Tag Archive: The Stooges


This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Dinosaur Jr. – “You’re Living All Over Me” (SST Records, 1987)

This month’s Classics Critiqued selection is considered by many fans and music critics to be an alternative rock classic that put Dinosaur Jr. (J. Mascis (guitar), Lou Barlow (bass) and Murph (drums) on the map and triggered their signing to a major label. “You’re Living All Over Me” and the band’s live shows influenced the shoegaze music scene in England and the American grunge scene in Seattle. Combining a melting pot of rock music genres including metal, hardcore, punk and noise rock and adding twist of Neil Young and a pop sensibility, the album created a fresh fusion from long established elements. In this article I discuss the album and its sound, initial impact and continuing legacy.

 “You’re Living All Over Me” was the band’s second album and follow-up to 1986’s “Dinosaur”, which was a spirited affair that hints at what was to come and contains none of the new melodic sound showcased on “You’re Living All Over Me”. By this point the band had developed their sound and became tighter through touring. The album arrived in 1987 as the US alternative rock scene shifted from the dominance of hardcore in the early 80s to both more experimental and more tuneful extremes. On the one hand Sonic Youth released “Sister” and Minutemen would bow out with “Ballot Result” while Husker Dü had released “Warehouse: Songs and Stories”, The Meat Puppets put out “Huevos” and Dinosaur Jr.’s closest peers the Pixies started their career with “Come On Pilgrim”. Dinosaur Jr. sat in between these two extremes taking the best elements from the two sides and fusing them together into something of their own.

“A brilliant, brutal hailstorm of hyper-distorted riffs and pulverizing basslines, it’s harder, louder and meaner than nine out of ten heavy metal albums. The multi-sectioned songs change direction so frequently that it’s hard to tell them apart, as the power-trio assault is modulated by graceful, looming melodies that rise like mist out of the pedal-mess”.

–          Trouserpress.com

What were the ingredients that went into Dinosaur Jr.’s melting pot? They combined the molten garage rock of “Funhouse” by The Stooges, the adolescent punk of The Ramones, the noise rock of early Sonic Youth, Neil Young style melodic country rock and Black Sabbath’s epic sludge filled metal. One of their closet contemporaries was Husker Dü who similarly combined punk’s energy with the classic rock influences that punk bands were supposed to shun. The difference between the two is that as Dinosaur Jr.’s sound developed they retained most of their punk edge. Many critics have spent a lot of time discussing the emotional content of the band’s material (more on that later) and I think it’s this that places the trio in a lineage of great adolescent pop-rock bands including The Stooges, The Ramones, Buzzcocks and Nirvana; maybe what separates Dinosaur Jr. is their earnestness.

“It gives off the feeling that you’re not listening to a record, per se, but rather have stumbled into the practice space of the best unknown guitar band in the world. They don’t know you’re there, so they just keep playing with everything they are”.

–          Pop Matters

Much has been made of Dinosaur Jr.’s slacker image and their dour subject matter. However, what is rarely picked up is the moments when their music temporarily surges up and sours creating (sonically at least) a feeling of uplift. Taking into consideration that the band members were barely out of their teens dealing with all the new problems life throws at young people, it’s not a surprise they often dealt with life’s more troubling emotions. The band were incredibly adept at expressing a range of emotions often simultaneously, who else could create songs like ‘Raisins’ which finds space to include “anger, arousal, depression and awkwardness” in a four minute song or ‘In A Jar’ which “displays the scepticism and paranoia of the socially downtrodden when a girl actually likes them”. Barlow takes things a step further on his two song writing credits: ‘Lose’ and ‘Poledo’ which total “nine minutes of pure, unadulterated self-loathing”. ‘Poledo’ is the odd one out on the album sounding like a prototype for what would be become Barlow’s new project Sebadoh. It combines a section of lo-fi ukulele with Barlow despairing over the top followed by “some Stockhausen-by-way-of-Fisher-Price pause-button edits.”  Elsewhere Mascis yearns like Neil Young, his voice caught in “a confused mess: emotionally disentangled yet intensely felt, indolent and passive yet capable of incredible fury and volume”. Dinosaur Jr. created the most directly personal and emotional music while their peers “My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth immersed their personal-political ambivalence in torrents of guitar noise; Butthole Surfers ran with scatological humour as expressive deflection; Spacemen 3 discovered gospel and the blues as a way of channelling their responses through pre-determined forms.”

