RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #173: China Girl by Iggy Pop.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #173: China Girl by Iggy Pop.

Yes! You read that correctly. The song, “China Girl”, made famous by David Bowie on his album, “Let’s Dance” was, actually, a cover version of a song that he helped his buddy, Iggy Pop, to record during their “Berlin years” together in the 1970s. The original version of “China Girl” is sung by Iggy Pop, in a far grittier, more rock n’ roll style. It was from the first of the three albums that he and Bowie recorded together called, “The Idiot”. So, for those who thought this was a Bowie song all along…..Suuuuuuuuuuuurprise! Technically, even the original version of “China Girl” is kinda, sorta a Bowie song because he wrote the music for it and helped produce it and even played keyboards for it when it was recorded and during the initial tours to support it. So, you wouldn’t be totally wrong to call “China Girl” Bowie’s song all along. However, having said that, there are three very distinct stories behind this song and it is those stories that we will talk about today. So, let’s get to those stories and find out what “China Girl” is really all about.

Let’s get the darker story out of the way first. As you may remember, the whole reason that Iggy Pop and David Bowie ended up together in Germany was because Iggy Pop had become addicted to heroin and his friend, Bowie, was trying to help him regain his health. So, there is one version of the story of this song that suggests that “China Girl” is about heroin. In “street parlance”, “China White” is a form of heroin and “girl” is a term commonly used to refer to cocaine. Taken together, in speedball form, it becomes highly addictive. (***I know this from research only and not from personal experience. Lol). So, writing about the power of the substance that caused his addiction seems like a plausible explanation for a song like “China Girl”.

I’m a mess without my China Girl.

Wake up in the morning, where’s my little China Girl?

I hear her heart beating, loud as thunder

I saw these stars crashing down.

I can only imagine that kicking a drug addiction can be hard. If you look at the lyrics to this song, it is easy to read meaning into them from an addiction perspective. So, maybe, just maybe, “China Girl” is a song Iggy Pop wrote as he was trying to kick his heroin habit.

The second story is also an Iggy Pop tale. In this case, it is an addiction of a different sort…..desire. Around this time in his life, he came into contact with a Vietnamese woman named Kuelan Nguyen. Some have made the statement that Nguyen was to Iggy Pop as Yoko Ono was to John Lennon. She was many things to Iggy Pop during his time in Berlin and was certainly a provocative presence in his life for awhile. But that relationship came and went; mostly due to how unstable Iggy Pop was in his own life. However, Nguyen obviously left a void that Pop was seeking to fill so there is a large school of thought that suggests that the song, “China Girl”, is actually written about Nguyen. If you reread the lyrics I used above but, instead of drug addiction, substitute Nguyan and, well, whatta ya know, the lyrics make sense that way, too. So, it is entirely possible that “China Girl” is a song written by a man about a woman he desired, in which case, it tells a tale as old as Time.

Finally, let’s get to David Bowie. He covered the song in 1983 as part of his monster selling album, “Let’s Dance”. Now, if you remember the post we did about the song, “Let’s Dance” *(Which you can read here), you will know that it was about racism toward Indigenous peoples of Australia. Obviously, Bowie was in a more political headspace at this time in his life because he is on record as stating that he wanted to use his public platform to tackle the issue of racism in all of its forms. Thus, he took his pal’s song from a decade and a half earlier and added a few tweaks in studio that caused the tone of the song to become about how white people view Asians and, in particular, what some of those Asian stereotypes are and how wrong it all is. One of the ways Bowie managed to change the song were by adding a bit of an Asian-themed melody to the start of the song and, as well, sprinkling it in various places throughout the song, too. But, the main way was via the video that accompanied the song. In that video, Bowie created a play in which he starred as a white lorthario-type character who has an inter-racial tryst with an Asian model. The fact that their union was so heated with sexual tension showed more than words could ever have said about the desirability he felt toward someone of a different race. But, at the same time, the fact that the song always only refers to her in demeaning terms such as “my little China Girl” and never gives her a name and thus, an identity, shows how racially insensitive we, as white people, can be when we view those from different races as being “all the same….you can’t tell them apart” and so on. The music video for “China Girl” by David Bowie won the award for “Best Music Video”, beating MIchael Jackson’s “Thriller”.

