One of two excellent Stooges reissues from Rhino, the self-titled debut from the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the history of Detroit is a heartbeat away from the perfection of its two follow-ups. Formed by Iggy Pop (first James Osterberg, then Iggy Stooge), the band members literally didn’t know how to play their instruments when they formed the Psychedelic Stooges in the late ‘60s. Consequently, they were notorious for their awful — though high-energy — live performances. Despite this minor roadblock, the band was signed along with the more established MC5 when the Detroit buzz caught the attention of the major labels (all of which is documented in the excellent liner notes). Over the next five years, what was initially a local joke grew into something entirely different, and by 1973’s Raw Power, the band’s third and final fiery statement, the Stooges had practically birthed punk rock.
Two essential things to remember about the Stooges’ first record: John Cale produced it, and John Cale didn’t mix it. Half of the driving force behind the other most influential American band of the ‘60s, the Velvet Underground, Cale helped immensely with the band’s technical developments, but he failed to capture its raw energy, which was initially practically all there was. He would later go on to other celebrated debuts (for the Modern Lovers and Patti Smith, in particular), but Cale’s contributions are more notable for the historical nature of having the two bands connected than for his work, which was eclipsed by Don Galluci’s dedication to the Stooges’ live performance on Fun House. The band and the label made a good decision in rejecting Cale’s final mix, something that’s proven by the mixes included on the bonus disc. All studio tricks and no live energy, the mixes are made for another, more technically efficient band.
But after the history and the build-up, I dare you to put on The Stooges and not feel the noise. Opener “1969” is all sneer and swirling guitar, like the Strokes without detached irony. Even the sleigh bell means business on “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” one of the best songs of the ‘60s. Most of the album flies by, bridging the gap between breezy garage rock and psychedelic drug fests. The weakness that prevents this album from truly classic status mostly stems from the ten-minute “We Will Fall,” really little more than a chant put to some spacey music. It sounds dated and, even with this excellent remastering job, fails to turn up anything interesting enough sonically to prevent a complete momentum killer seven minutes into the album.
That misstep aside, there is no reason for anyone to not own this. The poor original issue with great packaging and carefully chosen bonus tracks (including the full version of “No Fun”) makes this a great pick for any rock fan. If you can only get one, the Fun House reissue is the right pick. But like John Cale’s short-lived Velvet Underground, every Stooges album is essential.