I’ve been lucky enough to see Henry Rollins a number of times doing his talking shows. At one particular show, he began a story by saying something to the effect that the King of Rock and Roll is not dead and nor is it Elvis, the true King of Rock and Roll is Iggy Pop.
It’s really hard to argue with Henry on this point.
Iggy has bled, sweated, thrown up and flown the flag for rock more than Elvis ever did. This is not to put down Elvis or his contributions to rock and roll but at some point, Elvis became safe. I don’t know if Iggy has ever been safe.
I discovered Iggy Pop in the fall of 1993. I was flipping channels and stopped on Much Music who had this longhaired, older gentleman, ripped like Bruce Lee and just belting out a song. Even on television, Iggy Pop commanded your attention. I stayed put and watched as Iggy was charming. He was soulful. He was playful and he was exciting. When the show ended, I quickly grabbed a VHS tape and set my VCR to record (Much Music ran on cycles at that point so if you saw something in the early evening, you could do some quick math and recorded it at a later time).
I had heard of Iggy via Alan Cross’s Ongoing History of New Music program but I hadn’t paid attention to him until that night. I had to have some music by him, where do I start? The songs he played on Much Music were kick ass so I might as well start with that new album, American Caesar.
I’ve been a fan ever since.
American Caesar is an interesting Iggy snapshot. With the rise of alternative and the return of punk to the mainstream, Iggy was starting to have a bit of a renaissance and this album is definitely both a sign of where he had recently been with his music and where he was about to go. There are a couple of softer, slicker sounding songs on the album that are easily forgettable but it was the (excuse the lame joke) raw powered numbers that drew me in and signaled that Iggy was here to blow you away. Tracks like “Wild America”, “Boogie Boy” and a cover of “Louie Louie” that you can just feel the sweat whipping off the musicians. They are tracks that demand to have the volume cranked all the way to eleven. The rest of the album falls somewhere around sounding like his late 80’s output and Iggy toying with musical ideas that these new alternative kids were using. Take “Fuckin’ Alone” for example, here Iggy toys with sounds that would stand pretty good besides some of the alternative songs from that era. Hell, Iggy’s vocal delivery borders on rap from time to time during the song. In “Highway Song”, Iggy plays with a little bit of rockabilly, country, and early rock music but still giving it his full energy, it’s a great little thumper of a song.
Oddly, despite all of this rockin’ goodness, the song that became my favorite is a rock ballad called “Inside You”. Even odder still is the fact that Iggy wrote the lyrics and the music were written by a guy who you’d never peg for a ballad guy, Steve Jones, former guitarist of the Sex Pistols. It’s a fantastic song that revolves around longing for a woman.
As previous chapters can attest, teenage Brent could easily identify with the subject matter.
All of these years later, how does American Caesar stack up today? While there are a few forgettable tracks on this album, the standouts still stand out. Is this Raw Power? No, but there are more than a few songs that on here that remind you that the power is still flowing, it was just taking the machine a little bit to roar back to life.
Iggy’s grand return would be made official a few years later when Trainspotting used “Lust for Life” on its soundtrack and just exploded. Iggy would go on to make some great solo albums (personal favorites include Skull Ring and Post Pop Explosion) and then he would reunite with the Stooges and continue to do some great work with them.
As for Henry’s statement about Iggy being the king of rock and roll. I got to see Iggy perform with The Stooges at Yonge and Dundas Square. It was a free concert and it was the first concert I brought my then girlfriend/future wife. Gen wasn’t sure she was going to like it. Iggy and the Stooges came on and proceeded to DESTROY. Iggy was in his sixties and could easily kick the ass of any other band in terms of stage presence and just sheer animal magnetism.
Gen dug the show and was amazed when I mentioned how old Iggy was.
It was one of those moments that re-confirmed that she was a keeper.
Iggy will turn seventy this year. I’m sure he can still outperform any other act out there.
From Iggy Pop, we’ll head to the early 90’s and an album that is possibly the best pop album made in that decade even though a lot of people might not consider it that.