So, is “China Girl” a song about drug addiction, sexual addiction or is it really about racism? Who knows? Both Iggy Pop and David Bowie have, at times, made reference to all three scenarios during interviews so, what the real answer is, I guess, is up to you and your own interpretation. What I take from this song is that a good song is a good song is a good song, no matter who sings it. I like both versions of “China Girl”. I really like the grittier, more rock-like way in which Iggy Pop releases his demons via the lyrics to this song. In fact, it has been said that he can, at times, become overwhelmed with emotion while singing; especially, the line, “It’s in the white of my eyes” and, often, he ends up exiting the stage at that point, leaving his band to complete the song on their own. David Bowie’s version is much more polished and he, obviously, has a much cleaner, purer and stronger singing voice. His version of “China Girl” has always ranked near the top of my favourite Bowie songs of all-time. So, for me, this is a win-win situation because I like both versions of the song very much. That speaks to the strength of this song, as it was originally written. A good song spawns good cover versions, which is certainly the case here.

So, get ready for a treat! Here are two great versions of the same great song! First, as always, I give the original singer the lead video so, we will start with Iggy Pop’s version of “China Girl”. As mentioned yesterday, he and an all-star back-up band did a killer version of this song on a TV show called “Austin City Limits”. That is what you will see here. What a terrific performance! As for David Bowie, for his video, you will get the original, “official” video that ended upwinning the award for Video for the Year. So, without further delay, here is “China Girl” by Iggy Pop and by David Bowie. Two great songs by two great friends. Enjoy

The link to the video for the song, “China Girl”, by Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “China Girl”, as covered by David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #174: Lust For Life by Iggy Pop.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #174: Lust For Life by Iggy Pop.

In the history of modern music, there have been several great duos: Simon and Garfunkal come to mind, as do, John and Paul, Mick and Keith and, why not, let’s toss in Sonny and Cher, while we are at it. But, I have to admit that, until doing this countdown series, I was not initially aware of how close a pair Iggy Pop and David Bowie were. In fact, as it turns out, they had been friends and musical collaborators throughout the entirety of their careers and had helped each other to achieve some of their most noteworthy work. “Lust For Life” is a tune that has become one of Iggy Pop’s signature songs, along with being used in one of the most successful advertising campaigns in recent memory and being the anchor song used to promote one of my favourite movies, “Trainspotting”. Yet, the story of how “Lust For Life” came to be is really the story of the friendship between David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Bowie’s fingerprints are all over the creation of “Lust For Life” which is fitting because, as you shall see in an upcoming post, one of David Bowie’s biggest hits from the 80s was actually a cover of an Iggy Pop song that Bowie, himself, helped to write and even played on during the recording session. Finding out that David Bowie and Iggy Pop were best friends has been one of the highlights for me of doing this countdown. Both are legendary performers and characters. Here is the story of how their friendship helped to create Iggy Pop’s signature song, “Lust For Life”.

As noted in a couple of posts already, in the late 1960s, David Bowie helped produce an album for Iggy and the Stooges called, “Raw Power”. *(You can find that post here). This album changed the way music was created and helped to inspire those who would launch the Punk Rock/Alternative Rock/Grunge Movements that followed. There was so much energy expended during the tour that followed the release of “Raw Power” that Iggy Pop turned to artificial means in order to sustain himself. As a result, he became addicted to heroin and began behaving, onstage, in harmful, dangerous ways, such as purposely cutting himself so as to watch himself bleed. HIs behaviour became so erratic that the remaining members of The Stooges left the tour. David Bowie became aware of Iggy Pop’s condition and intervened; taking him away to Germany to heal. Both Bowie and Iggy Pop lived together and began the process of becoming healthier in mind and in body. As that process unfolded, they began to feel their creative juices beginning to flow once again.

The culmination of this creative period, for Iggy Pop, was the release of three(!) complete albums within a one year period. The first album was called, “The Idiot” and was based on the book of the same name by Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Most of the songs were written and produced by Bowie, including a song (which I shall not reveal yet) that was to become one of his biggest hits in the1980s! Critics and audiences noted that Iggy Pop’s songs from “The Idiot” seemed to be less loud and aggressive, as had been his most recent work with “Raw Power”. But, as happy as Iggy Pop was to be feeling better and making music once again, he was bothered by the fact that his friend had done so much of the heavy lifting for this album. So, he resolved to immediately make a new album, as a follow-up. This album was to be called, “Lust For Life”. The lead single was also called, “Lust For Life”. David Bowie played keyboards on the song but, other than that, he ceded the stage to his friend, Iggy Pop and stayed nearby but, out of the limelight. “Lust For Life” became a minor hit, along with another song called, “The Passenger”. A third album called, “Kill City” was released a few months after; thus completing a remarkably productive time for Iggy Pop….a time period that would never have been made possible if not for the love of his friend, David Bowie.

