About a week after The Stooges put out their first album in August 1969, they played a show in Boston, opening for a feel-good blues-rock band called Ten Years After. It was so loud, so crude, so contrary to the pervasive optimism of the moment that nobody knew quite what to make of it. After all, Ten Years After had just come from playing Woodstock, and here were a bunch of creeps from the Midwest pushing out a wall of noise, their singer writhing on the ground, cutting himself. So, the audience—roughly 3,000 people—just sat in silence. About a decade later, when asked what he thought his legacy was, Iggy Pop said he wasn't sure, but he thinks he helped wipe out the ’60s.
Even after the thousands of albums it helped inspire, The Stooges sounds mean. They’re bored (“1969”). They’re frustrated (“No Fun”). They’re so wild with lust, they hate themselves (“I Wanna Be Your Dog”). Whereas the rebellion of early rock ’n’ roll was fun and prosocial, The Stooges is inward and nihilistic, a perfect reflection of the reptilian poison lurking in the teenage id. They’d been inspired by the noisiness of The Velvet Underground, but in transposing that noise from New York to sleepy Ann Arbor, Michigan, it takes on an ominous cast: These are sweet neighborhood boys down in the rec room, and they’re going out of their minds.
That sense of liberation is in the album’s honesty. Iggy felt that rock music had been co-opted by business interests—tamed, streamlined, and market-tested to the point that no new ground could be gained with it. It was a doubly sinister accusation at a moment when rock was being cast as a countercultural force. But in the absence of anything they could trust, The Stooges built their reality from the ground up.