Doubtful Detroit Demos
Wanted to start by giving credit where it’s most certainly due: if you have an interest in The Stooges then the best source on the web is the Stooges Forum (https://stoogesforum.forumotion.com/). As ever, the efforts of a thousand fans far outstrip any official source when it comes to gathering up the furthest reaches of available information. Also, just a nod toward Cherry Red Records who are releasing a box-set gathering together several of the previously released Stooges shows from 1973-1974, including the two shows issues on the two-disc Metallic KO.
Anyone who has spent any time delving into The Stooges will have come across a lot of accidental mislabels and a veritable torrent of releases re-compiling the same material over and again. Likewise, unless you’re totally wrapped up in the pro-vinyl propaganda, there’s no reason to switch to 12” LP iterations or 7” single versions of stuff you already have. Credit does have to go to Revenge Records and BOMP! for the role they played in surfacing a hell of a lot of stuff in the eighties through the mid-nineties but, from the perspective of 2020, I’m sorely suspicious of any label that isn’t either a major or Easy Action and only the truly crazy, who sincerely require every iteration of every song, need dive back into all the stuff that came out in past decades.
Obvious (and persistently) mislabeled songs to be aware of are the demos Williamson and Pop put together for the Kill City album in 1975: despite including attempts at ‘Johanna’ and ‘I Got Nothing’, if you’re a purist then these are not The Stooges. I’ve also seen an even later Iggy Pop track called ‘Fire Engine’ wrongly credited. One equivocal case is the cover of ‘Purple Haze’ floating around. In my view I don’t think it’s The Stooges, but if someone presents me with evidence then I’ll bow but I’m also not going to waste time or money to hear it again. The take is spoilt by strangely prominent drums in the first half, then a whole section where the bass suddenly throbs over the top and submerges everything, the song’s balance is totally ruined and Pop’s rendition of the lyrics is both straightforward and seemingly recorded from another room (a 1980s Pop iteration of the song at least gives it an updated post-Berlin vibe).
Here we move into terrain where there’s a bunch of songs of no great consequence, with no confirmed provenance, no data, but several equally weighted theories namely: it’s Pop and an unknown guitarist working together in London and that the tapes wound up in Williamson’s possession because Pop wanted to show him what he’d been working on; second, that it’s Pop and Williamson prior to the arrival of the Asheton brothers; third, that some of it is outtakes from the Detroit rehearsals or later 1973 rehearsals; fourth, that it’s Pop and Tornado Turner who briefly replaced Williamson at MainMan’s urging somewhere around April-May until June 1973; finally, that it’s leftovers from the Kill City-era or beyond. I am not going to die on my sword for any of these opinions but I’ll at least say what I feel for argument’s sake.
To start with, there are a few pieces I don’t believe can even be called songs. ‘Old King Live Forever’ is improvised guitar noise set against Pop’s stray poetry and scat; ‘Dynamite Boogie’ has a sunny rhythm ‘n’ blues energy but it’s ultimately just another four minutes of pissing about vocally over a basic guitar track; ‘Move Ass Baby’ hops up and down some very basic guitar runs while Pop moves through vestigial lyrics and wordless keening; ‘Delta Blues Shuffle’, in fairness, begins with some atmospheric guitar that echoes, slides, and shimmers in interesting ways — but then it halts and the back-end is just disjointed riffing and noise before Pop chimes in with muffled thoughts not worth deeper contemplation.
Next there are three guitar/vocal covers: a shot at Bo Diddley’s 1955 single ‘I’m A Man’ made a touch more interesting given Pop seems to slip in quotes from other songs (including from ‘The Jean Jeanie’ which was recorded in October and released in November 1972); an attempt at ‘Waiting For The Man’ which sounds like a first run-through on the part of the guitarist though Pop apes Lou Reed fairly effectively; and finally a similarly stripped down ‘I’m So Glad’ by Skip James (covered by Cream and Deep Purple in the late sixties) which is, again, fine but has nothing to mark it out as anything more serious than two buddies killing time.