There were several unexpected consequences that emerged as a result of this period of collaboration between Pop and Bowie. First among them was the method by which Iggy Pop writes songs and the impact that it had on David Bowie. When Bowie started to produce records for his friend, Iggy Pop, he would often write the musical structure of the songs and leave Pop to write the lyrics. For most singers, writing lyrics involves notepads and pens and the creation of poetry on a page that transforms into the words of a song. But, in the case of Iggy Pop, he merely wrote down fragments of ideas that he had, based upon Bowie’s musical score. When it came time to record Iggy Pop’s vocal tracks, Bowie was surprised to learn that his friend actually ad-libbed the majority of his songs. Bowie became impressed by Pop’s creativity in the moment; so much so that when Bowie came to record his album, “Heroes”, he did so using Pop’s adlibbing technique.

A decade or so later, long after most people had assumed the shelf life for the song, “Lust For Life” had expired, Iggy Pop was approached by a company seeking to license his song for an ad campaign they wanted to run. That company was Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Pop explained that the song, “Lust For Life” was about recovering from heroin addiction and was based upon a book by William H. Burroughs called “The Ticket That Exploded”, which accounted for some of the unusual references in the song such as “hypnotizing chickens”. But, Royal Caribbean insisted that they knew what they were doing. The song was licensed and became the theme song for a sales campaign that lasted well over a decade and which was highly successful in helping Royal Caribbean to lower the demographic age of its clients which was, their whole point in licensing the song in the first place. Many of Iggy Pop’s fans were upset and accused him of selling out to corporate interests. He replied that it was ok with him and that, by agreeing to let Royal Caribbean use his song, it meant that a whole new generation of listeners would hear his work for, probably, the very first time. On that, Iggy Pop was correct.

But, even more than Royal Caribbean licensing “Lust For Life”, it was the inclusion of the song on the soundtrack to the cult classic movie, “Trainspotting” that really introduced Iggy Pop’s career to a new generation. The song was used in the original trailer and, as such, became a defacto theme song for the movie. Because of the launch of the soundtrack album for “Trainspotting”, “Lust for Life”, as well as, Iggy Pop’s other hit song, “The Passenger” both got a second wind and climbed the music charts anew. So, just as the century was ending, Iggy Pop, Rock’s ultimate survivor, returned to the Top Twenty charts.

Iggy Pop had enjoyed a career that has seen many ups and downs but, through it all, he has always had a good friend named David Bowie by his side. The two friends have been an invaluable influence on each other’s career and, together, they have helped each other to create some of the biggest songs that form the soundtrack of our lives. But, if you were to ask Iggy Pop about it, he would reply that David Bowie didn’t just save his career, he saved his life. Those are debts that one can never completely repay. All you can do is keep living your best, most vital life…which is what the song, “Lust For Life” is kinda, sorta about. So, without further delay, here is “Lust For Life”…..music by David Bowie (The opening drum work is based upon the American Forces Radio broadcast theme that he and Pop used to listen to while in Germany recovering from Pop’s heroin addiction), lyrics ad-libbed by Iggy Pop. Enjoy.

PS: For those who know their music a bit, Iggy Pop has a smokin’ hot backup band in this video. His back-up band is comprised of members of Queens of the Stone Age, along with The Arctic Monkeys. This particular concert, along with another filmed for the tv show, “Austin City Limits” are tremendously good, in large part because of the talent of the back up band who rip it up on all of Iggy Pop’s tunes. Terrific rock n’ roll. Well worth checking out if you are so inclined.

The link to the video for the song, “Lust For Life” by Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Lust For Life”, as used by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Lust For Life”, as used in the movie, “Transporting”, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for inspiring the writing of this post. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #173: China Girl by Iggy Pop.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #173: China Girl by Iggy Pop.

Yes! You read that correctly. The song, “China Girl”, made famous by David Bowie on his album, “Let’s Dance” was, actually, a cover version of a song that he helped his buddy, Iggy Pop, to record during their “Berlin years” together in the 1970s. The original version of “China Girl” is sung by Iggy Pop, in a far grittier, more rock n’ roll style. It was from the first of the three albums that he and Bowie recorded together called, “The Idiot”. So, for those who thought this was a Bowie song all along…..Suuuuuuuuuuuurprise! Technically, even the original version of “China Girl” is kinda, sorta a Bowie song because he wrote the music for it and helped produce it and even played keyboards for it when it was recorded and during the initial tours to support it. So, you wouldn’t be totally wrong to call “China Girl” Bowie’s song all along. However, having said that, there are three very distinct stories behind this song and it is those stories that we will talk about today. So, let’s get to those stories and find out what “China Girl” is really all about.