“… Dinosaur are the sound of galvanised lethargy, vibrant despondency. Grey skies have seldom blazed so bright, surged so furiously.” – Simon Reynolds, Bring The Noise.

It was with “You’re Living All Over Me” and its accompanying tour that Dinosaur Jr. started to influence bands on both sides of the Atlantic, most obviously the Seattle grunge scene and in particular Mudhoney, who incorporated the sludge metal aspect of Dinosaur Jr., and Nirvana who, inspired by “You’re Living All Over Me”, also married hardcore punk’s intensity to metal sludge and grind with pop sensibilities. Over in the UK the band was an influence on the shoegaze scene with My Bloody Valentine taking the way that “Dinosaur Jr. dissolved rock’s vertebrae, vaporizing the riff, power chord and bass line in a blizzard of serrated haze. MBV took this logic of blessed amorphousness to the next level, years later; Kevin Shields would play in the appropriately named J Mascis and the Fog.” Though it’s hard to pick out contemporary bands who are directly influenced by “You’re Living All Over Me” it’s immediate impact echoed in many bands for years to come.

You can listen to “You’re Living All Over Me” here.

 Let us your views on the album and Dinosaur Jr. in the comments or on our Twitter.

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Pere Ubu – “The Modern Dance” (Radar Records, 1978)

This month’s selection for Classics Critiqued is similar to April’s Classics Critiqued choice “Y” by The Pop Group. Like “Y”, “The Modern Dance” is an album that regularly receives critical praise (it has been featured in 24 different critics’ charts) but it and Pere Ubu still seem in the shadow of their more accessible peers. “The Modern Dance” was the début album by Pere Ubu who had formed out the ruminants of Cleveland, Ohio garage rock band Rocket from the Tombs in 1975. Ubu founders David Thomas (vocals) and Peter Laugher (guitar) (replaced by Tom Herman when he died of drug and alcohol abuse in 1977) were joined by Tim Wright (guitar/bass) (replaced by Tony Maimone (bass/piano) in 1977 after he left to form no-wavers DNA), Allen Ravenstine (synths) and Scott Krauss (drums) in the band’s original line-up. Together they “combined art and garage rock – synth whines, cut-up tape loops, atonal howling and chronic distortion”. They released their first three singles on Thomas’ Hearthen label between 1975 – 1977.

These quickly established the band as one that was difficult to pigeonhole. They were instantly “recruited to ‘punk’ then gathering momentum as journalists continued to talk up the CBGB scene while monitoring the early stirrings of insurrection in London.” All this despite the prog rock like structure of “30 Seconds Over Toyko” and Thomas’ assertion that “our ambitions were considerably different from the Sex Pistols”, he saw punk as puerile and destructive, “Pere Ubu didn’t want to piss on rock music; they wanted to contribute to it, help it mature as an art form”. By 1978 and the release of “The Modern Dance” the band were primed to show the world they weren’t part of the reductive punk movement but closely related to their early ’70s inspirations such as Roxy Music, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Neu!, The Stooges, Brian Eno and The Soft Machine as well as their current peers The Residents, Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, A Certain Ratio, Scritti Politti, The Pop Group and Public Image Ltd.