The next two songs are unique because they consist of guitar, vocals, and drum machine. First, there’s ‘Look So Sweet’ where the drums underpin another accretion of brief riffs and mouth sounds. Second, there’s a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ which noodles on for eight interminable minutes. Though the song’s skeletal nature and the prominence of the guitar lends interest, the original is all about Dylan’s storytelling while here Pop’s vocals are run through effects and barely a word can be distinguished. There’s also a full band iteration of this song which, while still too long, sees good work from whoever is on piano with some swaying and surging lines breaking up the steadfast main tempo.
Before discussing dating, there are two significant cover songs that feature a full band lineup. First, there’s ‘Mellow Down Easy’, a couple minute-long instrumental based on a Willie Dixon tune, and including electric piano. Second, there’s a run-through of ‘I’m So Glad’ with no piano which is well worked out with restrained verses and energetic chorus, everything dropping down in unison prior to an even more raging chorus — my only criticism would be that they’ve not worked out how to finish it with the same finesse.
What to make of these 12 waifs and strays…? Groan. My most crucial point would be that I personally don’t find any of them so interesting that I deeply care about tracking them down to the root. Having said that, to speculate, first, I don’t see anything that would give credence to a post-Stooges dating. Second, I don’t believe all of this material is from a single time and place. My reasons for that are that it seems unlikely the band would waste so much rehearsal time on this many random off-cuts; that while there’s evidence of the band jamming on tunes as a breather there’s no other case where they spin their wheels on so much junk; I don’t believe that the band would stand around for this long while Pop and Williamson spit-balled; and finally there’s too much variation between the songs for this to be one source.
Starting simple, I believe the two full band outtakes — ‘Mellow Down Easy’ and ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ — definitely came from the Detroit rehearsals of 1973: the presence of the electric piano seems telling. While Pop played piano and celesta during the Raw Power sessions and I’ve seen speculation about instrumental/lyrical connections from these songs to Raw Power tracks…I don’t buy it. I believe we’d know officially by now if they were from the Raw Power sessions. While I’m sure ‘I’m So Glad’ is The Stooges, the absence of the piano makes me unsure if it comes from July 1972, or if it’s also from spring ’73 and that Bob Scheff just didn’t take part or wasn’t present.
Next, I see no reason that the drum machine iteration of ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ was not recorded on the same date as ‘Look So Sweet’. Then my main reason for believing that both versions of ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ were recorded in the same time period is the way the vocals are obscured on both cuts: it suggests the same location, same mic and recording set-up, and/or the same impulse driving that decision to sink into the backdrop. I lean, again, toward Detroit for both these songs (and both versions of the latter), but it isn’t guaranteed given Pop’s decent memory for what he’s attempted in the past meaning he could have resurrected ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ in ’73 from a memory of a demo attempt in the summer of 1972. Or maybe the band demo came first and the drum machine efforts really are post-Stooges though nothing suggests it.
For everything else, it’s utterly impossible to decide. I see a similarity between ‘Look So Sweet’ and the four improvisations — ‘Old King Live Forever’, ‘Dynamite Boogie’, ‘Move Ass Baby’, and ‘Delta Blues Shuffle’ — but sonic resemblance just isn’t enough to forge that link or to refute it. If I was in any way certain that some or all of these songs did not feature Williamson then that would make it easier to push them back into summer 1972 or forward into spring 1973 — but I can’t say that (though I do believe it isn’t Williamson). I can understand why a dashed off cover of ‘Waiting For The Man’ would make Pop or someone else think “let’s try ‘I’m A Man’ too” or vice versa — but I’m not convinced the two songs come from the same date and the presence of ‘The Jean Jeanie’ inside ‘I’m A Man’ makes it 1973.
