Study Guide

Down on the Street Technique

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  • Music

    From the opening chord, the song maintains a driving momentum that doesn't let up until the end. 

    On top of the pumping and consistent kick drum is a muted electric guitar that's about to burst from the mounting tension, begging to be let loose. 

    When the long-anticipated chorus finally starts, it's cathartic and liberating, and there's no stifling this energy once it's released. Two lead guitars improvise searing solos on top of one another, discarding all sense of melody and communication in favor of a chaotic whirlwind of noise. 

    The public didn't really buy into the album's free-form style and ferocious delivery when it came out at the dawn of the 1970s. At that point, bands were still lamenting the end of the peace and love trip of the 1960s. 

    In 1971, the Stooges' label, Elektra Records, actually dropped them because of the lack of interest. It was only with David Bowie's help that the Stooges were able to reform and put out one last album, Raw Power, on Columbia Records. Only years later, would the world become interested in songs like "Down on the Street," with the surge in popularity of bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. 

    So, why didn't the world get it? 

    It's always hard to answer questions like these, but we can get an idea based on the state of music at the time the Stooges were recording. The all-powerful Beatles broke up in 1970, the same year Fun House was released, but their influence on music was of course, undying. 

    One of the Beatles' lasting legacies was the idea that pop music could be high art. This began with the overwhelming studio achievement of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Unfortunately, this attitude about music led to a lot of pretentious, self-congratulatory, and ostentatious records, which dominated the early to mid-1970s. 

    In fact, punk was reacting against exactly this type of music when it finally exploded into the wider consciousness, circa 1977.

    From the time "Down on the Street" was released, it would take the rest of the world the better part of a decade to realize one of the prime messages of punk: The merits of good music lay not in the virtuosity of the composers, or how well they could show off on their instruments, but rather in artistic vision and message, which had little or nothing to do with talent and classical training. 

    Since the Stooges didn't play their instruments well in a conventional sense, they were largely ignored by the record-buying public, which was becoming more and more interested in things like overbearing rock operas, intellectualism, unconventional instrumentation, and ambitious studio projects that could hardly be recreated live by human beings. 

    Basically, the Stooges were way ahead of their time.

  • Songwriting

    No two takes of any song on Fun House had the same lyrics. 

    Iggy liked to sing live with the band in the recording studio, letting the music guide his performance. He'd start with simple ideas and improvise the rest. That's probably why the lyrics aren't so much a narrative, but rather a series of lines that don't make much sense on paper. 

    Since there was no structure or arc to the lyrics, Iggy could stray from them without disrupting the overall message of the song. It also gave the band a range of choices when deciding which take would make it onto the album. 

    This is a technique that Iggy would continue to use well into his solo career. David Bowie, who produced two of Iggy's solo releases and witnessed this process firsthand in the studio, was greatly influenced by this improvisatory technique, using it on his own songs, like with Heroes." 

    But it didn't stop at Bowie: This aspect of Iggy's songwriting is a big part of what influenced so many generations of musicians. They were inspired by his total submission to the music, and willingness to let his subconscious emerge without any concern for societal boundaries.

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