Iggy Pop is a lot of things. Born James Newell Osterberg, he’s a Stooge. He’s a street-walkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm. He’s worth a million in prizes. He can count the amount of shirts he’s owned on one hand, and still have fingers left over (or so we’ve been told).
In a career that spans 50 years, he’s released over 20 albums. Maybe you’ve been living in a cave on Mars and have zero idea who Iggy Pop is. Maybe you’ve listened to all of them, and have formulated your own meticulous list of his essential songs (and have already started writing a rebuttal in the comments). In any case, here are 10 songs that define the Godfather of Punk, Iggy Pop.
1. I Wanna Be Your Dog, The Stooges (1969)
If anyone ever tells you that sleigh bells aren’t punk rock, point them in the direction of this song. Produced by the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ sounds so rough. It’s like they had only had time for one take and this is it. That dirty garage rock sound that so many bands have tried to copy but never manage to fully capture. Ron Asheton’s distorted guitar sound and Pop’s vocals and lyrics paint a vivid portrait of who he is: a depraved punk for whom no act is too debaucherous or low.
2. Down On The Street, Fun House (1970)
Fun House sounds exactly how you think an album fronted by a man who would roll around naked on broken glass would sound. The band is less sloppy but somehow sounds more raw; Iggy’s snarling vocals, more animalistic. ‘Down on the Street’ kicks off the album, and if you aren’t listening to it at full volume you’re already doing it wrong. You can practically hear the sweat dripping off the Stooges’ bodies. Asheton’s fuzzed-out guitar engulfs Iggy’s vocals, his lyrics devolving into strange screams and shouts. It’s an essential blueprint of punk rock.
3. Search and Destroy, Raw Power (1973)
Raw Power was the first Stooges album to include James Williamson as a co-writer and guitarist, and his input is invaluable. His blistering guitar sound and face-melting solo makes the Stooges’ sound even more volatile, pushing Pop to an even more feral place. The way he howls, “Somebody gotta save my soul!” during the chorus will put a damn chill down your spine. ‘Search and Destroy’ is brimming with the chaotic energy that defines punk rock, with a single goal in mind: the complete and utter annihilation of your eardrums.
4. Gimme Danger, Raw Power (1973)
On ‘Gimme Danger’, Williamson swaps his electric guitar for an acoustic one. It’s a Doors-esque rock ballad by way of the Stooges viciousness, with Pop exploding during the song’s chorus. There’s something menacing but alluring about the way Pop sings, “Gimme danger, little stranger / And I’ll feel your disease.” It’s like a dark alleyway you know you shouldn’t walk down, but you feel compelled to anyway.
5. Nightclubbing, The Idiot (1977)
By 1974 the Stooges had collapsed. Pop had become good friends with David Bowie, tagging along during the Station to Station tour, and eventually moving to Berlin with the Thin White Duke. (Bowie also mixed The Stooges’ third studio album Raw Power. Buried the lead a bit there, didn’t I?) While there, their
collaboration led to Pop recording and releasing two career-defining albums in the space of a year.
‘Nightclubbing’ is a complete one-eighty from The Stooges breakneck chaos. Taking cues from Krautrock, its synths and drum-machine casually plod along while Pop’s baritone croons over the top of it. The entire song feels so sleazy; just listening to it makes you feel like you’ve touched a grimy nightclub floor.
6. Lust For Life, Lust For Life (1977)
AKA the Trainspotting song. Co-written by Bowie, ‘Lust For Life’ feels like the amalgam of the Stooges’ rock energy and The Idiot’s odd experiment. Those galloping drums are infectiously catchy; every other instrument progressively rolls in, building anticipation before Pop finally comes in with a sneering, “Heeeeere, comes Johnny Yen agaaain”. Lust For Life is the album where Pop figures out the kind of musician he wants to be, a cornerstone where all of his future work is firmly built. The rock’n’roll anthem ‘Lust For Life’ is the quintessential Iggy Pop song.
7. The Passenger, Lust For Life (1977)
Partly inspired by Jim Morrison’s poem The Lords and the New Creatures, ‘The Passenger’ is Pop at his most poetic. He’s a brooding traveller, a wandering vagrant cast out from the world. He’s never in the driver’s seat, watching the world go by as a passenger – only able to observe, never interact. A punk nomad accompanied by an incredible guitar riff and a chorus you can’t help but sing along to. It’s also a song about being stuck in the backseat of David Bowie’s car while touring the US and Europe. Inspiration strikes at weird places.
8. Kill City, Kill City (1977)
Initially intended to be a demo to help Pop drum up a new record contract after the collapse of the Stooges, Kill City was recording in 1975 but shelved until 1977. Re-teaming with James Williamson, Pop’s sound continued to evolve. It’s less punk, more hard rock – something that is no more apparent than Kill City’s title-track, with Williamson’s bluesy guitar and Pop’s vocals. Pop recorded the album while he was staying at a mental institution to overcome his heroin addiction; ‘Kill City’ is a reflection on surviving rock-bottom. It’s an interesting peek into an alternate reality where Iggy never went to Berlin.
9. I’m Bored, New Values (1979)
Nihilistic detachment has never sounded so groovy. New Values is the first solo Iggy Pop album without Bowie, but James Williamson is back as producer. As a whole it’s under-rated. ‘I’m Bored’ is a solid garage-rock track with a thumping bass line. It’s as lean as Iggy is on New Values’ record sleeve. Former-Stooge pianist Scott Thurston (he played with them live before they broke up in 1974) is on guitar duty, laying out a great solo. Only Iggy Pop could make the dad-tier pun “I’m the chairman of the bored” sound cool.
10. Paraguay, Post-Pop Depression (2016)
Do you love Iggy Pop’s Berlin period but never felt fully satisfied by his later solo work? Then Post-Pop Depression is the album for you. Produced and co-written by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Post-Pop is the closest Pop has come to hitting the high-bar set by his Berlin period. Does the man still have it? You bet your ass he dos. On ‘Paraguay’, Pop’s deep voice has aged like whiskey, and he hasn’t lost his disaffection for the dullness of modern life. That apathy shines in the song’s extended outro; its guitar builds and builds, while Pop’s stream-of-consciousness ranting becomes more and more intense. He’s sick of all you people and your goddamn trivial lives, so he’s moving to Paraguay. If Post-Pop Depression is the last Iggy Pop album we’ll ever get (Teatime Dub Encounters absolutely does not count), you couldn’t ask for a better final track than ‘Paraguay.’
Iggy Pop will play Byron Bay Bluesfest this April. He has also announced a trio of headline sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne. Dates and details below.
Iggy Pop Bluesfest 2019 Sideshows
Sunday, 21st April
Festival Hall, Melbourne
Tickets: Bluesfest Touring
Monday, 15th April
Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, Sydney
Tickets: Sydney Opera House
Wednesday, 17th April
Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, Sydney
Tickets: Sydney Opera House