L.A. Blues

The legacy of Iggy Pop and the Stooges in a new box set

It's got to be one of the strangest box sets ever released, even though it stars the Stooges, one of rock's most celebrated bands. 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions is a seven-CD collection, clocking in at just under eight hours and thoroughly documenting what has come to be known as the band's "Los Angeles album." Numbered and limited to 3000 copies and priced at $119, it's only available online via Rhino Handmade, a division of the dependable reissue label that caters to absolutely rabid collectors. The seven discs roll through, in chronological order, all the session tapes that led to the final version of the Stooges' masterful second record that most rock fans now know, love, and have worn out several times over. Every take, false start, engineer slate, and comment by singer Iggy Pop (who currently calls Miami home) to the producer and then back again, virtually every recorded moment from the album's production, is here.

This will garner one of two reactions: You're either doing back flips toward your computer to order your own box or you're scratching your head, wondering who the hell could sit through take after take of the same seven songs (eight, if you count the newly discovered "Lost in the Future," which ain't exactly a gem, and was rightfully discarded before the original record was completed). The truth is this fly-on-the-wall-style documentary keeps on working for eight hours primarily because of the way the record was made in the first place.

"The interesting thing about this project is it was obviously an attempt for the band to record their stage show at the time," says Bill Inglot, Rhino's project producer and the guy who researches and finds the original tapes before restoring, mixing, and mastering them as needed. "The first record they did for Elektra [The Stooges] was certainly a more formal recording per se. It was produced by [former Velvet Underground member] John Cale and seemed a bit more tracked. Which means they cut a track with all the instruments, and then they added Iggy's vocals, added tambourine, added whatever was needed. The first record's a little bit more produced."

The decision to record Fun House live in the studio came from producer Don Gallucci. As a result of this method, you don't hear the tedious one-overdub-at-a-time layering that constitutes the making of most modern recordings. (Ever sit through director Jean-Luc Godard's torturous documentary of the Stones laboring over "Sympathy for the Devil"?) Instead each take on Fun House was already complete, with lead vocals, guitars, drums, and sax solos all recorded at the same time. Which means the listener gets to hear a real rock band with an actual vision passionately cranking it out raw over and over again. In an age where a series of alternative rock groups mope on and off the charts with one hit, and pop singers apparently come from a generic stamp press to exist in a media netherworld that lies somewhere between Britney Spears's allegedly fake breasts and Jennifer Lopez's heavily insured ass, this kind of honest-to-goodness gettin' down just doesn't happen anymore.

"So few rock records exist in this kind of time and space continuum," agrees Inglot. "Fun House was done more like a 1958 jazz album. Musicians go in, they play, they find something they like, and then they go home. Certainly once you get past 1970, I don't know that anybody ever really attempted that sort of thing again."

"We were totally prepared because [producer] Gallucci wanted to capture the live show," remembers Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton. "That was the cool thing. We just set up in the studio and did our live show. There were really no overdubs. I maybe went back after I did my leads with the three-piece and added a little bit of rhythm guitar stuff here and there. But mostly everything was live."

By the summer of 1970, Gallucci had scored a hit with his first production for Elektra: Crabby Appleton's "Go Back" single. His decision to record the Stooges live came after his boss Jac Holzman flew him to New York to see the band perform. "They were playing in some little club. Someone announces over the PA: 'And here they are, Iggy and the Stooges!'" recalls Gallucci, who left the music business shortly after his work on Fun House for pursuits in real estate. "This terminally skinny guy comes out dancing and writhing in front of this loud three-piece band, and he's wearing nothing but Levi's, boots, and evening-length silver lamé gloves. That's it. I think maybe he had a dog collar around his neck. He immediately starts jumping up on tables and grabs the fishnet candle lamps, pouring hot wax all down his chest. Jac asks me the next day: 'What do you think?' I said, 'Well, it's a real interesting act, but I don't think you can get this feeling on tape. It's definitely a performance kind of situation.' Jac responded, 'Well, I really believe in them. I'm flying them out to the West Coast, and you'll record them.'"

Gallucci decided the only way to put that kind of power and ferocity to tape was simply to turn the Stooges loose in the studio. He was certainly no stranger to recording this way. In fact his career began almost by accident when as a precocious fifteen-year-old in 1963, he played electric piano on the Kingsmen's hit version of "Louie Louie." At that time recording live to mono was still a common practice. To tackle the issue of recording the Stooges this way, however, his first order of business was to transform Holzman's newest pride and joy -- a Hollywood-based recording studio on La Cienega Avenue -- into a place where the band could be accurately captured. Not exactly the easiest thing, since before Elektra hit the pop charts with Love and the Doors, they were primarily a folk-music label, and Holzman built his studio with simple acoustic guitar and vocals in mind.

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