describe as the pierced, demented grandfather of Grunge, was just as primal and visceral, if not way more so. Both punk and Grunge, to my uneducated ears at least, seem to strip away layers of polish that had accumulated on rock and roll and get it back to that four or five guys (or gals) in a garage bashing out tunes kinda vibe. Punk, rather than express the angst of Grunge, had more of a social protest angle to it. Punk bands, especially out of England were protesting the economic and social conditions they found themselves in and it challenged the somewhat complacent rock establishment. There was an almost nihilistic bent to it that made it dangerous. Of course, I was really, really late getting on the punk bandwagon…

Here in the middle of America, we didn’t hear a lot of punk music on the radio… Not even American punk from New York like the Ramones made it on the radio here. I can remember in the late/mid-70s sitting on the couch at the house one Sunday night and my dad was watching 60 Minutes. They did a segment on the English punk movement. They showed a bunch of young kids, a little older than I was, with safety pins piercing their nose or cheeks. They had Mohawk hair cuts and wore a lot of leather. They were all slamming violently into each other on the dance floor, not unlike a rugby scrum. My father, whose sensibilities on everything are firmly rooted in the 50s, looked over at my brother and I with a look that I now realize can only be described as… fear. I felt that he had the strong urge to jump up and cover my brother’s ears and perhaps backhand me… Looking at me, in his mind’s eye, he probably saw my hair morphing into a Mohawk… a safety pin springing magically out of my cheek. He knew how drawn I was to rebellion.

For my part, I was just as terrified. The 60 Minutes crew shot the live footage at the punk concert – a Sex Pistols’ show – and didn’t do anything to mix the sound. It sounded like harsh, frightening noise with a crazed singer screaming at people. They didn’t play any studio stuff. The old farts on that show just marveled at Johnny Rotten singing “God Save the Queen.” They actually had subtitles to highlight what I’m sure they considered subversive lyrics. This was a sign of the coming apocalypse… To me, it just sounded awful. I need a little melody. It took me years – like 20 years – to finally buy a Clash album. It was a revelation. I quickly picked up the Ramones and the Stooges. Those are some of my favorite punk rock bands. At last, I finally picked up Never Mind the Bollocks, from the once scary (to me) Sex Pistols only about 10 years ago and it’s awesome. Very simple, straight forward guitar rock. As Lou Reed said, “One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.” But as my friend Doug told me once, “Every punk rocker knows Lou Reed is an asshole.”

Punk rockers challenged the established rock acts that were already ensconced on the top of the world, the Rock Stars. Rock n roll had gotten bloated. There were Art Rock bands doing 15-minute, multi suite tracks like Rush or Yes, that almost had more in common with classical music than rock and roll. There were strings and overly polished production. Rock had gotten fat and comfortable. Along came punk to shake things up, and thank God it did. Instead of destroying everything that came before it like Grunge, a curious thing happened… the established rock bands, for lack of a better word, absorbed the energy and vibe. Although I’ll admit some of the artists ignored punk: Dylan had found Jesus, Bowie was over in Berlin doing his thing, Steely Dan’s jazz-influenced bubble never burst and hard rockers like Black Sabbath and AC/DC didn’t change a thing. But so many rockers were influenced by punk.

I’ve compiled the following list of some of my favorite band/artist reactions to the punk movement. At the time I’d have hardly known the stylistic change in music came from punk rock, but you live and learn.

