James Newell Osterberg turned 70 on April 21 of this year. Sometimes, he’s a soft-spoken guy from Muskegon, Michigan, and other times he’s Iggy Pop, one of the all-time greatest frontmen in rock ’n’ roll history.
And he’s nowhere near being done.
Often referred to as “The Godfather of Punk,” Pop’s set to play the 2017 Punk Rock Bowling festival on Saturday, May 27. It’ll likely be many attendees’ first time seeing the living legend in person — and Pop has earned the right to be considered as such. After 50 years of crafting aggressive, proto-punk music, Pop will take the stage at the 19-year-old music festival held just off of Fremont Street (and the Fremont Street Experience) in Las Vegas. And it’s safe to say that minds will be blown in the process.
Even as a septuagenarian, Pop is still the consummate showman. A disciple of Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, and handfuls of acid, the Stooges singer shed the skin of his influences in the late ’60s and never looked back. Jagger saw his most creative years increasingly further in the rearview mirror as he aged, and Morrison died in 1971. But Pop transformed from a man under their influence to one of rock’s inescapably influential innovators. Without Iggy Pop, there would probably be no Henry Rollins (Black Flag, Rollins Band), Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction), or, quite possibly, any punk rock at all.
For those who are new to Pop’s work or want to look back on his best, here are 10 of his essential songs. Some are from his solo career, which began in 1977, and some are from his time with The Stooges, who really had two eras: the formative years of 1967 to 1974 and a resurgence that lasted from 2003 to 2016.
10. “TV Eye”
Fun House, 1970
In the hands of Pop, Mick Jagger’s shimmy and sway dance moves mutated into something filled with a mixture of danger, cum, and blood. The opening of “TV Eye” practically bleeds fuzzed-out bliss, and if you close your eyes, you can picture Pop prowling around the stage looking for something to destroy. The version of “TV Eye” that kicks off Pop’s 1977 live solo record, TV Eye Live, is pretty badass as well.
The Idiot, 1977
In the early 1970s, Pop met David Bowie, and they would collaborate musically for a few years, stealing little pieces of each other’s personas that would eventually become indelible features in their own perfectly chinked musical armor. Of the many killer songs on The Idiot, “Nightclubbing” is a bizarre masterpiece of mid-’70s German techno featuring Pop vamping up the vocals. It’s the sonic equivalent of taking dance lessons while dosed on powerful tranquilizers. You know you have to move, but you’re not sure how you’re going to do it.
8. “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
The Stooges, 1969
Oh, to have been a 13-year-old in 1969 playing this song as loud as possible on an old RCA stereo while Mom and Dad sat horrified in the living room with mouths agape. If you had a dollar for every time this song was covered by a band since it originally came out, you’d have enough to buy a really nice house. Pop growled, “So messed up / I want you here / In my room / I want you here,” and a thousand future lead singers in bands around the world thought: “I want to do that.”
7. “1970/I Feel Alright”
Fun House, 1970
This song is pure punk rock fun, and it came out six full years before punk rock supposedly was born. The Damned do a righteous cover of this song, but no one does it like Iggy and the Stooges. Simple, pulverizing, and a lot of fun.
Beat’Em Up, 2001
Pop sneers, “You’re wearing a mask / You’re wearing a mask / You look better that way,” as this killer song from 2001 kicks off a fairly underrated record. From the opening bass line that rumbles underneath some Stooges-esque guitar riffage, Pop talk-sings through this rocker while tearing a new hole into Los Angeles. Glenn Danzig probably loves listening to this record while cleaning his cat boxes.
5. “Lust For Life”
Lust for Life, 1977
When the drums kick into this song, the title track from Pop’s 1977 solo offering produced by Bowie, your toes start tapping. Your head starts bobbing, and then the next thing you know, you’re singing along and life feels good. This song got a second life when it was prominently featured in the opening of the film Trainspotting, making it the first of two Pop solo songs to jump-start a cult classic film.
4. “Repo Man”
Repo Man soundtrack, 1984
If you’ve seen Repo Man, then you know why this song is special. Like “Lust for Life,” it helps kick off the movie and sets the tone perfectly for the punk, sci-fi black comedy from 1984 that starred Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton. Pop was joined by ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones and the rhythm section from Blondie (bassist Nigel Harrison and drummer Clem Burke) on this must-listen for any fan of excellent movie soundtracks.
3. “The Passenger”
Lust For Life, 1977
Iggy Pop has had some funky moments in his career, but there are times where he touches the sublime, delivering a song that you can’t help but bob your head and sing along to. “The Passenger” is one such song. There is something uplifting about this one from 1977, even though the lyrics are steeped in some Morrison-ish poetic mystery. Pop is known for doing a lot of improvising in the studio, coming up with lyrics just before laying down his tracks, and although “The Passenger” was written about his experience traveling around with Bowie in the mid-’70s, it still almost seems like he’s just surfing on a wave of words only he is privy to.
2. “Search and Destroy”
Raw Power, 1973
“I’m a streetwalkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm” may be the best opening lyrics of any record ever. The Stooges were firing on all cylinders for Raw Power, and “Search and Destroy” is one of those songs that, no matter how many times you hear it, you have to just shake your head and say, “Damn.”
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Brick By Brick, 1990
This duet with Kate Pierson of the B-52’s is Pop’s biggest hit — and his only top 40 hit — so it takes the number-one spot. Pop is in fine voice on this one, and for an almost 30-year-old song, it holds up very well. The beauty of this track is that, as you listen, you believe there is actual heartache in Pop’s voice as he sings about the difficulty associated with long-lost love. Brick By Brick is a damn fine record, to be perfectly honest. Producer Don Was coaxed one of Pop’s best performances as the singer inched toward the halfway point of his musical career.
Iggy Pop is scheduled to perform at Punk Rock Bowling 2017, happening May 26 through 29 in Las Vegas.