Let’s get the darker story out of the way first. As you may remember, the whole reason that Iggy Pop and David Bowie ended up together in Germany was because Iggy Pop had become addicted to heroin and his friend, Bowie, was trying to help him regain his health. So, there is one version of the story of this song that suggests that “China Girl” is about heroin. In “street parlance”, “China White” is a form of heroin and “girl” is a term commonly used to refer to cocaine. Taken together, in speedball form, it becomes highly addictive. (***I know this from research only and not from personal experience. Lol). So, writing about the power of the substance that caused his addiction seems like a plausible explanation for a song like “China Girl”.

“I’m a mess without my China Girl.

Wake up in the morning, where’s my little China Girl?

I hear her heart beating, loud as thunder

I saw these stars crashing down.”

I can only imagine that kicking a drug addiction can be hard. If you look at the lyrics to this song, it is easy to read meaning into them from an addiction perspective. So, maybe, just maybe, “China Girl” is a song Iggy Pop write as he was trying to kick his heroin habit.

The second story is also an Iggy Pop tale. In this case, it is an addiction of a different sort…..desire. Around this time in his life, he came into contact with a Vietnamese woman named Kuelan Nguyen. Some have made the statement that Nguyen was to Iggy Pop as Yoko Ono was to John Lennon. She was many things to Iggy Pop during his time in Berlin and was certainly a provocative presence in his life for awhile. But that relationship came and went; mostly due to how unstable Iggy Pop was in his own life. However, Nguyen obviously left a void that Pop was seeking to fill so there is a large school of thought that suggests that the song, “China Girl”, is actually written about Nguyen. If you reread the lyrics I used above but, instead of drug addiction, substitute Nguyan and, well, whatta ya know, the lyrics make sense that way, too. So, it is entirely possible that “China Girl” is a song written by a man about a woman he desired, in which case, it tells a tale as old as Time.

Finally, let’s get to David Bowie. He covered the song in 1983 as part of his monster selling album, “Let’s Dance”. Now, if you remember the post we did about the song, “Let’s Dance”, you will know that it was about racism toward Indigenous peoples of Australia. Obviously, Bowie was in a more political headspace at this time in his life because he is on record as stating that he wanted to use his public platform to tackle the issue of racism in all of its forms. Thus, he took his pal’s song from a decade and a half earlier and added a few tweaks in studio that caused the tone of the song to become about how white people view Asians and, in particular, what some of those Asian stereotypes are and how wrong it all is. One of the ways Bowie managed to change the song were by adding a bit of an Asian-themed melody to the start of the song and, as well, sprinkling it in various places throughout the song, too. But, the main way was via the video that accompanied the song. In that video, Bowie created a play in which he starred as a white lorthario-type character who has an inter-racial tryst with an Asian model. The fact that their union was so heated with sexual tension showed more than words could ever have said about the desirability he felt toward someone of a different race. But, at the same time, the fact that the song always only refers to her in demeaning terms such as “my little China Girl” and never gives her a name and thus, an identity, shows how racially insensitive we, as white people, can be when we view those from different races as being “all the same….you can’t tell them apart” and so on. The music video for “China Girl” by David Bowie won the award for “Best Music Video”, beating MIchael Jackson’s “Thriller”.

So, is “China Girl” a song about drug addiction, sexual addiction or is it really about racism? Who knows? Both Iggy Pop and David Bowie have, at times, made reference to all three scenarios during interviews so, what the real answer is, I guess, is up to you and your own interpretation. What I take from this song is that a good song is a good song is a good song, no matter who sings it. I like both versions of “China Girl”. I really like the grittier, more rock-like way in which Iggy Pop releases his demons via the lyrics to this song. In fact, it has been said that he can, at times, become overwhelmed with emotion while singing; especially, the line, “It’s the white of my eyes” and, often, he ends up exiting the stage at that point, leaving his band to complete the song on their own. David Bowie’s version is much more polished and he, obviously, has a much cleaner, purer and stronger singing voice. His version of “China Girl” has always ranked near the top of my favourite Bowie songs of all-time. So, for me, this is a win-win situation because I like both versions of the song very much. That speaks to the strength of this song, as it was originally written. A good song spawns good cover versions, which is certainly the case here.