  1. Queen, News Of The World – Queen was just coming off two albums of long, complicated music (A Day At the Races, Night On the Town) and were already considering a shift to shorter, more stripped down tracks. While recording News, the Sex Pistols were in the next studio… Freddie Mercury ran into Sid Vicious (who he had been calling Sid Ferocious) and Sid asked, “Have you succeeded in bringing ballet to the masses yet?” Queen, and Freddie especially had been the target of the punk’s ire, and he replied, “We’re doing our best, dear.” Queen went into the studio and delivered a stylistically adventurous LP with tighter, shorter tracks. Sure, “It’s Late” was six and a half minutes long, but what a guitar riff. The crowning glory was Freddie and Brian May’s double-single response to the punks – “We Will Rock You” (their statement of purpose) and “We Are the Champions” (Freddie’s fuck you to them). The lyrics, “no time for losers, ’cause we are the champions” were pretty clear.
  2. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls – The Stones totally absorbed the punk ethos on this album. Of course on tracks like “Miss You” they also absorbed the disco thing too. Mick always picked up on what was now, and Keith keeps them centered and connected to their roots. Songs like “Lies,” and especially “Shattered” were stripped down with rocking guitar. No strings, no fat, just awesome. On “Respectable,” they even mocked the punk’s criticism, “Well now we’re respected in society, We don’t worry about the things that we used to be.”
  3. The Who, Who Are You – No one was more disturbed by the punk’s criticism than Pete Townshend, who saw a lot of the early Who in the punks. Who Are You was seen as a return to form for them, with loud guitars and bombastic drums. Townshend’s title track was directly addressed to the punks, “who the fuck are you?”
  4. Pete Townshend, Empty Glass – So obsessed with the punks was Pete, he continued to write songs about them on his first “proper” solo album. “Rough Boys” sounds like he wants to be friends with them. On “Jools and Jim” he complains, “they don’t give a shit Keith Moon is dead.” From his interviews lately, it sounds like Pete doesn’t care either…
  5. Neil Young, Rust Never Sleeps – Nobody dug the punks as much as Neil Young did. The punks seemed to wake Neil from the torpor he was under at the time. The first half of this album was acoustic but the second half is a bunch of blistering guitar workouts. He revamped a heavily bootlegged “Sedan Delivery” and speeded it up so it was very punk. Both the opening and closing, variations of the same song, “Hey Hey, My My” were addressed to Johnny Rotten.
  6. Iggy Pop, New Values – Iggy’s first band, the Stooges was highly influential on the punks… not as much as the Ramones as I understand it but even now hard rock guys from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Guns N Roses cite Raw Power as an influence. I didn’t hear it until a few years ago and yes its great. I wouldn’t have understood it at 13. With all that adulation how could Iggy not jump on the punk bandwagon and release this album, collaborating with old Stooge, James Williamson and Scott Thurston who believe it or not ended up in the Heartbreakers. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em Iggy.
  7. Bruce Springsteen, Darkness On the Edge of Town – Springsteen had been locked in a legal battle with his first manager since Born To Run. He was already pissed off so the punk ethos probably fit the songs he was writing. If you listen to The Promise, the box set for Darkness, many of the tunes sound like the natural progression from Born To Run, but Springsteen opted to only include dark, guitar-centric tracks here. Sonically it’s miles away from his breakthrough album and remains one of my favorites… well, it remains amongst almost every Springsteen fan’s favorites.
  8. Billy Joel, Glass Houses – Like Springsteen, Joel coopted the punk energy and took a stylistic left turn from his previous album, the E-Street-ish 52nd Street. Punchy, guitar-driven tracks like “You May Be Right” and “Sleeping With the Televison On” dominate the album. Like Iggy, if you can’t beat them, absorb them!
  9. Fleetwood Mac, Tusk – Lindsey Buckingham was so afraid of repeating himself after Rumors, and so enamored with the “fuck it” attitude of the punks he decided to take Fleetwood Mac in a totally different direction. I love Tusk, although it was seen as a failure at the time. I’m sure the band struggled as Stevie was delivering songs like “Sara” and Christine McVie with “Over and Over” and Lindsey countering with the punky “It’s Not That Funny,” or “What Makes You Think You’re the One.” Buckingham took a lot of liberties with the record and it makes it all the more interesting.
  10. Paul McCartney & Wings, Back To the Egg – McCartney is the most confounding entry here. I really liked Back To the Egg, McCartney’s attempt at doing more upbeat rock and roll again. I think he really wanted to absorb some of that punk energy but he just couldn’t commit to it through an entire album. I thought “Old Siam Sir” was rocking. But Macca just can’t help himself, he’s gotta go with soft, gauzy ballads like “Arrow Through Me.” I look at this one as a lost opportunity. But hey, it’s McCartney, he can do what he wants.

As I sit here, only 1/3 of the way through the annual “Dry January” I can’t help but think I need a little punk energy to get me going… If you feel that way during the doldrums of winter, put one of these albums on and see where it takes you.

Cheers!

LP Review: Iggy Pop’s ‘Free’ – An Atmospheric, Stylistic Left Turn

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It’s been a crazy fall… Iggy Pop’s latest album Free came out over two months ago, early September to be more exact and I’m just now getting around to saying something about it… I realize I’m late, but I feel this music merits some attention.

