The Story of CK32111
I'm going to tell you about a little quest of mine; a search for the (not so) Holy Grail. It's a mountain size molehill of my own making and I admit it. But in these dire days of corporate mediocrity - where the alternative has been bought up by the same guys who brought you the thing you were supposed to be the alternative to – a man is defined by his obsessions.
This is what Pop Music is all about, kiddies. The dumb little details that you know in your heart are right. Quite frankly, it's that thin, barely tangible line that told you Radio Birdman were cool and Cold Chisel sucked syphilitic donkey dicks. It wasn't just volume and it wasn't just speed. It was something else and that's the something I'm looking for.
Quick! What's the most important album in the history of the world ever? Deep in your heart you know the answer is Iggy and the Stooges' "Raw Power". That's the one that changed the rules. That's your birth of Punk right there. That's the atom bomb original. You can put your hand up and say "but what about..." but none of us are really having a bar of it. I can throw up the titles of fifty great albums but you know "Raw Power" is the point between BC and AD. Anyone holding up their copy of the first Ramones' album may think they have a point but let me ask you this "Does the Ramones first album come from the same planet as "Raw Power"? Of course it does. "Does the Ramones' first album come from the same planet as the Stooges' "Funhouse"? Well, that's more of a neighbouring galaxy. You see my point?
Okay. Let me take you back to 1977. The music we take for granted was hard to find back then. The closest I could get to the Stooges was a cassette copy of a cassette copy of "Funhouse". I had that French "I Got a Right" single. I kept on hearing about this "Metallic KO" thing but couldn't get a copy. Then I heard that White Light had got in the re-release of "Raw Power". Well, fuck school. I figured I could get up to Sydney and back before anyone noticed. It was only a four hour round trip after all.
You know how you can really build something up and then when it arrives it doesn't stand a hope of meeting up to your expectations? My expectations of "Raw Power" were pretty damn high but that album made my expectations bow down and whimper. The needle touched vinyl and the opening chords were ruthless and vicious. Then James Williamson's guitar solo hits and has the audacity to triple the volume. Listening to the opening of "Search and Destroy" is like being slapped across the face and then stumbling onto the road to be hit by a truck.
From then on, wherever I went in this big old world, the first thing I bought was a copy or Raw Power. People used to tell me that the mix was terrible. At first, these tended to be the jerks who kept copies of embarrassing hippy albums hidden at the back of their racks. They would say that it sounded weird and strange and brutal. I would have replied "d'oh" but the expression was yet to be coined.
Over the years, a second school of thought emerged. They wanted the album to sound harder and more brutal. Initially, it was Ron Ashton who suggested the album didn't really represent what the Stooges were like. He had some rough takes of the sessions he preferred. Henry Rollins arrived out of nowhere, professing an undying admiration for the album which he loved so much he had purchased the original tapes so he could remix it properly. (Honestly, he's like one of those girls who thinks you're absolutely perfect apart from the fact that you are who you are.) Between bench presses, the Mishima of West Coast Punk set about his plans to conquer the world. Negotiations began to release his version but then Iggy Pop came in to save the day.
Or he didn't. Well, not as far as I'm concerned. This is proof positive that grown ups should be kept well away from the works of their younger selves. It's bad enough when Steven Spielberg decides to digitally change all the guns in ET to mobile phones because he decides in his senility that he doesn't want the government to look too scary. Musicians, unfortunately, learn how to play and, the more they learn how to play, the more tiresome they become.
I came back to Sydney in 1997 and got settled in. I got some work and I started picking up some CDs. As soon as I found a copy of "Raw Power" I scooped it gleefully up. Someone at Red Eye had helpfully posted an enthusiastic five star blurb on a sticker proclaiming the virtues of this new Iggy mix. I noted with admiration the return to the original 1974 cover. I quivered with anticipation.
I haven't listened to it since. The first problem is levels. In the world of analogue recording, the red line is like a mark in the sand that you are dared to cross. If you go into the red, the sound distorts. The further you go across the line, the more it distorts. Anyone who has done this thing called punk has had a lot of fun crossing that 0db line in search of forbidden kicks. The audio engineers have sneered and told us off but we knew best. Listen to any punk rock slab of vinyl and you'll hear the sound of the red line being crossed repeatedly for fun and profit.
Unfortunately, digital recording isn't like that. The red line is a cold hard ceiling and, if you hit it, it goes splat. At best you get a slightly compressed signal. At worst you get a click. Iggy's mix of Raw Power is full of clips and clicks. This is not the cool distortion of analogue. This is the sound of a computer having its processors kneed in whatever they have in lieu of bollocks. Whilst I applaud the concept, I don't want to listen to it. Truth be told, I can't listen to it.
Worse still, the remix draws too much influence from nu-metal wannabes. These guys wanted to sound like Iggy and failed. They did not just miss by miles, they missed by continents. Now Iggy does his best to make the album sound like them. It's kind of like God coming around to your house and asking you if he got the colour for grass right. If I wanted to listen to Limp Bizkit, I'd listen to Limp Bizkit. (Actually, if it ever gets to the point that I want to listen to Limp Bizkit, you have my permission to drag me out into an alley and shoot me in the head).
Where's that glorious violin sounding guitar solo from "I Need Somebody"? Where are the peaks and the troughs? The ebb and the flow?
Where the fuck is that David Bowie mixed "Raw Power" that everyone tried to emulate and now everyone claims to despise? Like it or loathe it, the damn thing has been excised from the historical record. It is no longer available from any territory in any format and I want it back. Last released in 1990, CK 32111 is my Holy Grail. I hunt the e-bay and the amazon, looking for those tell tale differences in track lengths. I keep my ears to the ground and my eyes on the trades.
I just found a candidate in Tasmania and I'm waiting by my mailbox with fingers crossed. Maybe this will be the time.
Bob Short used to play in Sydney punk band Filth and a whole lot of other notorious outfits. He now plays guitar and sings for Dead Rabids. This piece was published before the deluxe issue of "Raw Power."