- Iggy Pop is a singer, musician, songwriter, actor, a BBC Radio 6 DJ, and music legend.
- He earned the “Godfather of Punk” title by fronting the rock/proto-punk band, The Stooges.
- On Jan. 6, 2023, Iggy will release his nineteenth studio solo album, Every Loser.
More than four decades after Iggy Pop released his first solo album, the man who helped birthed the genre we know as punk returns with the album we need, now more than ever. Arriving via Atlantic/Gold Tooth Records, Every Loser cannonballs like Iggy, rock’s enduring shirtless wild man, and tears up the stage in an audio whirlwind. It’s his hardest-hitting album in decades and one that harkens back to the high-octane times when Iggy (born James “Jim” Osterberg) fronted the proto-punk/rock band, The Stooges.
Every Loser will create new converts to the Church of Iggy and draw back lapsed followers who fell out during Iggy’s solo career. The album should click with those in Gen Z who spent 2022 reveling in the sounds of Kate Bush, Metallica, and The Cramps; for here is another talent who has been heralded by many but whose mainstream success has never reached what it could be.
For Gen Xers or elder millennials who may remember hearing “Lust For Life” during a random TV commercial break (or caught Iggy in one of his acting roles), Every Loser summons the nihilistic glee (“Frenzy,” “Neo Punk”) and experimentation (“Comments,” “Strung Out Johnny”) that defined the decade that was the 1990s. And for those who entered 2023 with middle fingers extended, Every Loser is the lit stick of dynamite attached to a barrel of gunpowder, a fun explosion of pure rock adrenaline that could only come from Iggy Pop.
The album also features some major players. Produced by Andrew Watt (who has made magic with Post Malone, Ozzy Osbourne, Miley Cyrus, and Eddie Vedder), Every Loser features Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Duff McKagan of Guns N’s Rose, Dave Navarro and Eric Avery of Jane’s Addiction, Travis Barker of Blink-182, Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, and Taylor Hawkins. The late Foo Fighters drummer plays on “Comments” and the album’s dynamic and captivating closer, “The Regency.”
Every Loser is a testament to Iggy’s enduring legacy. But what about those who have no clue who he is? For those unaware of how this man pioneered punk, here’s a quick dirty dozen of Iggy’s tracks to help prep you before you put Every Loser on repeat.
Iggy Pop – the shirtless, untamed, blonde powder keg of charisma and chaos who popularized stage diving — is a product of creation by collision. As he pinballed his way through the Ann Arbor/Detroit music scene of the 1960s and ’70s (and through bands like The Iguanas, The Prime Movers, and The Stooges), he would be rebranded and reborn as Iggy Pop, Frankensteined to life with pieces of psychedelic, rock, grit, glam, and excess – ingredients in the primordial soup that would propagate punk.
But in 1975, Iggy was adrift, a meteor in search of a planet. The year before, The Stooges – Iggy, brothers Ron and Scott Asheton, and Dave Alexander — had disintegrated for the second and seemingly final time. Though the band has earned a spot in the pantheon of rock gods, their first three albums (1968’s The Stooges, 1970’s Funhouse, and 1973’s Raw Power) were initially commercial flops. Iggy’s ongoing substance abuse had alienated him from his bandmates and friends, resulting in him being stranded in Los Angeles, semi-homeless and semi-hopeless.
This wayward particle would bounce its way into a big bang when he reunited with David Bowie, who first befriended Iggy in 1971. Invited to ride along with 1976’s Station to Station tour, Iggy and Bowie made plans to record an album together after the tour’s competition. In June of that year, they arrived at the Château d’Hérouville and got to work. The result was Iggy’s solo debut, 1977’s The Idiot.
Iggy released two singles from The Idiot – “Sister Midnight” and “China Girl,” which Bowie would cover on his 1983 album, Let’s Dance. “Nightclubbing” is selected here for its impact. Rock journalist Paul Trynka described “Nightclubbing” as “all Germanic, robotically slow, impossibly imposing.” The album itself “represents a radical departure from the music Iggy had made with the Stooges – which was, of course, the plan.”
Iggy shared a story of “Nightclubbing’s genesis when speaking with Kurt Loder in 2019 for SiriusXM Volume. “On The Idiot, we had recorded most of the thing at France at the Honky Chateau… And [Bowie] put on a fright mask – a plastic, hideous monster mask, like you buy in a cheap Halloween store – and sat down at the piano and played that music. And his assistant put on a fright mask, and she was jumping around to the weird music. But I didn’t think it was weird. I was like, ‘That’s it! That is it!”
“I knocked up lyrics for it in like, twenty minutes – mostly based on my experiences tagging along to the discos of Europe with him. The only thing left to augment it in the room was a little Roland drum machine. I said, ‘we can do it. We’ve got this. That will make a great beat.’