Now, let me start off by saying, people, don’t fear the Iggy. It’s no secret that I grew up in the American midwest. Iggy Pop wasn’t played on the radio out here. We really had no concept of what his music was like or who he was. People knew his name but he was some noise-making punk who only people in New York and underground rockers knew anything about. When I was in college, listening to vaunted “college radio” they didn’t even play Iggy Pop out here. I’m not sure you could even find his albums in the midwest… I wouldn’t know, I never looked for them. The first time I saw or heard any Iggy Pop might have been when Carnival Cruise used “Lust For Life” on their commercials. Well, actually that can’t be true, I’m sure when I was in college, up all night partying, I had to have seen Iggy Pop on MTV at some point. Most evenings ended with me staring mindlessly and drunkenly at music videos, eating a microwaved Chuckwagon sandwich… Yeah, I was a real chick magnet.

Iggy, aka James Osterberg, hails from Detroit Rock City. He was a pioneering hard rock/punk singer in the legendary band the Stooges. The Stooges never really caught on in the mainstream, but they did catch the ear of one, David Bowie. Bowie mixed their last album, the legendary Raw Power. All my life I heard about Iggy and I heard about the Stooges and yet it took me forever to summon the nerve to check him out. Every rocker looking for some credibility name drops Iggy and/or the Stooges – GnR have covered the Stooges and the Chili Peppers are big fans of the Stooges. Iggy and the Stooges have a built-in cool. I urge everyone to check out the Stooges first three albums, The Stooges, Fun House, and Raw Power. That’s some menacing, fucking music there.

After the Stooges imploded, Iggy found himself at loose ends. He decamped to Europe with Bowie where they continued their creative partnership. Bowie produced Iggy’s landmark first two solo albums, The Idiot and Lust For Life while also working on his own “Berlin Trilogy.” Iggy has had more ups and downs in his career than most rock and rollers. If there’s anything that has been consistent with Iggy, it’s his inconsistency. After those first two superb albums from the 70s, it wasn’t until the early 90s that he put out two, back to back, solid records, Brick By Brick and American Caesar. I loved his last album, produced by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Post Pop Depression. It’s the best thing he’s done since those first two albums with Bowie, Review: Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression”.

I was somewhat surprised when late this summer I heard that Iggy had a new album out. Post Pop Depression had sounded like a retirement notice to me. I mean, how long can you hop around on stage without a shirt on? On the new record, I was hoping he was collaborating with Josh Homme again, but no, Iggy has decided to take a stylistic left turn with this new LP, Free. He started collaborating with multi-instrumentalist Noveller (real name Sarah Lipstate) and perhaps more importantly in terms of the sound of this album, jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas. Iggy’s music has always been very guitar-riff centric. Iggy is loud and aggressive, in your face rock n’ roll, hence his influence on so many punk bands and heavy metal bands at the same time. That harder rocking sound is not the sound here. The music, for the most part is hushed. In many cases Iggy goes spoken-word vs singing. The solo’ing here is all on trumpet, not on guitar. This record has a jazz vibe to it. You get the feeling of wandering down into a basement in the Village and catching a beatnik reading poetry over musical accompaniment.

I realize at the outset here, that this album won’t be to the liking of a lot of you faithful B&V readers. This album is different on so many levels. When the Post Pop Depression tour was over, Iggy was physically and (it sounds like) spiritually exhausted. He was longing to be free from it all… Fittingly, the new album starts with its title track, “Free” which upon first hearing, I thought, maybe the cops need to drop in on Iggy to make sure he’s ok. It might be time for a welfare check on ol’ Iggy. It’s the sound of a muted trumpet with Iggy merely repeating the phrase, “I want to be free.” Ok, so it’s not “Lust for Life,” but on an emotional level, I was drawn in. I’ve been listening to this album for a couple of weeks now and every time the Rock Chick walks by and hears it she asks me if I’m ok?