The fact that none of this material seems to feed back into The Stooges makes me want to distance it by supporting the idea that it’s leftovers from an attempt by Pop, having arrived in London, to see if he could gel with a guitarist other than Williamson — or a later attempt to get some fresh writing going with Turner. I could understand them trying some pure improvisation and a couple of covers, but I can’t understand Pop not taking even a single shot at something he had ready and that would later feature on Raw Power. But the fact that I know of no takes of a Stooges song featuring a drum machine or just guitar-vocals could just as equally suggest this is all exceptional and we’re hearing a one-off audition of an unknown guitarist. If Williamson heard and hated it all then that would explain why it all just dies a death after this one set of sketches.
Alternately, if it is Williamson playing, then perhaps on a spare day — somewhere in February-March 1972 — he and Pop tried something different to see if they could take the music they were making in a new direction. Given quite a few of the final songs performed by The Stooges in mid-1973 to early 1974 sound quite different from what emerged from their 1970-1972 heyday, I could believe that, except nothing here ever appears again and I’d still have to believe that they wouldn’t have tried a drum machine or duo take at something that did wind up in a ’73-’74 set-list. I’ll give up there before I go mad spinning the possibilities around!
- Waiting For My Man
- I’m A Man
- I’m So Glad
- Mellow Down Easy
- The Ballad Of Hollis Brown
- Look So Sweet
- Old King Live Forever
- Dynamite Boogie
- Move Ass Baby
- Delta Blues Shuffle
Final Tour, Final Shots
One thing that gives me hope for further surprises from The Stooges back-catalog is how studious they were about rehearsing their material. The complete Fun House sessions are already fair testament to that industriousness, but even in 1973 they rehearsed comprehensively ready for their first gig of the year. The same happens again in July 1973 when, in preparation for a week of shows at Max’s Kansas City, to be followed by a short tour, they book time in CBS Studios in New York City. It gives me a slender degree of hope that somewhere there’s a decent rehearsal tape covering the lost 1971 material, and maybe more from later rehearsals at Studio Instrument Rentals (S.I.R.) on Sunset Boulevard between June 15-20 and at Dress Revue Sound Studio on May 6 — there are undoubtedly others.
With just eight months left to live, hearing ‘Open Up And Bleed’ rise to new heights after the strong demo in the spring is heartening: it opens with a mood of echo and restraint, before pushing into excoriatingly heavy howls from Pop, while the instrumental structure continuing to hold back before it finally slams in heavy. A new song — though possibly first demo’ed under one of the stray names associated with the February-March rehearsals — is ‘Cry For Me’ (AKA ‘Pinpoint Eyes’) which lapses into the boogie-woogie vibe to slightly better effect than other such songs given a few neat lyrics apparently dwelling on a girlfriend’s reaction to the effects of Pop’s heroin addiction and his relative indifference. They’re still visibly working out where to take it, running the song over and over for want of a way to finish effectively. There’s also an update of ‘Johanna’ which keeps its moodiness but has far tighter lyrics and a sparkling electric piano solo before a pretty intense ending that stays the right side of falling apart. Meanwhile arguing the artistic development of ‘Cock In My Pocket’ would feel like musing on penile graffiti — it is what it is. ‘Rubber Legs’ reappears but it’s still going nowhere, it simply pumps away until it’s time for a solo and has otherwise little to distinguish it structurally or instrumentally.
- Cry For Me (AKA Pinpoint Eyes)
Another messy show for New Year’s Eve of 1973 saw Columbia decline to re-sign the band, meanwhile the managerial relationship with MainMan reached its terminus. The band made their way through a fairly stable run of shows from the second week of January into early February before it all wrapped up on February 9 with The Stooges completely adrift. A brand new song, ‘Wet My Bed’ still appeared (seen on the Double Danger record in November and December ’73 iterations then captured in San Francisco in January ’74 on the last disc of the Heavy Liquid box-set) consisting of a good natured sing-along over upbeat Little Richard piano vamping, while the title alludes to the ever increasing level of infantilization created by Pop’s over-indulgences. It’s also a pointer to the key problem with whatever is left of The Stooges by this point, which would be starkly visible at the Michigan Palace, Detroit, on February 9. The last performance captured on Metallic KO’s has an unimpeachable reputation as car crash pornography capturing a band, and a bandleader, in complete collapse. The set-list also emphasized the complete atrophying of the band’s creative edge and ambition: half the set consisted of nothing more than childish audience baiting on the same level as ‘Wet My Bed’.
