The Stooges (John Cale Mix) (2020)

The Stooges, the Ann Arbor, Michigan band that launched the career of Iggy Pop, are widely regarded as progenitors of punk rock, much like their fellow ‘60’s fashion-resistors in the Velvet Underground. How fitting it seems, then, that the Stooges’ self-titled 1969 debut album was produced by John Cale, who had recently left the Velvet Underground. The first two VU albums recorded with Cale were groundbreaking creations that inspired legions of musical innovators despite their lack of commercial success; the remaining VU albums recorded after Cale’s departure were mellower and less groundbreaking. It is therefore not surprising that Cale’s original mix of The Stooges was rejected by Elektra Records for being “too raw”. The album was subsequently remixed by Iggy Pop (then known as Iggy Stooge) and Elektra president Jac Holzman for its 1969 release. Cale’s mixes of the songs remained unreleased for over 35 years, until four of them appeared on a 2005 expanded edition of the album, albeit with a pitch correction which made them a bit more accessible. Two more expanded editions of the album released in 2010 and 2019 contained all eight of the Cale mixes, without any pitch adjustments. In April 2020, the Cale mix of the album was issued on vinyl for the first time, in the form of a proper album, sold exclusively through the Vinyl Me, Please record club.

Holzman’s involvement in the released mix is possibly the reason that The Stooges made the band come across as a dumbed-down version of the Doors. Iggy vocally came on like Jim Morrison on this album, but while Morrison often tried to come across as an intelligent poet, Iggy seemed to be aiming to sound like a barbaric idiot. Similarly, the Stooges' musicianship and lyrics were far less intelligent than those of the Doors, and this may have been by design. Foreshadowing the future punk-rockers who would rebel against the over-intellectualization of progressive rock, the chaotic guitar-bass-drum combo of the Stooges seemed to defy any sense of musical refinement or virtuosity that any of their peers may have employed. The instrumentation (by Dave Alexander and brothers Ron and Scott Asheton, all three of whom are now deceased) was much like primitive garage psychedelia that just happened to have been recorded in an expensive studio. The guitar distortion sometimes recalled that of the Velvet Underground. The album’s most sophisticated track, the 10-minute “We Will Fall”, sounds like a not-so-poetic variation on Morrison’s “The End”. Cale played viola on that track, which is probably the reason it makes me think of Nico’s later version of “The End” from 1974. And Cale contributed piano and Christmas-like sleigh bell sounds to the amusingly repetitive “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, the album’s best-known track. The Stooges is an album that has become a classic in spite of itself, an album that is fairly likable and highly influential despite its shameless dumbness – and that, my friends, is as proto-punk as 1969 music got.

How different is the Cale mix of the album? Comparing the two mixes is much like comparing the original David Bowie mix of Raw Power (the third Stooges album from 1973) with Iggy’s later remix of that album. Like that later album, the original mix of The Stooges had more distant-sounding instrumentation, with Iggy’s unimpressive vocals out in front. And, also like the later album, the remix partially done by Iggy evened out the layers of sound and gave them more polish. (It’s interesting that Mr. Pop was consistent in that way, while his European peers were consistent in the other way). Cale’s unpolished mix may have been truer to the band’s origins and to their live sound, but it’s hard to blame the folks at Elektra for wanting a more presentable mix. Iggy’s vocals are less reminiscent of Jim Morrison’s in Cale’s mix – except maybe during the still-Doors-like “Ann” – and a bit more reminiscent of young Mick Jagger. Instead of running four minutes long, Cale’s mix of “1969” is over in less than three; a few other tracks (“No Fun”, “Little Doll”, “Not Right”) come in about half-a-minute shorter in Cale’s mixes. Cale’s sleigh bells are a bit more prominent in his tinnier mix of “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, and he used a fade-in effect at the beginning which was undone in the released version. The more distant ambience makes the lengthy and moody “We Will Fall” a tad spookier, especially since Cale’s eerie viola has less competition from the other instrumentation. Another track with a noticeable difference is “No Fun”; besides the slightly shorter running time, Cale’s mix has the blistering White Light/White Heat-like guitar sound playing a key role, while the released version of the song dilutes that element with overdubs.

It’s certainly good to have Cale’s mix of The Stooges available for historical and comparison purposes, but it is only likely to hold particular value of its own for purists – and even they are more likely to prefer the released mix when no one is looking.

The Stooges - The Stooges (John Cale mix)

The Stooges “The Stooges (John Cale Mix)” (Elektra RCV1 607300) 2020

Track Listing:

1. 1969 (2:45)
2. Not Right (2:27)
3. We Will Fall (10:22)
4. No Fun (4:41)
5. Real Cool Time (2:34)
6. Ann (3:01)
7. Little Doll (2:52)
8. I Wanna Be Your Dog (3:27)