So, get ready for a treat! Here are two great versions of the same great song! First, as always, I give the original singer the lead video so, we will start with Iggy Pop’s version of “China Girl”. As mentioned yesterday, he and an all-star back-up band did a killer version of this song on a TV show called “Austin City Limits”. That is what you will see here. What a terrific performance! As for David Bowie, for his video, you will get the original, “official” video that ended upwinning the award for Video for the Year. So, without further delay, here is “China Girl” by Iggy Pop and by David Bowie. Two great songs by two great friends. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “China Girl” by Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “China Girl” as covered by David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #297: The Passenger by Iggy Pop.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #297: The Passenger by Iggy Pop.

Some songs on the all-time list have deep, reverential meanings. Some helped to introduce new singers/bands to the world. Some of these songs even launched new genres of music and changed the culture of our society. And yet, some songs are simply observational. Such is, “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop.

In the 1970s, Iggy Pop (“Iggy and the Stooges”) was changing the face of music; particularly, in Europe and the UK. “The Stooges” were one of the forerunners of Punk Rock and, as such, their brand of fast, loud, aggressive music was a revelation to those hearing it for the first time. Iggy Pop was every bit the frontman that Mick Jagger was in his most cocksure moments but, amplify that tenfold and there would be Iggy Pop. He remains the most electrifying performer I have ever seen live…..and that was twenty-five years after he and The Stooges released their seminal album, “Raw Power”. Back in his early days, Iggy Pop was an unpredictable stage presence which was, along with the music, one of the appeals to fans. But, as much as Iggy Pop may have been forward-thinking, in terms of his musicality and his histrionics on stage, he was not alone on his journey. One of the people he had backing him, emotionally and creatively, was David Bowie. Bowie lent his genius to producing “Raw Power”; giving it that extra bit of substance that helped raise the album above the ranks of those merely making noise.

“Iggy and the Stooges” accompanied Bowie on several of his tours and it was while doing so that “The Passenger” came to be written. At the time they toured together, Iggy Pop was a young man in his early twenties who had invested the whole of himself into his music. A consequence of that is that he did not have some of the life experiences that many young men in their twenties had; one of which was getting his driver’s license. As such, when he toured with David Bowie and Bowie’s entourage at the time, Iggy Pop was dependent upon them for transportation. For someone as hellbent on independence and being beholden to absolutely no one, it stuck in Iggy’s craw that he needed rides from Bowie to get from town to town. “The Passenger” is a song that encapsulates his feelings of driving across Europe and America with David Bowie.

“Oh, the passenger.

See how he rides.

Oh the passenger,

He rides and he rides.

He looks through his window

What does he see?

He sees the silent, hollow sky.

He sees the stars come out at night.

He sees the cities ripped backsides.

He sees the winding ocean drives.

And everything was made for you and me,

All of it was made for you and me.

So, let’s take a ride and see what’s mine.”

This is a song that I might try, if I was to ever do karaoke in a bar. Unlike many “Stooge” songs, “The Passenger” has more of a standard Pop/Rock structure and has a good, sing-a-long chorus, too. I could probably get away with singing it. You might even sing the chorus along with me. But, when Iggy Pop sings it, even this song becomes slightly dangerous because you just never quite know what he is going to do on stage. He alternates from menacing sneer, to spasmodically careening across the stage, to crowd-rousing cheerleader, to deep-voiced crooner…all in the course of one performance. As entertainers go, Iggy Pop resides on the razor’s edge and that what’s makes him so compelling.

“The Passenger” has appeared on two separate albums that helped breath new life into the song and, in my case, brought it to the attention of people who may not have heard it otherwise. First of all, Iggy Pop contributed a song called “Lust for Life” to the awesome and amazing soundtrack to the movie, “Trainspotting”. I bought that CD when it came out and have loved it unreservedly ever since. A short while after that soundtrack was released, a “bonus” CD of “additional” songs from the movie was released. I bought that, too. One of the “additional” songs was “The Passenger”. That was the first time I had heard the song. I instantly loved it and have felt that way since.

The second album that helped boost the presence of “The Passenger” was an album called, “Through the Looking Glass” by Siouxsie and the Banshees. This was an album of cover songs that Siouxsie Sioux liked and wished to pay homage to. In her cover version, she added a brass section that, even Iggy, himself, claimed is an improvement on his version of the song. *There is a funny thing about the Siouxsie and the Banshees version that requires a short, personal story. We bought a new car two months ago. It came with a three-month trial subscription to satellite radio. I don’t tend to listen much to today’s radio but, I kinda like the satellite radio because of the speciality channels available. One of those specialty channels is dedicated to Alternative music (which I like best). One day, while driving Leah to work, “The Passenger” by Siouxsie and the Banshees came on. I didn’t say anything about it but, Leah actually kinda, sorta liked it. Normally, she doesn’t like much of what I like so, for her and I to both agree on a song, says something.

