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The Stooges – You Want My Action

Easy Action

The Stooges - You want my action While a 4CD set of murky cassette recordings of the same set from four different Stooges shows during Spring 1971 is clearly only of any real interest to hardcore Stooges fans, why would anybody not be a hardcore Stooges fan?

The three holy relics that have sustained the Stooges’ reputation for the past thirty five years are in themselves perfectly realised works of unparalleled slobbering rock ‘n’ roll transcendence, but at the same time offer up unanswered questions – like what happened before, after, in between? Eyewitness reports of early Stooges shows tell of a far more abstract and experimental music than that eventually captured (moulded?) by John Cale on their 1969 debut, a lost sound still shrouded in myth forty years on. On the other hand, the period following the final album Raw Power has been retrospectively well documented by a series of dodgy yet invaluable collections of demos and live recordings. They show a group disintegrating through personal conflict and physical abuse yet still being able to come up with such flashes of sublime genius as “Sick of You” – the equal of anything they’d previously committed to tape. The third “missing period” is that mysterious three year gap between Fun House in 1970 and Raw Power in 1973, during which the late guitar colossus Ron Asheton appears to have been inexplicably ”demoted” to bass player in favour of newcomer James Williamson, while the Jools Holland of smackrock Scott Thurston gets roped in to provide spurious plinky-plonk piano (he later went on to find a more appropriate home in Tom Petty‘s Heartbreakers). Three years between albums may be nothing by today’s standards, but in the amphetamine rush of the ’70s, many groups would have acted out their entire careers in that time. We demand to know what happened!

Fortunately, Danny Fields of that long extinct breed of A&R men with a finger on the pulse (in addition to The Stooges, he also signed the MC5 and Ramones, and managed the Modern Lovers) had the foresight to record a bunch of Stooges shows in New York, St Louis and Detroit during April and May 1971 and has now kindly made these tapes available to the people at Easy Action Records, warts and all.

There are at least two persuasive reasons to hear these recordings: firstly, you have never heard this group before, and secondly, you have never heard these songs before (with probably one exception). The Stooges that went out on tour in spring 1971 were a quite different group to any version to have entered a studio. Joining the remaining Fun House veterans – Iggy on vocals, Ron Asheton on guitar and Scott Asheton on drums, were new boys Jimmy Recca on bass and James Williamson on guitar – yes indeed! – a dual guitar Stooges!! … and Jools Thurston nowhere in sight!!! You don’t really need me to tell you what this line-up sounded like… you know (don’t you?) – suffice to say they rocked!

One reason cited for the Stooges’ lack of widespread success in their original lifetime was their reluctance to perform any songs they had already recorded, constantly confronting baffled audiences with whole sets of unfamiliar material. In 1971, without a record deal after being dropped by Elektra, their set comprised material for a forthcoming album that was destined never to be recorded. None of the songs on this set ever appeared on a Stooges LP, and only one of them, “I Got a Right” ever appeared in studio form at all, turning up as a single some years later, although sadly not by the twin guitar line-up.

The setlist here is identical for each show and comprises “I Got a Right” / “You Don’t Want My Name” / “Fresh Rag” / “Dead Body” / “Who Do You Love” / “Big Time Bum” / “Do You Want My Love?” – although apparently none of the surviving Stooges are really sure about the titles and Iggy’s introductions vary from night to night (by the way, “Who Do You Love?” is a Stooges original and not the oft-covered Bo Diddley song). Personally, I have an unsubstantiated theory that had it ever seen an official release “Do You Want My Love?” may well have ended up retitled “1971” in true Stooges tradition, being a kind of update of the previous “1970” and “1969”.

Each song is based around a great monolithic bludgeoning riff, Asheton’s Les Paul and Williamson’s SG welding their sonic DNA together to deliver ultra-lethal double riffage concentrate, with solos kept to a minimum on both sides, Ricca’s bass providing a more straight-ahead punch to the stomach than predecessor David Alexander’s. The songs are all taken at a faster pace than previous Stooges recordings, whether by design or chemical stimulation, revealing the Stooges to be not merely the long-acknowledged godfathers of punk, but indeed the very embodiment of it.

Set opener “I Got a Right” has been a staple of Iggy Pop solo sets for decades now and was deemed enough of a classic for the guys at Rough Trade to open their Rock ‘n’ Roll compilation CD with it a few years back. Of the previously unheard songs, “You Don’t Want My Name” features what must surely be the greatest lost riff of all time – we’re talking “Louie Louie” or “Sweet Jane” here, whilst “Fresh Rag” could be The Fall, a decade premature.

As might be expected, much of the material falls between Fun House and Raw Power, although generally closer to the former –“’Dead Body” in particular wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Fun House, coming over like the hyperactive kid brother of “TV Eye”, with Asheton’s wah guitar dominating for probably the only time here. Each night, the group close with the epic “Do You Want My Love?”, Iggy repeatedly asserting “I feel alright” just like he did on “1970”, until the riffing finally reaches critical mass, collapsing in on itself to proto-Acid Mothers Temple dual/duel soloing, itself eventually giving way to pure noise and feedback which could last for half the length of the song, as on the 13th May show in St Louis.

Much of the time, Iggy is an almost ambient presence on the recordings, singing the odd half-formed verse or two before disappearing for minutes at a time, possibly out into the audience, or just throwing shapes around the stage (as depicted in the accompanying booklet’s excellent photo collection) or perhaps, as the sleeve notes hint, off stage to throw up. Whatever, the band are absolutely on fire and by the time we notice they’ve been hammering out the same riff for five minutes solid, up pops Iggy again with a series of yelps and improvised ad libs. On a couple of discs, he’s barely audible when he is there.

To me, the sound quality is not a problem here – I always find that almost any live recording sounds fine if you play it loud enough – but as a guide, these recordings fall either side of Metallic KO, sound wise. The NYC Electric Circus show from May 14th is much better than Metallic KO, whereas the Detroit and St Louis shows are worse. The May 15th Electric Circus show is probably roughly the same as it. However… every second of the performances here are so much better than any of the available ’73 / ’74 shows, that two minutes into any of these discs, sound quality becomes something of concern only to Blue Nile fans.

The CDs come lovingly packaged in a hardbound book with some great unpublished photos of the group by Lisa Gottlieb of Creem magazine (who also contributes sleeve notes), together with reproduction tickets and polaroids of the group hanging out backstage. With every inch of his topless body covered in gold glitter in these photos, Iggy looks like an angel. By the evidence contained on these discs, the entire group had something unearthly about them.

If you’re after a pleasingly hi-fidelity listening experience, you would be advised to look elsewhere. If however, you want to know what exactly defines rock ‘n’ roll, then this release will eloquently explain. While the question of just what happened between Fun House and Raw Power is at least partly answered on You Want My Action, frustratingly a far greater question is thrown up – why? When you had a group as incendiary as this, why effectively get rid of its strongest link and draft in a pianist of all things? I guess only Iggy knows the answer… and chances are, probably even he can’t remember.

-Alan Holmes-


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