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Week 47 | Raw Power (1973)

David Bowie does not sing or perform on “Raw Power,” by Iggy and the Stooges.  His name appears on the credits as having mixed the album, but my version is a 1997 remix by Iggy Pop.  Nonetheless, as the extensive liner notes in that edition explain, Bowie as very much involved in creating this album.

I don’t generally think of “Raw Power” as a Bowie album, though it is somewhere in the discussion on the list of my overall favorites.  In addition to doing the original mix, Bowie and his manager, Tony DeFries, were in the process of resurrecting fading acts like Mott the Hoople.   Iggy Pop was next on the list.  Bowie and DeFries were talking to Iggy about making a new album, which they intended to promote and possibly help create.  Iggy’s liner notes tell this story.  Iggy rejected Bowie’s offer to produce the record, which he expected would have been more pop-oriented (more than a decade later he’d take up the offer with Blah-Blah-Blah).  He expected that Bowie would have provided musicians and probably a song, like he did with “All the Young Dudes” for Mott.  Instead, Iggy reconstituted his band, the Stooges, and created “Raw Power,” which Bowie ended up mixing.  

Of Bowie’s contribution, Iggy wrote (for the 1997 liner notes):

“To David’s credit, he listened with his ear to each thing and talked it out with me, I gave him what I thought it should have, he put that in its perspective, added some touches.  He’s always liked the most recent technology, so there was something called a Time Cube you could feed a signal into…when the sound came out on the other end, it sort of shot at you like an echo effect…He used that on the guitar in ‘Gimme Danger,’ a beautiful guitar echo overload that’s absolutely beautiful; and on the drums in ‘Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell.’  His concept was, ‘You’re so primitive, your drummer should sound like he’s beating a log!’  It’s not a bad job that he did.”

Nonetheless Iggy decided to remix it (Bowie later indicated he liked his mix better).  Although I have heard Bowie’s mix, or at least some of the songs from Bowie’s mix, it is Iggy’s with which I have grown familiar.  I doubt there will be another entry in this compendium of commentary on Bowie albums that focuses so much on the way an album was mixed, but obviously that’s Bowie’s most direct connection to this one.   

The liner notes are not the only place the making of this album is told as a story.  The plot of the 1998 movie “Velvet Goldmine” turns around a highlight fictionalization version of the story, though all the names and many of the facts were changed.

In any case, the core product is terrific.  Sometimes called one of the first punk albums, it also marked the beginning of several Bowie-Iggy collaborations that lasted for more than a decade.  This is a loud, aggressive record that somehow manages to stay melodic.  It’s one of those albums with no filler, though a few songs like “Search and Destroy” and “Gimme Danger” really stand out as especially excellent.  The cover, featuring a shirtless, made-up and skinny Iggy holding a microphone during a concert, has become one of the icons of rock music.  Though Iggy’s subsequent career would include mass appeal albums like “Blah-Blah-Blah” and even low-key music that sounds like it could have worked in the 1940s (perhaps with different lyrics) like “Avenue B,” it is the sound from “Raw Power” that is generally thought of as most representative of his work as a whole

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