I will post both versions of this song and maybe, just maybe, you may agree with Leah and like the newer, Siouxsie and the Banshees version of “The Passenger” best. I will always be an Iggy Pop fan but, the Siouxsie and the Banshees cover rates, too. In any case, enjoy a song inspired by being David Bowie’s passenger. I have never driven anywhere with Mr. Bowie but, had I been so fortunate, I imagine the drive would have been interesting. Here is “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop and then, again, by “Siouxsie and the Banshees”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “The Passenger” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Iggy Pop can be found here.

The link to the official website for Siouxsie and the Banshees, can be found here.

The link to the official website for radio station, KEXP, can be found here. Thanks, as always, to them for supporting the very best of music from all over the world.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #438…Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #438: Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges.

People are inspired by the music around them. Some are inspired to sing. Some are inspired to dance. Some are inspired to pick up an instrument and play. In most cases, that inspiration manifests itself in forms of flattery, as people often try their very best to be like their heroes. When this phenomenon happens, we call it following a trend. But, sometimes, the opposite thing happens. A person will feel that creative yearning swell within them and yet, when they look around for inspiration, they may end up not liking what they see. The same is true when someone comes up with a fresh, original idea and searches for validation but ends up not finding any from those in the current scene. As a result, you either give up your idea and conform to the norm or else, you trust your vision and chart your own course. When that happens, innovation occurs, leaders are born and new trends are established. Before Eminem and Cardi B., there came Run-DMC. Before Garth Brooks and Reba McIntyre, there was Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Loretta Lynn. Before The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, there were Bo Diddly and Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Before Judas Priest and Metallica, there was Lemmy and Motorhead. And, finally, before there were The Sex Pistols, The Ramones or The Clash, there was Iggy and the Stooges.

Unfortunately, because I am not doing these posts in chronological order, when you listen to “Raw Power” by Iggy and the Stooges, it is going to seem like something you have heard many times before. And, you would be correct to feel that way. The Sex Pistols, The Clash and, even, Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” all draw inspiration from “Raw Power”‘s manic style of delivery, the energy with which the song is played and the rawness of the sound quality. But, make no mistake, “Raw Power” preceded them all and when it was released in 1973, it was quite unlike anything being played on radio or tv at the time.

“Iggy” from Iggy and the Stooges is none other than Iggy Pop. The Stooges consisted of guitarist, James Williamson and two brothers, Ron and Scott Asheton. The album, also called, “Raw Power” was produced by an up and coming figure on the UK music scene at the time, Mr. David Bowie. Initially, because the songs on “Raw Power” (the album) were so loud and raw, they were rejected by the record company. But, Iggy Pop and Bowie persevered and the album was released to rave reviews from music critics who recognized how fresh and innovative it was compared to anything else that was considered “chart-worthy” in the early 70s. This album is said to be the favourite of many important musicians who came along later, such as Johnny Marr of The Smiths, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols.

The song, itself, is not as noteworthy as the style in which it is played. The song, “Raw Power” is purportedly about the fact that sources claim that Iggy Pop was well-endowed and, therefore, that he could be counted on in the bedroom to perform with “Raw Power”. I don’t think I need to draw you a map. It is all fairly self-explanatory. But, as we all know, self-praise is no recommendation. Thus, the focus of your attention should sit squarely on the rapid-fire nature of the song’s construction and delivery. This album/song was the birthplace of Punk Music and of Speed Metal, too. Therefore, as was the case with those early Bluegrass pickers, those Blues players dealing with the Devil, those street corner rappers, “Raw Power” stands as one of the most influential albums of all-time. It started a new trend in music that continues to this day.

My favourite live concert experience EVER was seeing Iggy and The Stooges at The Warehouse in Toronto in 1998. They were there to celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Raw Power” and to play the album in its entirety. It was so loud, the energy was so great and the crowd was so busy moshing and moving that it actually felt a bit dangerous. It was the most alive I have ever felt while listening to music. To be honest, the rawness of this song is not always my first choice of music but, sometimes, it is exactly what I need and want and, in those times, it is beyond awesome! I am so grateful to those who aren’t bound by convention and fearlessly follow their muse to where it leads. Sometimes, it leads to something new and exciting that changes the course of our Art and our Culture. Believe it or not, “Raw Power” did that, too. Sometimes a song about a man and his schlong can change the world. Enjoy.