The next three tracks are amongst the best Iggy tracks ever. They’re the reason I’m writing this post. I know many of you will breeze past this post and probably this music, but this trio of songs are tracks everyone should hear. “Loves Missing” sounds like it could have been an outtake from Post Pop, sinewy guitar over a slinky rhythm section. It’s a straight up, mid tempo rock song. The next track, “Sonali” has some of the most poetic lyrics of Iggy’s career. It’s a softer track where Iggy is practically crooning. He sings in a lower register. The song is ethereal…it just takes me places, “we must find parking, or stay on the freeway, stay in your lane, that’s what you want…” This shimmery song will be studied in college music classes. It evokes a certain sadness in me that I’ve become fond of over the years… The third track in this knock-out trio is “James Bond.” “James Bond” just makes me smile. It’s catchy as hell. It’s upbeat and Iggy keeps singing, “She wants to be your James Bond, its not for a price and it’s not very nice, she wants to be your James Bond.” I love the melody, I love everything about that song, especially the bass line. I even love the trumpet solo instead of the traditional guitar solo.

Unfortunately, the next track, “Dirty Sanchez” is a rather jarring misstep. It starts with mariachi horns. Iggy sings in an almost strained manner. I don’t mind vulgarity, but the line, “just because I like big tits, doesn’t mean I like big dicks” is a little juvenile, even for me. The sing-along with the backup singers becomes pretty annoying. “Glow In the Dark” is better, but he never gets back to the level of those three landmark tracks that kick things off. “Glow In the Dark” has an insistent bass line and some nice trumpet. It’s lyrically strong. The whole album, save for “Dirty Sanchez” is lyrically strong. The themes of isolation and loneliness pour out of this album but it’s not grim…despite the line, “your sense of community is going to kill you.” “Page” is another strong track lyrically. Iggy digs deep and once again goes to a deeper vocal register here. “Dreary causes, yield all the applauses, you’ve done it before, you’ll dread the encore.” It’s nice to hear an artist express his world-weariness in musical form.

The last three tracks is where I think I’ll lose most of you. They’re all spoken-word tracks. Iggy puts a poem by Lou Reed to music in “We Are the People,” While it was written before Reed died, it certainly maintains political relevance today. Iggy said he’s giving voice to other artists on this album, this is what he’s talking about. He then put some musical accompaniment to a reading he did of poet Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which if you’re going to have someone wave their fist at death and “rage against the dying of the light,” it ought to be Iggy Pop. “The Dawn” is also a spoken word thing… I know, it’s not to everybody’s taste.

Iggy Pop is an important artist. The sooner you set aside any fear of this music the faster he’ll expand your mind. This is an interesting, challenging album. I love it but I’ll understand if most of you don’t agree with me on this one!

Cheers!

 

Review: Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression”

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 I won’t lie, this one took some home work. There are some artists I just think you have to be “ready” for as a listener. Either it’s a maturation of your tastes, or a change in your thinking that causes the re-evaluation of the artist, or maybe something just “clicks.” For me, it’s often just one song by the artist that I happen to hear (usually on satellite radio) and it causes me to completely reassess the artist’s entire catalog. Something about the artist crystalizes for me.

I have not traditionally been an Iggy Pop fan. You won’t find me, like Anthony Bourdain recently, strolling down Miami Beach, shirtless with Iggy, whilst in whispered, almost religious terms discussing the meaning and influence “Raw Power” had on my adolescent years. This either makes me unqualified to review this album or uniquely qualified to judge it on it’s own merits. Again, it’s about that timing thing. Someone gave me a greatest hits package of Iggy’s a few years ago and I was largely unmoved. I guess I just wasn’t “ready” for Iggy. I was always more a fan of punk rock’s effect on music in the 70’s, pushing the existing artists out of their mid-seventies malaise, than the actual punk music itself. Over the years I’ve gotten into the Ramones, but only mildly. I love the Clash but they were more of a great rock band with a punk ethos to me. I always feared punk music would sound like a cat in blender… I was terribly wrong about that. I love the stripped down, primal energy of punk rock. It’s lack of polish is often the best part of the music. Rock music, like all art, needs to be dangerous.

