New Haven Register archives: Let’s give it to ’em — right now! For some reason, the long career of rocker Iggy Pop, who returns to Toad’s tonight, always returns to ‘Louie Louie’

Iggy’s older and wiser, but he still has attitude to spare. Photo by Chris Cuffaro.

(This story originally appeared in the New Haven Register as the Weekend section lead Friday, March 25, 1994. It was an advance to his show that night at Toad’s Place in New Haven.)

By Fran Fried, Register Entertainment Editor

For all the years Iggy Pop has been performing – and that’s more than three decades now. If you count his teen years in Michigan, with the Iguanas – there has been one simple, recurring, two-word touchstone: “Louie Louie.”

That’s right. We’re talking about Richard Berry’s four-chord 1955 R&B cha-cha, transformed by the Wailers and then definitively by the Kingsmen into a trash-rock classic. Whether he be a singer/drummer with a frat/garage-rock band; a self-destructive, pre-punk noise demon; or a well-respected, high-energy musical father figure, everything in Iggy’s musical life has boiled down to that one song.

As Iggy, now 46, put it last week from New Orleans, “All songs are ‘Louie Louie.’ As people go on to college, they lose sight of it. You can load anything onto this music. You can use it to sell clothes, to (have sex), to promote the classics. But it’s all ‘Louie Louie.’”

As he prepares to return to Toad’s Place tonight, let’s look at how the song has figured into his career:

*****

Appearance No. 1: The song first came to the young Jim Osterberg, he recalled, over the radio on a school bus.

“It made me want to quit school,” he said with a laugh. “It sounded dissonant, metallic. There was something very sexy and distinctive about it, though I couldn’t articulate it at the time. I liked it the way my body likes the friction of sex.

“I’ve played it since I got my union card when I was 14; that was 32 years ago. I played it in a million frat parties and dances. When the frat brothers would get drunk, they’d ask for ‘Louie Louie,’ or when things were slowing down, or when they were drunk. It was ‘Play “Louie Louie!”

“When I was going to become a pro, I told myself, ‘Your musical skills are very sparse. But if you can handle a four-chord progression, carry a Bo Diddley beat and sing one note well: if you can handle it, give it poetry that was of interest, you’ll have a combo that can be unique.’”

Appearance No. 2: Fast-forward to Oct. 6, 1976, an Iggy & the Stooges concert at the Michigan Palace in Detroit — the show preserved for the ages and released as the “Metallic KO” album. The proverbial chickens had come home to roost.

From the late ‘60s to that point, the Stooges had reflected the increasingly ugly and deteriorating side of industrial, post-riot Detroit. They were increasingly loud, increasingly raw, obnoxious and anarchic, long before the Sex Pistols were anyone’s nightmare. Various ingested and injected chemicals along the way added to the mayhem. Their shows, with the emaciated, writhing Iggy milking and taunting the audience past its limits, were the stuff of legend among budding punks.

The ugliness of both band and audience came to a head at this show, captured both on record and in Dave Marsh’s recent book “Louie Louie.” The band was pelted with eggs, beers, fruits, vegetables, even lightbulbs by the rowdy crowd. In return, Iggy egged them on (no pun intended) to greater depths. Finally, he announced, “I think a good song for you would be a 55-minute ‘Louie Louie.’” The Stooges launched into an all-out attack that veered between coherence and incoherence, with Iggy conjuring verses about sex – a basic animal version dealing with a basic animal instinct – lyrics too far across the line for a family newspaper.

With all the controversy the song generated a decade before in Congress and at the FBI about the alleged obscenity of the song’s actual lyrics (and no one still knows what they are, even Berry), this was the first truly obscene recording of “Louie Louie.” And with this, the Stooges went noisily into history, breaking up a week later.

“I’m really proud of that version,” he said. “That and the new version make a nice set of bookends. (The new version) is the well-to-do version. That was the raw, unvarnished version.

“I’m real proud of what I did, even though I was sort of between misery and hilarity. Everything I did then basically came from a lack of respect for a lot of things that really didn’t deserve respect. The work (with the Stooges) was pristine. When I was at my worst, the week was real.”

Appearance No. 3: Last year, Iggy returned to the song, recording a version for his latest album, the summer release “American Caesar” (Virgin). This time around, though, “Louie Louie” framed Iggy as a punk grandfather figure of sorts, pressured by his record label to remain relevant for a younger (read MTV) audience. So the 1993 edition has him rambling politically on about the state of the world, post-Soviet Union.

But as with the “Metallic KO” version – which was used as an instrument of punishment – Iggy says this “Louie Louie” was kind of a joke.

“I handed in this album,” he recalled, “and the record promo(tional) guys —in’ hated it. They —- a brick. The head of the label said ‘Nice album, but where’s the hit?’ Basically, he said “PLAY ‘LOUIE LOUIE!’” (laughs heartily). “They tried to hand me some Leonard Cohen to do this song called ‘Ain’t No Cure Fur Love.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll record three or four things – nothing but hits, guys!’

“A few days before the session, I said, ‘Oh, —-! I can’t sing that version! I’m married! I’m 46!’ I thought it would be funny to approach it as a socio-political critique. I hate the bands I hear around doing it. They’re not very witty. I wrote it in 10 minutes.”

The rest of the album, though, like most of his recorded material, comes from a real place. Which is why, even though he misses musically as often as he hits – “American Caesar” is a clear case in point – he’s still popular. He still has that time-honored lust for life that can’t be faked, not to mention a body still without one ounce of fat – a vision of beauty or repulsion, take your pick.

And in recent years, audiences have gone from throwing things at him to heaping praise. Iggy said the turnaround came in the mid-1980s, around the time of the 1986 release “Blah Blah Blah.”

“When I first started playing, my first few gigs – maybe the first 10 – many of the people would be a bunch of out-there kids from the Midwest,” he said. “Then – bang! – we went up against the general public. Aye yi yi! It was like a magnetic experiment you did in science class in school, where two negatives oppose each other. If we set up in one end of the room, people would get to the other end of the room in a hurry. But they wouldn’t leave. It was like animals when they’re threatened. Then the boldest ones would try to attack us.

“Then, a few years ago, after a lot of varying reactions, the audiences started getting bigger. I never engaged them. I think it was the beat of society. The people were bopping to it or slamming or smiling.”

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One Response to “New Haven Register archives: Let’s give it to ’em — right now! For some reason, the long career of rocker Iggy Pop, who returns to Toad’s tonight, always returns to ‘Louie Louie’”

  1. The Summer of ’71, or how I became a music fiend « Franorama World Says:

    […] — that is, before I moved to Fresno to become a drifting nonentity 7 1/2 years ago — I wrote about music for 20 years at my first two papers back in Connecticut, as well as freelance for some weeklies […]

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