The link to the music video for Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges can be found here.

Iggy and the Stooges have their own website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting original and innovative music, regardless of genre. A link to their terrific website can be found here.

The Men They Couldn’t Hang

I love live music. I love the energy of a band as they dive into a treasured song. I love the way a crowd of strangers unite in response; jumping and swaying and fist-pumping in time with each note. I love it when a crowd sings as a choir and becomes as one with the band; a shared journey made possible through the poetry of song. I have been to many concerts that have left me sweat-soaked and emotionally-drained. That is my kind of fun!

CINCINNATI – JUNE 23: Iggy Pop of the Stooges rides the crowd during a concert at Crosley Field on June 23, 1970 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

The best concert I ever saw live was Iggy Pop at The Warehouse in Toronto in the mid-90s. Iggy ripped through a set dedicated to his seminal album, Raw Power! That music was as loud as I have ever experienced. My ears rang for days afterward. But, it was an amazing time, just the same. This concert was my first real experience with a mosh pit that teemed with violent mayhem. Sweat and beer and testosterone; a potent combination, especially when soundtracked by the driving beat of one of Rock’s sonic pioneers. I truly believe that a Rock n’ Roll Show should have elements of violence and sex in it. After all, if you are not worn to the core by the end of it then, what really was the point of it all? Iggy Pop at The Warehouse was definitely a Rock show, in all regards. Music, as catharsis. Visceral and muscular. Fun beyond measure.

When it comes to great Canadian live acts, the best I have seen in person was The Tragically Hip. They were a tight, five-piece band out of Kingston, Ontario. Some describe The Hip as playing straight-ahead guitar-oriented rock. But, that does the band a disservice. What elevated The Tragically Hip to the top of the musical mountain in Canada was combination of the poetry of the lyrics to Hip songs and the showmanship of lead singer, Gord Downie. Simply put, Downie was one of the single-most electrifying frontmen for any band, anywhere in the world. With Gord, you never quite knew what to expect on stage. He sang. He primped and pranced. He played excellent guitar. He offered monologues that, may or may not, have had anything to do with the song being played. He sweated and wiped that sweat away to theatrical effect. He made eye contact and bore his thoughts into our brains. He was amazing. A hint of the intensity of a Tragically Hip performance can be seen in their performance of “Grace, too” from a concert in London, Ontario. That clip can be seen here.

A Tragically Hip performance was only part of their package. Their enduring legacy will be the songs they sung. It is, somewhat, cliche for us as Canadians to say that we have an unnatural relationship with that cultural juggernaut to the south of us called America. We bathe in their references, their personalities while, at the same time, revelling in all that makes us different and separate from “them”. Gord Downie and The Hip wrote songs about Canada and about Canadian things in ways that made them seem like secrets that we could hoard. Like school children, we liked looking at the pictures of ourselves that The Hip painted. A Hip concert laid our Canadian souls bare. We danced to our History. We shouted out our stories. And, at the end of it all, as sweaty a mess as we physically were, we all felt proud of being who we were at the moment. We were Canadians in the presence of beautiful artists and storytellers. Like the weather, we were all affected by the experience.

So, in 2015, when it was announced that Gord Downie had an incurable brain tumour, it shook us all to our core. To have Gord taken away from us seemed unthinkable. As we digested the news reports, it was almost as if we could all hear the Gods laughing. In response, Gord and the boys announced a final, cross-country, ten concert tour. It seemed equally unbelievable that someone with a brain tumour could still summon massive amount of will and physical energy required to perform at the level of intensity that we had all come to expect from a Hip show. But, there he was. For ten nights, Gord Downie stood on that stage and gave every last bit of himself. At each venue, paramedics stood on guard should Downie collapse. But, at each venue, the band played on. Every song a parting gift to a grateful nation. Canada was never more unified than on the night of The Hip’s final show. It was played in their home town of Kingston, Ontario and was billed as a “National Celebration”. Our national TV broadcaster, the CBC, aired the three-hour concert commercial-free. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau donned a Canadian tuxedo and attended in person. People gathered in arenas and parks, taverns and town squares, back yards and living rooms to give thanks for everything Gord Downie and The Hip had done. It was all coming to an end and, when it did, with “Ahead by a Century”, the tears were real and they flowed freely. McLeans Magazine did a good job of capturing this emotion by filming the reactions of Canadians as they gathered in various locales across the country. This video ALWAYS makes me cry and leaves me spent; like all good music should, I suppose. It can be viewed here.