Nine Inch Nails sampled “Nightclubbing” in 1994 for their smash hit, “Closer.” Earl Brutus, Adele, Sneaker Pimps, and M. Ward are some of the acts that sampled the song, per Who Sampled. Grace Jones also covered “Nightclubbing” for her 1981 album of the same name. The Human League also covered the track in 1980.
The work on The Idiot began in France and concluded at Hansa Studios in West Berlin. Iggy would return to Berlin to work on the follow-up, Lust For Life. Bowie was back at the helm, producing the album while also beginning to work on his music, the triptych dubbed “The Berlin Trilogy” of Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger. Lust For Life was the “first project conceived and completed in Berlin” for Iggy and Bowie, and “the city’s ambiance would be firmly imprinted in the grooves of the record,” according to Trynka.
“I was living on coke, hash, red wine, beer, and German sausages,” Iggy told Trynka. “[I] had my own little place, and I was sleeping on a cot with cold water showers.” The brutal conditions yielded dynamic results, with Iggy and Bowie crafting two songs that remain Iggy’s signatures: “Lust For Life” and “The Passenger.”
“Lust For Life” is arguably the more well-known of the two. The song reconnected with audiences 20 years after its initial release when it was used in the 1996 movie, Trainspotting. After that, Royal Caribbean used the song in a series of commercials.
However, “The Passenger” is selected here for its influence and what could have been. Robin Eggar, Iggy’s press officer at RCA, pushed for “The Passenger” to be released as a single instead of “Success.” He was ignored, with “The Passenger” included as a B-side.
“‘The Passenger’ was partly written about the fact I’d been riding around North America and Europe in David’s car ad infinitum,” Iggy told The Guardian in 2016. “I didn’t have a driver’s license or a vehicle.” The opening guitar rift was created by Ricky Gardiner, who passed away in May at the age of 73.
“The apple trees were in bloom, and I was doodling on the guitar as I gazed at the trees,” he said about how he created the guitar intro that kicked off the song, per The Guardian. “I was not paying any attention to what I was playing. I was in a light dream enjoying the glorious spring morning. At a certain point, my ear caught the chord sequence.”
Joyous in its tune, with a hint of melancholy in its lyrics, “The Passenger” has endured over the decades, thanks partly to its use in media and it being covered by multiple bands. Siouxsie and the Banshees famously covered “The Passenger” for 1987’s Through the Looking Glass, a version featured in the 2017 film, I, Tonya. INXS‘s Michael Hutchence covered it for the Batman Forever soundtrack. Lunachicks, Ska Beat City, and David Hasselhoff have also taken their own stab at the song.
Taken from New Values, Iggy’s third studio album, “I’m Bored” sees him embrace the punk movement of the late ’70s he helped start. The song begins with a Scott Thurston guitar progression that seems like it was born at CBGB’s, a riff that could find itself between Television’s “Marquee Moon” and the Buzzcocks’ “Why Can’t I Touch It.” The tight and concise song refutes the era’s arena rock bloated excess.
“This is not the sexy-sounding Iggy like on Lust For Life. It’s not blown out and swinging all over the place,” Frank Black of The Pixies told The Quietus when listing New Values as one of his favorite albums. “It’s real dry and angular and square to an almost suffocating degree. It’s strong and Iggy’s poetry is strong. It feels authentic… There’s honest admission of frailties and the human condition. It is saying, ‘I am the lamest, I am the shortest.’ It’s still bravado and f-ck you, get out of my way, it’s not just saying I want to f-ck you either. He’s trying to say some stuff. It’s not diary rock. When Iggy gets poetic, he’s the best Iggy.”
“I Need More”
By all accounts, the recording of Iggy’s 1980 album, Soldier was a mess. “There were some intriguing, quirky lyrics and a rag-bag of interesting ideas,” wrote Trynka in Open Up And Bleed, “none of which threatened to gel into a coherent whole.”
However, Rolling Stone gave it a favorable review, writing how Iggy “vigorously challenges the demons that have dogged him since Fun House by launching a new and impressive two-pronged offensive with big-beat belligerence and boldly lyrical exorcism. When he howls, ‘I need more than I ever did before,’ he adds ‘truth’ and ‘freedom’ to his old shopping list of ‘cars,’ ‘money’ and ‘champagne.’”
The defiance was signature Iggy, embracing more instead of accepting a diminished role in the new decade. It was also prophetic. Punks in 1980 were embracing Hardcore’s faster, aggressive sound, and “I Need More” was a methodical trod, almost a stomping march. Hardcore would catch up with Iggy’s direction in the late 1980s (Black Flag’s “Annihilate This Week,” from 1987, has the same pace as “I Need More,” as well as the same attitude.)
