Review Summary: "Callin' from the fun house with my song, we been separated baby far too long."
Picture this – it is June 13th, 1970, the early days of your summer. The mild heat of southern Ohio looms over you as you make your way to one of the biggest events of the year: The Cincinnati Pop Music Festival. The lineup this year feature some rather eccentric groups, such as the psychedelic Alice Cooper band, a bluesy folk rock group known as Traffic, as well as other undistinguished groups such as Bloodrock and Mott the Hoople. Making your way down to Crosley Field wasn’t all too hard of a task, just a quick walk away from Queensgate, just smack dab in the middle of Downtown Cincy. At last, you situate yourself in the field where the Reds play ball. A group consisting of an honors student, a pair of high school dropouts, and one with an aptitude for drink take the stage. They're called The Stooges, a band of real wild boys. They had just one album out at the time, produced by John Cale of The Velvet Underground – real weird guy in a real weird band, it’s no wonder he produced something like The Stooges. Their sound was raw, but it just lacked that certain kind of power, something even Cale acknowledged later on. They have a saxophonist now, Steve Mackay is it? The addition adds a lot more to their sound, and it’s a far cry from what you heard on record.
Everything’s more intense, louder, and increasingly violent. Amidst the chaos, their singer dives into the crowd, just right in front of you. You are face to face with him – he looks quite deranged, but in the moment, he motions for you and other attendants to lift him up. By the powers that be, that’s just what you do. Holding him up by your hands, you see him with a jar of peanut butter. Taking a large hunk out of the jar, he proceeds to smear it all over his bare chest, making various gestures upon the massive crowd, hurling the paste and jar onto the audience. Making his way back to the stage, he is as intense and in-your-face as he was before he left. You think to yourself – are these the same guys from before? Fast forward to a month later, and you find yourself in your local record shop – at the front is Fun House, the newest record by The Stooges. Taking it home, you put it on the turntable, lie down and listen. It’s everything you expected and so much more, it’s almost as if you’re still in the crowd at Crosley.
Arriving upon the local scene in Ann Arbor, Michigan, The Stooges were formed out of a chance meeting between James Osterberg and brothers Ron and Scott Asheton at Discount Records, the local record store where Osterberg worked at the time. Recruiting Dave Alexander – a friend of the Asheton’s – on bass, the band became known locally for their acute, raw live performances, as well as Osterberg's energetic performances under the stage name "Iggy Pop". All of these factors eventually landed them with a record contract with Elektra Records in 1968. Their second and final record for the label, Fun House
took the loudest moments of their debut, eschewed the intricate studio techniques of John Cale, instead opting to do the album live in-studio, as suggested by producer Don Gallucci. The result that came from the two-week long session became legendary in itself, spawning not only a massive box set that captured every single second of the sessions, but something far more important with the birth of punk itself (though this can definitely be argued).
The impact upon first listen is absolute, from the moment ”Down on the Street”
comes in with such power, the immediacy the group exudes is something that couldn’t be matched at the time. The band had built up a larger repertoire this time around in comparison to the sessions of the debut, where they intended to record a measly five songs before whipping up an extra three in one night to satisfy record executives. Aside from the more solid songwriting, there were notable differences in the band’s sound with the addition of Steve Mackay on saxophone, as well as the band being a tighter unit than before. The songs however, are still very riff-centric, especially on the first half of the record with hard-hitters ”Loose”
and ”T.V. Eye”
. The former serves as more of an introduction (considering it was the intended opener, and was done as such in live performances), with Pop proclaiming that he was “sending a record of pretty music straight from hell” – if anything, the song makes good on that promise. The latter, as well as ”Dirt”
deviate from the band’s usual sound with the focus going toward the rhythm section of Alexander and Scott Asheton. If these two songs prove anything, it provides insight as to why these two were the glue holding the band’s sound together.
As the album progresses, it seems to get more and more deranged, and further inclines toward an avant-jazz sound inspired by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Sun Ra on the flip side. Aided by Mackay on sax, the three songs get increasingly vehement, whether it be the fast-paced boredom anthem ”1970”
, the rhythmic jam session within ”Fun House”
, or the near-legendary proto-noise improvisational jazz freak out of ”L.A. Blues”
. A five minute piece that exceeds the standard of 70’s rock, ”L.A. Blues”
perfectly encased the drugged-out ferocity of 1960s American psychedelia. If there was a correct way to describe it to someone who has never heard it before, it would be what would amount to a nightmarish descent into hell, or a bad acid trip that never reached a conclusion – all captured on tape.
what Iggy meant by “sending a record of pretty music”? The result was far from it if you’re looking for something accessible, but the raw power of Fun House
holds you tight and beckons you to listen to the wondrous chaos that is contained. Every second of the record takes you by the throat and doesn’t relinquish its grip for a single second, if anything, its grasp grows stronger and further callous than its predecessor yet it's only matched by its successor, Raw Power
. The primal sounds of Fun House
draw out the deepest, most visceral barbarity of rock and roll, making for something that transcends the simple mold of rock, jazz or even punk – a whole six years before it was even a thing, mind you. To deny the greatness of such an album is foolish, so the only thing you can do is to accept it and enjoy the mayhem of The Stooges’ opus, Fun House