One of the things that happened during this farewell tour was that more scrutiny was given to the lyrics of The Hip songs. One of the most appealing aspects of their songwriting was that they often welcomed us, as an audience, into their stories by starting off with recognizable, universal truths. But, as often was the case, they would proceed to confound us with symbolism and/or obscure references that, at first blush, didn’t always connect with how the song began. Thus, their music invited you in but, if you stayed, you had to prepare yourself to think and engage. As a fan and as a reasonably intelligent person, I enjoyed learning more about these stories being shared. I will conclude this post by talking about one of their most popular songs, “Bobcaygeon” and how I am still learning new things about it even now, long after Gord has gone to walk among the stars.

Like many of the people, events and settings referenced in Hip songs, Bobcaygeon is a real place. Located about two hours northeast of Toronto, Bobcaygeon is situated in a part of Ontario affectionately known as “Cottage Country”. The Kawartha Lakes region is where city dwellers come to get away from the noise and congestion of city life. As cultural myths go, Canada conjures images in the mind of lakes and forests, soundtracked by the cry of the loon, illuminated by a firework of sparks from a thousand camp fires. Bobcaygeon is that myth brought to life.

The song “Bobcaygeon” contains one of the most beautiful and popular verses in their entire musical canon. “It was in Bobcaygeon, that I saw the constellations, reveal themselves, one star at a time.” *(When I retired from teaching, the staff at my school gave me a framed print of those lines.) Even the most beer-swilling of Hip fans recognizes the beauty of those words. You only have to experience country-darkness once in your life to know how lovely the stars can be. This was the universal truth that pulled listeners, like me, into this song. But then, as I said above, The Hip added elements to the second half of the song that had always puzzled me….until recently.

The first half to two-thirds of the song has a peaceful, cottage pace-of-life feel to it. But then, the final third roars to life, “That night in Toronto, with its checkerboard floors, riding on horseback, keeping order restored, until The Men They Couldn’t Hang, strode to the mic and sang, and their voices rang, with that Aryan twang.” I never knew what this had to do with being in Bobcaygeon and under the night sky. I had always thought the “Men they couldn’t hang” part and the “horseback/order restored” lines were talking about an outlaw and the police. I was wrong. Here is what I have learned about what they were really singing about. The Bobcaygeon video is here, for those who wish to view it.

In Toronto, there is a legendary bar called The Horseshoe Tavern. It has “checkerboard floors”, as you can see in the photo. Also, if you watched the McLeans Magazine video of The Hip’s final song, The Horseshoe Tavern was one of the spots they filmed at. Anyway, The Men They Couldn’t Hang is an actual musical group from the UK. The are described as being folk-punk. Like The Hip, they sing about History and real people, places and events. And, like The Tragically Hip, they are amazing live. I am going to share with you a live performance of theirs singing a song called The Green Fields of France. It is, simply put, one of the single best live performances I have ever seen! First of all, the song is gorgeously written and speaks of the senselessness of War, as seen from the perspective of a fallen soldier during The Battle of the Somme in World War One. I had never heard of this song before this past week but, it is easily one of the best anti-war songs ever, I am certain. But, along with the glorious lyrics, if you watch this video, you will bear witness to a band and an audience as one…..and, I don’t just mean singing along together. Such fantastic trust on display. You have to watch it for yourself to appreciate it. If they played at The Horseshoe Tavern for The Hip members, the way they do in this video then, I can see why The Hip name-dropped them in one of their most popular songs. you can watch this extraordinary video here. I get goosebumps watching this; especially the rousing chorus. This is what live music is all about.

So, who inspires those who inspire us? For professional musicians at the level of an Iggy Pop or The Tragically Hip or even, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, they gain inspiration from their fellow musicians, as well as, the time and the place they find themselves. “Bobcaygeon”, for me, is now a song about finding inspiration; be it from the stars above or from the close, sweaty confines of a tavern where the poetry of song oozes from every pore of every human there, as well as, dropping down in balls of condensation from the ceiling to the floor. Inspiration sounds like a story and smells like a beer. It is sticky and sweet and, if your are fortunate at that moment, it will leave you changed.

I love live music. Do you? If so, what are some of your favourite memories of watching live music being performed. I would love to hear your stories. Feel free to leave them in the comment box below. Thanks for reading my work. Your willingness to do so inspires me.