An important thing to remember when listening to Pere Ubu is that they formed in Cleveland, Ohio, which was in the ’70s a shadow of its former glory as a giant in the iron industry. This permeates the music with a strong sense of solid concrete and a metallic feel. The band described their music as “industrial folk” and like their peers in Manchester, Sheffield and Liverpool their music spoke of the landscape in which they lived without actually referring to it lyrically. The harshness of Ravestine’s synths, the razor-sharp, mechanical riffs of new guitarist Tom Herman and the motorik rhythm section all added to this feeling of industrial buildings and decay as a back drop to their music. The band “waxed lyrical about the area in their first interviews: ore-loaded barge floating down the Cuyahoya; steel foundries pounding flat-out night and day; the glare from the blast furnaces bruising the night in hues of green and purple; belching chimneys and lattices of piping silhouetted against the sky.” “We thought it was magnificent … like going to an art museum or something” recollected singer David Thomas 20 years later.

The band saw music as multi dimensional and used Ravenstine’s synth and tape loops to invoke images in the mind’s eye. “I’ve always been into music more on a visual than aural level.” David Thomas said of Ravenstine in a NME interview in 1978, “He’s at the core of Ubu, I suppose. He’s a very unusual synthesizer player. He’s very purist with it, and he doesn’t even have a keyboard – instead he has a touch tone dial. He doesn’t want to combine anything musical with the synthesizer, because he feels – and rightly so, I think – that it’s a new instrument and should be treated as such.” Drummer Krauss agreed “He’d make a noise like a five-pound can with a whole bunch of bumble bees inside” said “Krauss then he’d change the wave form and it’d sound like a beach with a load of people on it. Ten seconds later, it’s flip to a freight car noise. The imagination-activating level was absolutely amazing.”

However, the music wasn’t all doom and industrial gloom. The Cleveland sense of humour came into play in the band’s lyrics. “Thomas is more of an ‘actor’ than a musician for whom surreal lyrics and student humour attenuate the dramatic force of the performance. Within the sound there is also a feeling of resigned fatalism, collective madness and rational fear.” Thomas’ vocals aren’t that a typical rock front man he “wails, yelps, gargles” and exploits the full gamut of human vocal sounds to enhance and underline the emotion he’s expressing. “Thomas never got “the modern dance”. The emotions were real, but everything else was a joke, just like the music which has a good laugh as well with, skipping along amid the destruction and anxiety as the singer asks to be humoured – “it was just a joke mon.”

All this combined to make an album that from the opener ‘Non Alignment Pact’’s “furious, deafening bacchanal of cryptic slogans, ungainly vocals, discordant strumming, electronic distortions and primordial pulsations”, through the title track’s sound “of primordial organic funk…which evokes the smoke of factory chimneys and the ordered structure of the production line”, the sweeping menacing winds of ‘Street Waves’ evoking the miasmic gust after a nuclear explosion, propelled at supersonic speed by a stop-start rhythm and invoking a prophetic vision of the apocalypse. Finally finishing with ‘Humor Me’’s jangly jesting undercut by the lyrics and atmosphere of despair.

For such a complex album that combined the world’s art and garage rock or as the band punningly put it “avant-garage”, it has gone on to be a direct or indirect influence on many bands and artists since. The most obvious of these would be the Pixies. Their sound, surreal lyrics and the appearance of singer Black Francis all echo Pere Ubu. It’s unlikely that the earliest works of TV on the Radio would have been the same without a trail having been blazed for them and modern underground rock bands like Liars and Oneida plough a similar furrow to that explored on “The Modern Dance”. Cult rocker Julian Cope also covered ‘Non Alignment Pact’, which seems to be an acknowledgement of the band’s importance by one of their post-punk peers. Like “Y” by The Pop Group mentioned at the start of this column, “The Modern Dance” tests the very boundaries of what music, particularly rock music, is capable of before it becomes a tuneless mess. It won’t be the easiest listen ever but “The Modern Dance” will reward those who stick with it and consume all of its intricacies.

You can listen to “The Modern Dance” here.

