It is, however, one hell of a manifesto, sounding nothing like its time. 1969 was the year for experimentation, where bands like Chicago, the Beatles, Dylan, Led Zeppelin and the Jefferson Airplane sat comfortably next to each other on the charts (what a great time that must have been). The Stooges were at once too simple, too raw, too primal to be anything but a garage band.
But it turns out the world needed a raw Michigan garage band, once that rocked like MC5 but wasn't as political. Iggy Stooge (later Iggy Pop) never got beyond simple teenage pronouncements, embodying the bored, disaffected loser long before anyone in Generation X ever thought of it. These guys were the first grunge band, the first punk band, and even some of the first shock rockers (fellow Detroiters Alice Cooper had yet to claim that throne).
A dose of unpretentious rock hits the listener upside the head, but it is elegant in its simplicity. Granted, a song like "I Wanna Be Your Dog" couldn't be more different in sound and scope than anything on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks , yet the central riff is a fuzzed-out plodding one complete with a basic guitar solo that runs out the song. The brutal rhythm section stomps most of the rockers into the ground, as it should.
The opening "1969," which overcomes a sluggish intro and turns into a barreling riff and an ear-shattering guitar solo. There are no tricky time changes, no weird bridges, nothing but straight-ahead riff rock taken straight from the Rolling Stones, the garage and the weird loner pagebook. "No Fun" in fact is fun, with handclaps used to great effect behind the rhythm section. This is the song that pretty much wrote the book for punk and has been covered by pretty much everybody; the primal stomp of the song calls for screaming, but Iggy simply muses about maybe going out, maybe staying home, or maybe calling Momma on the telephone.
Sometimes this simplicity and boredom is a bit much; perhaps it's what the band was feeling at the time in the culture-free Midwest, but sometimes a song needs dynamics to succeed. "Real Good Time" is thankfully brief, as it lumbers along a three-chord riff and Iggy simply asking if he can come over to have a real good time. The solo is barely that, just some noise in one speaker. "Not Right" is better, a long guitar solo ending after Iggy's vocal fade and the rhythm section just pounding away. These guys were signed based on the strength of one live show at U of M, and this song proves why.
Had the album been filled with songs like this, it would be more along the lines of Fun House, but two very psychedelic numbers drag it down in the worst way. Iggy sounds nearly identical to Jim Morrison when he sings in his lower register, and the band attempts to record a Doors-like song with "Ann," which is just a plodding blues beat underneath Iggy wailing something; he tries to sound tortured, but it just doesn't work. It's short, which is more than can be said for "We Will Fall," a ten-minute chant that sounds identical to the Doors' "My Wild Love," except with a droning bass and some light viola and guitar popping up. It's interesting because it tries to be different and attain an Indian flavor, but it's not something worth revisiting more than a couple of times.
Still, the very presence of "We Will Fall" suggests the band was capable of growth, which would happen the very next year with Fun House. But while that maybe the essential Stooges, this is the place where several musical styles began and remains one of the more influential unheard rock albums. It can be too simple, it can be brutal, and Iggy's almost-tuneless vocals can be amateurish -- indeed, only three of the eight songs are really classics -- but The Stooges was the first call of the punk revolution and is worth hearing just for that.