Starting with the positive, ‘I Got Nothing’ (AKA ‘I Got Shit’) is a neat change of scene, a remarkably gentle verse with ‘ooo ooo’ harmonies, while the lyrics read like a telling confession of total surrender: “I feel so old today, I feel used and wasted, I ain’t got no way, I got nothing, nothing to say. Lord how I feel so wasted today, I feel burned (sic), I feel screwed, and I got about one more day to live…” The guitar solo is one of the prettiest in The Stooges discography, a soaring, swooping piece that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Guns ‘n’ Roses record. Structurally it’s a pretty standard verse-chorus-verse set-up used to good effect. The other relatively fresh song is ‘Heavy Liquid’ which keeps some forward momentum having gone from being a set-closer on July 30, 1973 (seen on Heavy Liquid) to a set-opener half a year later. It’s a decent up-tempo rock song with a neat instrumental but it’s another sign of The Stooges decay given it’s just a reworking of Gary U.S. Bonds’ 1960 hit ‘New Orleans’ with the lyrics a straight crib. There’s also the relative lightness of both songs indicating the band’s move away from the dirges and nihilism that made their name (and are the core of their influence) toward something more in keeping with the hard rock standards of the time. Williamson may deserve mention in the same breath as Keith Richards or Jimmy Page but The Stooges, by this point, had also traded in quite a bit of what made them distinctive.
The other three songs just seem to be makeweights dragged out to excessive lengths to kill time. ‘Rich Bitch’ is a spiteful little whip of sexism aimed at god knows who over some twittering piano work all leading up to a skittish instrumental break with Pop exhorting the band to take a few more turns before a few chanted lines, then the song pulls apart again…And jeez, as it winds down Pop repeats the first verse over to no great end, and it just keeps on running. ‘Cock In My Pocket’ is at least enlivened by an opening yelp of “fuck you pricks!” to give it some punch. Otherwise, it’s a long run around a song that really hasn’t evolved since it first appeared, but that’s because there’s just nowhere for the joke to go. At the New Year’s Eve gig at the New York City Academy Of Music they had chosen to wedge ‘Rich Bitch’, ‘Wet My Bed’, ‘I Got Nothing’, and ‘Cock In My Pocket’ alongside each other making for one pretty dispiriting sequence and also evidence that this wasn’t just a one-off accident.
The last song the band played live was ‘Louie Louie’ and they actually turn in a pretty powerful rendition — Pop guiding the band down to a low ebb — with a couple of squalidly effective verses: “a fine little bitch is waiting for me, just a whore from across the way, every night I take her upon the lawn(?), she isn’t the type I lay at home,”/“she got a rag on so I move above, it won’t be long before she’ll take it off, I feel a rose down in her hair, her ass is black and her tits are all there.”
That’s it. By April 1974 a fragment of something called ‘From The Inside’ would be played on KROQ Radio in Los Angeles making it either the last Stooges piece or the first new song of the Iggy Pop solo career. While Johnny Rotten’s “ever feel like you’ve been swindled? Good night,” is music’s most enduring on stage kiss-off, Iggy Pop deserves respect for murmuring “I never thought it would come to this, baby…” prior to ‘Louie Louie’ and for making his final words a defiant, “you nearly killed me but you missed again, so you have to keep trying next week.” That’s where Metallica KO still dazzles, the band are still tight, they make the most of even the most slender material, and Pop — as well as a lot of smirk-worthy stage banter — seems entirely conscious that he’s playing out every aspect of his psychically broken and exhausted state on stage. There’s an honesty in that which remains stunning, and rare, even at this far remove.
- Wet My Bed
- Heavy Liquid
- I Got Nothing
- Rich Bitch
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