Jimmy Webb, the longtime manager of New York City’s Trash and Vaudeville and celebrated stylist who helped dress The Ramones, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé, named his own rock boutique I Need More after Iggy’s song.
Though punk was embracing Hardcore in the early 80s, it still needed Iggy, as seen by his title track for Alex Cox‘s 1984 film, Repo Man. Starring Emilio Estevez as a punk rocker and Harry Dean Stanton as his repo mentor, Repo Man was noted for its use of Hardcore punk in the soundtrack. Music by Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, and The Plugz all play throughout the film, which opens with Iggy’s “Repo Man.”
“Alex came to my extremely humble apartment, which was just up the hill from the Whiskey A-Go-Go on Sunset Boulevard, in 1984,” Iggy told the Criterion Collection. “He explained to me about the film he was making, and he said, ‘I want you to do a song for me. Do what you want.’ And at the time, I’d had a hiccup in my career due to my wild lifestyle. I was sort of on the ropes, and I was not making much money. I was not on a major [label]. I needed some breathing space, and I was living in an unfurnished efficiency apartment in Hollywood with a Japanese girl who couldn’t speak English and a Stratocaster guitar.”
The opportunity to write a song for a film and the carte blanche he was given was, as Iggy put it, “a gift from God.” At that point, he had released two poorly received albums: 1981’s Party, his last for Arista, and 1982’s Zombie Birdhouse released on Chris Stein of Blondie’s label, Animal.
“Real Wild Child (Wild One)”
Iggy’s 1986 album, Blah-Blah-Blah, saw him reunite with Bowie, the latter of who wrote and produced the music along with Iggy and ex-Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. The only song not written by the trio on Blah-Blah-Blah was the opening track, a cover of Johnny O’Keefe’s “Wild One.” Christened “Real Wild Child (Wild One),” the song was Iggy’s first radio hit. It reached No. 27 on the US Mainstream Rock charts and No. 10 in the UK.
“Bowie set up a good framework for me to tell my story in a way that people could hear,” Iggy told the Chicago Tribune in 1990. “It got on the radio. At times we got a little too meticulous in the studio. But ‘Shades,’ ‘Winners and Losers,’ ‘Cry for Love,’ and ‘Wild Child’ sum up my story at the time.”
“Real Wild Child (Wild One)” was used in Pretty Woman, both Problem Child movies, and other media, exposing more people to Iggy’s voice.
In 1988, Iggy went hard with Instinct, a record that Classic Rock Magazine calls “a bruising clamor of slamming power chords and cold metal.” Those expecting Iggy to follow in the pop/mainstream footsteps of “Wild Child” would have to wait until 1990, when he released Brick By Brick. It featured “Candy,” a duet with Kate Pierson of The B-52’s. It remains Iggy’s biggest mainstream hit, reaching No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“I’m a fan of hers. I love her voice,” Iggy said during a joint interview with Kate on the Arsenio Hall show in 1990. “I sent her a little note so she’d have a chance to say no without being called on the phone, y’know? ‘Would you be interested?’”
“And I said, ‘yes!’” responded Kate, who at the time was achieving some of her biggest mainstream success with songs like “Roam” and “Love Shack.” The cosign helped Iggy retain some footing in the mainstream consciousness, especially as Gen X was coming into its prime.
The 1990s was the decade where Iggy kicked off a strange and wonderful acting career, starting with a role in John Waters‘s Cry-Baby. He would appear in Coffee and Cigarettes, Tank Girl, Dead Man, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, and more. Musically, Iggy released albums full of fuzzed-out rock (Naughty Little Doggy) and introspective crooning with spoken word pieces (Avenue B). In 1992, Pop released one of his longest albums, American Caesar.
The album “takes an uncompromising confessional jaunt through loneliness, hatred, jealousy, paranoia and, ultimately, love,” says Rolling Stone’s four-star review of the album. “The self-doubt is prime Ig, but there’s also a wisdom in the songs that one acquires only after living through the various stages of hell,” writes reviewer Mark Kemp.
The honesty within the album – and in the track selected here, “Highway Song” – could make a case for Pop to be considered one of rock’s most genuine lyricists.
“From 1990 on, for about twelve years, little by little,” Iggy told Clash in 2010, “Stooge-ism and amateurism started slipping back into my life.” After the turn of the century, Iggy put out Beat ‘Em Up and was prepping a guest album.
“If I didn’t do a guest artist album at that point, they weren’t gonna give me a chance to handle an album myself. They would have brought in a producer, who would’ve made Peter Frampton out of me or something,” said Iggy.
The result was 2003’s Skull Ring. Iggy was able to get Sum 41, Peaches, and Green Day on the album. This album would also result in a Stooges reunion. Ron and Scott Asheton had teamed with Minutemen bassist Mike Watt, Mark Arm of Mudhoney, and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. for a few performances, leading Iggy to think of a clever idea.
