This has got to be one of the strangest boxed sets, even though it stars the Stooges, one of rock's most celebrated (at least these days) bands.
1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions is a seven-CD collection, clocking in at just under eight hours, which thoroughly documents what has come to be known as the band's "Los Angeles album." Numbered and limited to 3,000 copies and priced at $119, it's available only on-line via Rhino Handmade, a division of the dependable reissue label that caters to absolutely rabid collectors. These discs roll through, in exact chronological order, each session tape that led to the final version of the Stooges' masterful second record, which most rock fans now know, love and have worn out several times over. Every take, false start, engineer slate and comment by vocalist and cultural icon Iggy Pop, virtually every recorded moment from the album's production, is here.
This will create one of two reactions. You're either back-flipping toward your computer to order your own box or you're scratching your head, wondering who in 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). 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."
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The decision to record Fun House live in the studio came from producer Don Gallucci. As a result of this method, the tedious one-overdub-at-a-time layering that constitutes the making of most modern recordings can't be heard. 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 in which 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 fake breasts and Jennifer Lopez's heavily insured ass, this kind of honest-to-goodness gettin' down just doesn't happen anymore.
"We were totally prepared because Gallucci wanted to capture the live show," remembers guitarist Ron Asheton, who with brother Scott Asheton, drummer, and Dave Alexander, bassist, made up the rest of the band. "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 Elektra Records staff producer Gallucci had scored a hit with his first production for the label, 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.' "
At the time, the Stooges' set would always end with "Fun House," which would traditionally dissolve into free-form madness to close the show. On the record, however, the free-form part was turned into its own separate piece called "L.A. Blues." (On the boxed set, the unedited 17-minute version is titled "Freak.") The decision to break the bit into two distinct numbers again came from Gallucci.
"He thought it would be a good idea, and he was the producer, so nobody argued with him about it," says tenor saxophonist Steve Mackey, who later went on to play with Andre Williams, the Violent Femmes and Snakefinger. "We just said, 'Okay, that's cool.' But it was really interesting trying to get that energy coming cold out of nowhere. That particular session [for 'L.A. Blues'] was pretty far-out. I guess I decided I was going to be 'psychedelic' for that session. And so I was, chemically, if you know what I mean. I don't know if anyone else in the studio was, but I certainly was."
In the year 2000, Asheton, who's still a working musician as well as a screenwriter and film actor at home in Detroit, is able to put his little ol' Michigan garage band into proper perspective. "We never wanted to be any kind of pop band. We really wanted to be something different. And because we started out as musical virgins, we got to develop and create something that was fresh. I think it was really to our benefit that we didn't know how to play our instruments real well. It turned out to be the genesis of a whole new sound."
It will forever be argued among the faithful whether the pinnacle of that sound was Fun House or the more standard hard rock (by Stooge standards, that is) of their third album, Raw Power, which was produced by David Bowie and released three years later on Columbia. To Rhino's credit, the company is aware that there are just enough Fun House addicts out there to make an undertaking such as this worthwhile. Says David Baker of Rhino Handmade: "I think it's now generally acknowledged that Fun House was a primordial record. It invented an entire genre of music years before that genre became popular. It's now an American classic."
Says Gallucci: "It's funny. I eventually grew to love it because I loved their rawness. There were no apologies in the music. But it wasn't just simple music. It was almost Zen-like. They had pared everything down, not because they were necessarily bad musicians or because they were dumb. They actually got rid of all the fey stuff that started to pop up in rock right about then. They eliminated all the artsy stuff and went back to just pure to-the-bone, to-the-studs, rock.
"At the same time, I knew that nobody would get it in 1970. But pioneers always get the arrows and slings. Eventually they were recognized, and I think that's great. But back in 1970, they were on a mission."
Asheton can actually laugh about it now. "The Stooges were always kind of looked down upon. 'Bunch of freaks! They can't play! So ha, ha, ha!' We were freaks back then. Now we're the godfathers of this type of music."
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