Written for the 2006 book 100 Albums That Changed Music, edited by Sean Egan.
Released US August 1970 UK December 1970
TRACKLISTING: Down On The Street, Loose, TV Eye, Dirt, 1970 (aka I Feel Alright), Fun House, LA Blues
PRODUCED BY: Don Galluci
ACCORDING to Henry Rollins, it is the greatest album ever recorded: “Fun House is thirty-some minutes of loose and dangerous music played by bad men and should be heard once at least,” he wrote on Amazon.com in his choice of favourite music. “I remember screaming in my head, ‘This is Detroit!’ And that’s what Fun House is to me, the very definition of Detroit rock & roll, and by proxy, the definitive rock album of America. The record’s passion, attitude, power, emotion and destruction are incalculable,” wrote Jack White of The White Stripes in the liner notes to the Rhino 2005 double-disc edition. Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction always used to play it before going onstage: “It’s pretty hard to go out in a bad mood when you’ve just heard Fun House.”
It is an iconic album, a revered piece of music. Yet for about 10 years after it was released in 1970, nobody outside of a tiny clique much cared about Iggy & The Stooges and sales of Fun House were pitiful. Even after the upheaval of punk, the Stooges album of choice tended to be Raw Power, a comparatively straightforward record in comparison with the screaming intensity of their second.
The Psychedelic Stooges were, according to Iggy Pop, “low-brow guys” who spent the first year of their existence as a band thinking up their name. A typical Stooges live show consisted of the two minutes of song followed by some wild free form improvisations. The Stooges were signed to Elektra records in 1968 by Danny Fields, who also signed the MC5, worked with The Doors and Love and eventually managed The Ramones. Elektra was the pre-eminent American rock label, capturing the spirit of the times with innovative releases by artists as diverse as The Doors and Judy Collins. Yet for all the success they had had marketing teen rebellion, they didn’t really have much of a clue as to what they should do with Iggy. Initially they tried to sell them – unsuccessfully – as a teen pop act. Their debut The Stooges – no longer psychedelic – was produced by John Cale, recently departed from The Velvet Underground. It was recorded in a hurry – Real Cool Time, Not Right, and Little Doll were apparently written in one night to pad out the album – but remains a classic. Fun House was recorded in Los Angeles and was produced by Don Galluci, former keyboard player with The Kingsmen, the Oregon garage combo who’d scored a major hit in 1964 with their cover of Louie Louie. He wanted to try and capture the live sound of the band as much as was possible and so they started recording almost as a live set, playing the songs on the album in the order that they appear.
The first order of business was to rip the studio apart: the carpets were taken up, the walls were moved. Then they just miced up all the amps – Iggy sang into a hand-held mic standing in front of the band – and played.
What you hear is what you get: there are no overdubs, no studio wizardry, no frills. According to Ron Asheton, apart from adding a bit of rhythm guitar on a few tracks, what was released was pretty much what they played.
It was recorded in sessions that lasted in total just under eight hours. It was very much against the grain of the way that records were made at that time. It had more in common with the way jazz musicians worked: they would book time in the studio, jam, listen back to the bits they thought worked and then release them.
The Stooges originally intended that Loose would be the first song, but the label preferred the slightly more downbeat Down On The Street. Iggy drafted in sax player Steve MacKay, ex of Detroit avant garde noise band Carnal Kitchen, literally 48 hours before they started recording.
MacKay brought an intense hard jazz quality to hard rock songs like 1970, as well as an almost John Coltrane-like free form horn to the title track. LA Blues was actually the most insane part of this wig out excerpted and turned into a separate piece, an idea credited to Galluci. MacKay later said that he was on acid while they recorded the original 17 minute long track which was originally called Freak.
The album was reviewed favourably but sold badly: the world wasn’t quite ready for hard rock delivered with this urgency and intensity. The prevailing sound was a more laid back stoner-country rock vibe. Not long after its release the band started to disintegrate, due mainly to everyone’s involvement in hard drugs. Elektra dropped them from its roster and for most of the mid 70s, the album was actually deleted. Yet Iggy always had influential champions, among them Lester Bangs, David Bowie and Nick Kent, who kept the flame burning even when it semed that Iggy had reached the end of the line. The Damned covered 1970 on their first album Damned Damned Damned which, for a new generation, was their first taste of Iggy. And although his influence on punk is undeniable, the influence of Fun House goes much wider: early hardcore bands like Black Flag, Husker Du and The Minutemen, John Zorn’s maniac jazz, the more extreme variants of heavy metal, Primal Scream all openly give thanks for that insane 30 odd minutes of freakish primitive distorted rock that still sounds like it was composed by cavemen from Mars.