“I thought, ‘Well, wait a minute – they’re out there. The Stooges are better than anybody else on this list – maybe I should do one track, and that will be really cool. If it doesn’t work out, it can’t hurt’. So that was my idea,” Iggy told Clash. “And as soon as we started playing, something sounded good. It took an hour. ‘Ooh, that’s a wicked groove.’ And then I wasn’t going to take it any further, but it was the public – the phones started ringing, and I thought, ‘Okay.’”
Following this collaboration, The Stooges officially reunited and began playing again. In 2007, they released The Weirdness, their first album of all-new material since 1973’s Raw Power. The band broke up following Scott Asheton’s death in 2014, five years after his brother Ron died.
“Punkrocker” has the distinction of being an Iggy Pop song that Iggy didn’t write. Crafted and performed by the Swedish alternative group Teddybears, it first appeared on the band’s 2000 album, Rock’N’Roll Highschool, with different lyrics and a diminutive production. Re-recorded for 2006’s Soft Machine, the band recruited Iggy, and the new version’s lyrics seem more suited for the punk legend.
What warrants the song’s inclusion is how it demonstrates Iggy’s openness to collaborate, especially in the 90s and 2000s. Iggy performed a spoken word part for a then-underground White Zombie for “Black Sunshine” in 1992, and worked with masked guitar virtuoso Buckethead on his 1994 album, Giant Robot. Iggy has worked with The Cramps (“Miniskirt Blues”), Death In Vegas (“Aisha”), Kylie Minogue (“Christmas Wrapping”), Oneohtrix Point Never (“The Pure and the Damned”), Måneskin (“I Wanna Be Your Slave”), and Peaches (“Kick It”), to name a few. Iggy engaged in new sounds and wasn’t afraid to collaborate with those seemingly opposed to his punk lineage.
“I’m sick of hearing old boys say you shouldn’t use synthetic tools,” Iggy wrote for The Guardian in 2021. “If you’re rich and have a garage and a car, you could start a rock band. But there’s people using synthesizers to play with guitars, horns, hypnotic breaths, and it’s fantastic.”
In 2009, Iggy released Préliminaires, an album inspired by the sounds and spirit of New Orleans. It was less rock and more jazz, and Iggy continued that deviation into 2012’s Après, a collection of mostly covers sung in French. It wouldn’t be until 2016 that Iggy returned to his rock roots by teaming with Josh Homme of Queen of the Stone Age to make Post Pop Depression.
“I was looking to make high-quality, non-band solo work, where you really put both feet into it,” Iggy told The Guardian of working with Homme. “I’d been skirting around it: doing an album in French, or a soundtrack, or a reunion band album. I wanted to find the best, and he’s the best.”
The album’s lead single, “Gardenia,” received positive reviews from critics. “[Iggy’s] voice, ever the weighty and authoritative instrument, is given space to exist on its own, which is important for his poetry here,” wrote Evan Minsker for Pitchfork. “He’s always exuded this dual nature of being absolutely charming—smiling, genteel—but behind those kind eyes is the former junkie slimeball that rolled around in glass.”
Post Pop Depression was awarded Rough Trade’s Album of the Year, while other publications, from Rolling Stone to NME, included it on their year-end Best-Of lists. Post Pop Depression showed that though Iggy did and would continue to deviate from the punk road he paved, he could still out-rock any of the younger kids inspired by his work.
“I wouldn’t mind if it was a closing chapter,” Iggy said to Exclaim of his 2019 album, Free. A more jazz and poetry-infused outing than others, Free features trumpeter Leron Thomas, whose somber tones weave together a sensation that Iggy was embracing his mortality. In 2019, Iggy turned 72. Many of his friends and peers had passed, including Lou Reed, whose poem, “We Are The People,” Iggy recites on the album.
“I wanted to wiggle out of the frame of rock instrumentation that I’d gotten encased in over time,” Iggy said. “There’s nothing wrong with it, but it wasn’t what I felt at this time. I was interested in working with some fine musicians who broke out of the normal time and space.”
Free was a great showcase of the many facets of Iggy’s musical personality. “Love’s Missing” is a prime example of this, a crooning track that shows the undeniable charisma in his voice. Plus, as the song nearly breaks down in the end, it stands as a great metaphor for how Iggy has spent his life weaving through chaos to make beautiful music.
Will Every Loser be that final chapter Iggy alluded to in 2019? One hopes not. Iggy has chosen not to go gentle into that good night. Instead, he will rage, rock, scream, laugh, shout, and sing loudly until the dying of the light. And as Every Loser shows, Iggy not only has more left in the tank, but he’s having a blast driving down that final stretch headed toward the setting sun.
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