‘Fun House’ Turns 50 — The Stooges’ Stunning Sophomore Album
There has been some entertaining debate recently about who was the first punk band (most discussions point to The Ramones). There are many candidates and bands who helped the movement get to The Ramones, most notably The Velvet Underground.
Summer of 1970. I had just finished my freshman year at Lehigh University, spending lots more time at the student-run radio station than at classes (as my GPA bore out). We travelled to Michigan from Baltimore, and I spent a lot of time listening to some great music on the radio (WKNR? WABX?).
One particular night began with a stunning 20-minute version of “Oh Carol” by Tacklebox (never ever found that gem again). Several songs later, I was absolutely floored by a song later back-announced as “Down On the Street” by The Stooges. Incredible.
When I returned to school in the fall, I “discovered” their eponymous debut (1969) with such truly brilliant songs as “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “No Fun.” That was a fine album, but when I got my hands on their sophomore release, Fun House, I was completely blown away.
The Stooges at the time were: Iggy Pop, vocals; Dave Alexander, bass; Ron Asheton, guitar; and Scot Asheton, drums. Steven Mackay played tenor saxophone. The album was produced by Don Gallucci, arranged by The Stooges, and engineered by Brian Ross-Myring. The album was recorded by Elektra Sound Recorders, Los Angeles. Ed Caraeff did the photography, with art direction by Robert L. Heimall. The album was recorded May 11-25 and released on July 7, 1970, 50 years ago. (This was back when an album could appear less than six weeks from its recording.)
John Cale of The Velvet Underground had produced the first album, which received scattershot reviews. That’s why Don Gallucci was brought in for this second effort. “Having seen the group live, Gallucci told Jac Holzman (head of Elektra Records) that The Stooges were an ‘interesting group, but I don’t think you can get this feeling on tape’” (Wikipedia). They did the usual studio setup, and Galucci was right; that was not the sound of the band live. And The Stooges hated it. So the studio was set up as if it were a concert stage, Iggy with his regular hand-held mic.
The music on this album is at once simple, intense, direct, and visceral. It jumps out and grabs you. The opening track, “Down On the Street,” is a perfect example. Iggy makes himself known right away, and his vocal style is distinct and different (in part, he was shooting for Howlin’ Wolf). The bass and drums provide massive propulsion throughout the album, especially here. Ron Asheton kills on guitar, often double-tracked. Iggy brings the band on down behind him at the end of the track very effectively. And we’re off!
Guitar and drums intro “Loose” which shortly gets to that Iggy lyric “Stick it deep inside / ’Cause I’m loose!” Dave Alexander on bass shoves it into high gear, and Ron Asheton rips another huge solo as brother Scot on drums provides amazing accents.
Some years back there was a TV commercial for some automobile that featured a dude on skis jumping over a car as “TV Eye” played, opening with a blood-curdling scream from Iggy, then Ron’s guitar, and the best bass line on the record. Iggy is shrieking, and yet somehow it fits perfectly into the song.
After three all-out blistering rockers, they settle in for some nasty blues with “Dirt,” and they take their time. This track is 7:00, a good bit longer than the previous tunes, clocking in between 3:30 and 4:15. Everybody is subdued. Iggy’s vocals as beautiful, even if the theme isn’t. And Ron just abuses his wah-wah pedal.
This is distinctly an album in two halves. The first half was screaming punk-rock in its infancy; the second was something else new.
“1970,” the obvious follow-up to “1969” from their debut, is a rocker, and it feels like a great live track. You can just see (video also includes “T.V. Eye”) of Iggy strutting the stage like a leaner Mick Jagger on… well, it’s hard to say. He gyrates, rolls around, throws himself off the stage. He quotes/paraphrases from Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” and The Rolling Stones’ “I’m Alright.”
Ron again takes his wah-wah pedal to task, and, at the 3:30 mark, Steven Mackay makes his first appearance on tenor saxophone, and he doesn’t miss a beat from here to the end of the album. He ranges from Jimmy Forrest bar honker to Albert Ayler madness, and it is glorious. He was certainly an influence on the way Roxy Music utilized Andy Mackay on songs such as “Remake/Remodel” and “Editions of You.”
“Fun House” is in some ways just a continuation of “1970,” Mackay right up front throughout the tune. The tempo is slightly less frantic than before and even gets bluesy again before Ron on guitar kicks it back up.
The screams that emerge to open “L.A. Blues” never let up. This is magnificent cacophony, bowing to influences such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Frank Zappa (“Weasels Ripped My Flesh”). Everybody is in total free-form mode, especially Mackay. Brain spindled, folded, mutilated.
Several great stories about Fun House:
I had a record store in Tampa 1974-1978. Fun House still appeared in the WEA catalogs, and I tried repeatedly to order it. The album number was EKS-74071. And every time I tried, they sent some other title numerically close or put it on backorder.
In the spectacular history of Creem Magazine, one of the greatest rock rags of all time, there was no song referred to even half as often in the phenomenal Letters to the Editor column as “L.A. Blues.”
The original album is a single disk, seven songs and 36 minutes. The Deluxe Edition has 21 songs and an hour and 49 minutes. And there is the grand poobah: 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions, with a staggering 142 songs and almost eight hours of music, all of the takes of all the songs plus some that did not make the album. And there is an 11-minute “Fun House” and 17 and a half minutes of “Freak,” which is a different take of “L.A. Blues.”
It’s only money, right?