Classics Critiqued

This is a new monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

The Stooges – ‘Funhouse’ (Elektra, 1970)

Earlier this month Iggy and The Stooges ‘Raw Power’ was reissued in Legacy and Deluxe Editions to largely unanimous acclaim and like all Stooges albums it has been critically reappraised and influential on subsequent generations. I have never heard ‘Raw Power’ properly, but it’s a record whose influence on punk and heavy metal is clear, so I decided to cover The Stooges second album ‘Funhouse’ recorded by the original line-up of Iggy Pop (vocals), Ron Asheton (guitar), Dave Alexander (bass) and Scott Asheton (drums).

Between their self titled debut album and ‘Funhouse’ The Stooges toured nonstop becoming simultaneously a tighter and looser outfit and writing all the material that ended up on ‘Funhouse’. When they entered Elecktra Sound Recorder Studio in L.A. on May 10th with producer Don Galucci (formerly organ player with The Kingsmen) they recorded one song a day in the order they were to appear on the album with few or no overdubs. This is a factor that marks ‘Funhouse’ out from their other releases; this is their live shows on disk but with the benefit of studio recording techniques. It is the band at their most in-your-face.

From the outset Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander lock into a heavy groove, allowing Ron Asheton to smother the songs in fluid lava fuzz wah guitar and Iggy to have free reign that finds him veering from anguish to anger and regularly unleashing primal screams. The Stooges were always wild and bearly controlled but few bands could and have matched ‘Funhouse’s malevolence without descending into tunelessness.

The Stooges were joined by fifth member Steve Mackay who lent fiery tenor sax lines to the second half of record. Mackay not only added texture to mix but pushed the sound further out; making songs such as ‘Dirt’ and ‘Funhouse’ feel as if on edge of collapse before the band pulls it back from the brink just in time.

When Ron Asheton passed away on 6th January 2009 he left behind a great legacy in ‘Funhouse’ and the other Stooges records he’d played on. It was a legacy that had been largely ignored and not acknowledged before his untimely death. His guitar slithers across the whole of ‘Funhouse’ adding to the groove and swagger and complimenting Iggy’s James Brown style grunting and sexual groaning. Asheton is at his most free and the album is the greatest testament to his playing ability. After ‘Funhouse’ Asheton switched to bass guitar with the departure of Dave Alexander and arrival of Texan guitarist James Williamson, which is a shame as Asheton seemed to truly be tapping into his full potential.

‘Funhouse’s influence is harder to detect than that of their other albums but it’s felt in subtler way and inspires bands that are under the radar and it has been the more interesting rock acts who’ve heaped praise upon this neglected album. The likes of J.Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore have confessed to spending many an hour trying to decode what can seem to be simplistic sonic formula yet the devil is the detail and delivery. At first Iggy’s lyrics can seem innocuous and on the surface Ron Asheton’s guitar riffs are no different to any other garage rock guitarists but the demented screaming vocals, the implied menace and the controlled drone underpinning everything Asheton touches means The Stooges can never be classified in the same way as their contemporaries. Recently their influence can be heard with acts such as Add N to (X) and Acoustic Ladyland and with a hint in Sleigh Bells but the influence manifests differently. Add N to (X) subtly subsume the aesthetics of ‘Funhouse’ into an electronic sound, Acoustic Ladyland take their cues from Steve Mackay’s input and create a brilliant jazz-punk fusion on albums ‘Last Chance Disco’ (2005) and ‘Living with A Tiger’ (2009) and Sleigh Bells draw on the aesthetic and in-your-face sonics.

‘Funhouse’ went in at  No.16 in Mojo’s 100 Greatest Albums of All Time but a better recommendation is a personal one from Henry Rollins who wrote in his 1994 book Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag: “Everybody should own a copy of that album.”

Spotify Playlist:

The Stooges – Funhouse [Deluxe Edition]

The Stooges – Funhouse [Deluxe Edition]

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