In parallel, I was never really into the Queens of the Stone Age. I do respect their “musician’s band” ethos. I was in my car a few years ago, and a local DJ had just received a copy of QOTSA’s “…Like Clockwork” album and she was playing the entire thing, start to finish. Afentra, the local DJ (truly the last great DJ on air), couldn’t contain her excitement. She’d stop the album after each song and talk about what she’d just heard. It was real old school DJ style. I loved that record and went out immediately and bought it. There are some stand out songs on that album, but like a Pink Floyd record, it feels better when you listen to it as a whole vs just a song at a time. An event like that would usually send me on a buying spree through the entire QOTSA catalog, but I don’t why, I just never investigated them further. I now know I must rectify that omission. Maybe I wasn’t ready for them either…

I must admit, my new interest in Iggy Pop and “Post Pop Depression” was piqued because of his connection with David Bowie. Bowie was one of the Stooges and Iggy’s early fans and benefactors much like he was with Lou Reed. He produced Iggy’s two first solo albums, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” and many of the reviews and articles about this record have referenced Bowie and Iggy’s relationship and collaborations. I have a huge soft spot for Bowie right now, I’m still not over that loss, much like Prince. Since many have suggested similarities in those early Bowie-produced albums and “Post Pop Depression” I felt compelled to go back and listen to them, in order to have a frame of reference for the current work.

Collaborations are a funny thing. I don’t think you ever find any collaboration to be a 50/50 proposition. Maybe some of the early Beatles compositions were really John and Paul trading lines but that quickly faded. Dylan dominated his collaborations with the Band. So too are these Bowie/Iggy collaborations. First and foremost, I have to say both of those early albums, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” are, and I don’t say this often, fucking brilliant. I don’t know how I missed these records. You didn’t hear a lot of Iggy on the radio in Kansas. However, I would say “The Idiot” sounds more like Bowie was the lead collaborator. I’m not suggesting Iggy didn’t contribute, but he’d just come out of a mental institution and was regarded by many as a foot note and was probably not in the most confident place. “The Idiot” feels like Bowie leading Iggy out of the wilderness. “Sister Midnight” immediately sets the tone for this superb album. I like Iggy’s version of “China Girl” as much as Bowie’s later version. Iggy’s second record with Bowie at the production helm, “Lust For Life” feels more like Iggy was driving the car. It’s louder and more rocking. Iggy sounds more confident on this record. It has more of a Stooge-y feel to it. Their both great, but you can tell whose influence was stronger on each album. “Tonight,” from “Lust For Life” has a great Iggy rant before the song starts that Bowie later described as “idiosyncratic” but it’s a stronger version than Bowie’s version done years later.

Which all leads me to “Post Pop Depression.” This is a great, great album. I must say, the choice of Josh Homme and QOTSA as collaborators was an inspired one. While I said earlier that most collaborations are generally lopsided, this one feels equal parts Iggy and equal parts Queens. The music is muscular and rocking, although nothing really as hard as the Stooges. The lyrics are dark but provide a giddy pleasure to listen to. Iggy brings a brilliant subversive element in his lyrics. You can hear the “fuck you” sneer in his vocals. After an up-and-down career, Iggy brought his A-game to this collaboration. When he says, in “American Valhalla,” a stand out track, “I’m nothing but my name,” you believe him. The album kicks off with “Break Into Your Heart” and this album really does that. “Sunday” captures some of that atmospheric, cold funk that the Bowie-produced albums captured. “Chocolate Drops” is my favorite song here. I can’t stop humming that song. I love it when a mature, established artist comes up with an album this fantastic.

In the last song, “Paraguay,” Iggy sings about dropping everything and moving off to be alone and it is awesome. “Tamales and a bank account are all I need, so count me out.” I think we’ve all been there. The end of the song turns into a rant from Iggy. He says, “There’s nothing awesome here, not a damn thing.” If this is, as has been rumored, Iggy’s last album, it’s a hell of a goodbye. I can totally relate to that song, on levels I’m afraid to admit to myself. Although I don’t think Iggy will ever be just a “basic clod.”

The thing that was so rewarding for me in this experience was going back to those early recordings, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” to frame “Post Pop Depression” and I can say this record holds up very well in comparison. You don’t need to do that to enjoy this record, but it was sure fun to do so. I grew up in Kansas, “The Passenger” was not in high rotation so this allowed me to make up for that. Sometimes when an artist puts out a late career gem like this one and you realize you’re finally “ready” for them, it can be a wonderful thing. Now I have the glorious duty of going back through not only Iggy’s catalog but the Queens Of The Stone Age catalog as well… It’s going to be a fun summer.

I can only hope Iggy has at least one more collaboration with the Queens Of The Stone Age left in him… I’d sure like to see these guys work together again. It’s a Hell of an album. This one is a strong, strong recommended buy.

So, buy this album, turn it up loud, pour something strong, stage dive from the couch, break something glass and Enjoy!

Cheers!