It was love at first drum. You can’t mention Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life without mentioning the hypnotic infectious drumbeat that kicks off the title cut with a bang. The lyrics are some of Iggy’s best. “I’m worth a million in prizes” is one of the greatest lines in rock. When the third verse comes in, the listener knows all the words and what they don’t…they’ll make up. Lust For Life is often considered the best post-Stooges Iggy Pop album, so in honor of its 40th anniversary, here are 10 facts about Iggy’s explosive solo album.
1. Iggy’s first three solo releases all came out in the same year – 1977.
Lust For Life came out on the heels of Iggy’s first post-Stooges release, The Idiot. The album was a collaborative effort with David Bowie (who had previously mixed The Stooges last album, Raw Power) and was heavily influenced by German culture, as both musicians were living in Berlin at the time. The band went on tour and shortly after, they jumped into the studio to write and record. On tour, they’d been playing The Idiot and old Stooges cuts but during sound checks, the band started experimenting with ideas.
Recording for Lust for Life started in April and ended in June, with the album hitting the shelves on 9 September 1977. Not even half a year had passed since the release of The Idiot and there was a new rock n’ roll record from Iggy. During this time, Iggy had also made a third album, Kill City, a demo he recorded in 1975 but most labels were hesitant, due to Pop’s reputation at the time. After the success of Lust For Life, the smaller label Bomp! Records jumped at the chance to put it out in November of 1977.
2. David Bowie’s fingerprints are on it, but less so than the previous release.
It’s impossible to talk about this period of Iggy’s career and not mention David Bowie. Theirs was a mutually beneficial relationship, with Bowie helping to pull Pop back from the brink and Iggy helping to restore Bowie’s creative wellspring. As Iggy later told the New York Times, “The friendship was basically that this guy salvaged me from certain professional and maybe personal annihilation – simple as that”.
While The Idiot sounds more atmospheric and experimental for Iggy, Lust for Life sees him return to straightforward rock’n’roll. In the studio, Bowie would sit at a piano and name famous rock songs and say, “Okay now we’re going to rewrite [insert song]” and knock it out while Iggy would record it.
3. Bowie composed most of the music on a kid’s ukulele while lying down.
The infectious riff on the title cut, ‘Lust for Life’ was inspired by the Morse code opening to the American Forces Network News in Berlin while David and Iggy were waiting for 70s buddy cop series Starsky and Hutch to start. Whereas the song’s lyrics heavily reference all the stripteases, drugs, and hypnotizing chickens that make up Beat novelist William S Burroughs’ book, The Ticket That Exploded.
4. The lyrics were mostly ad-libbed by Pop.
Iggy has always been a less-is-more kind of songwriter, so when it came to his lyrics, he took direction from the kid’s show host, Soupy Sales, who instructed kids to write fan letters that were 25 words or less. Bowie was so impressed by the expediency of Iggy’s improvisational lyrics that he ad-libbed most of the lyrics on his Heroes album.
5. Iggy Pop’s rhythm section on Lust for Life are Soupy Sales’ sons
Speaking of Sales, Iggy had initially met the formidable rhythm duo Tony and Hunt Sales back in his lost LA years and recruited them for his new band to bring to Berlin while the brothers were just out of their teens. The two had grown up hanging out with Frank Sinatra and other friends of their father and had recorded their first album with Todd Rundgren’s art rock band Runt, before Iggy had them back him and James Williamson on Kill City. Iggy was struck by their unstoppable energy and described them as, “real talented. And pretty mad. Especially together.”
6. The often-referenced drumbeat actually emulates two other hit songs
That famous drum sound on ‘Lust For Life’ has been adopted countless times, most notably by Jet on ‘Are You Going to Be My Girl’, but the beat borrows equally from two Motown cuts: the first being The Supremes’ hit ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ supplied by Benny Benjamin (or Pistol Allen playing like Benjamin) and Martha and The Vandellas’ ‘I’m Ready For Love’, which both came out 11 years prior respectively.
7. David Bowie helps out Iggy a second time.
In the 1980s, Iggy was financially struggling and facing the same demons of his early career.
At this time, Bowie famously covered the song they co-wrote together from The Idiot, ‘China Girl’ for his album, Let’s Dance. However, it’s lesser known that Bowie also covered two songs from Lust For Life, ‘Neighborhood Threat’ and ‘Tonight’ on his album Tonight, which helped Iggy get back on his feet financially and get clean.
8. ‘The Passenger’ pays homage to Jim Morrison and carpooling
It’s common knowledge to Iggy fans that ‘The Passenger’ is loosely based on a Jim Morrison poem from his collection called “The Lords/Notes on Visions” and while many Berliners may like to imagine Iggy riding along on their enviable public transit system, the song is actually written from his perspective of riding shotgun in David Bowie’s car, since Iggy was without a car or license at the time. The title also takes its name from Michelangelo Antonioni's movie The Passenger starring Jack Nicholson, which Pop had spotted on a billboard in LA before decamping to Berlin.
9. The album was recorded and mixed in almost a week
With the success of The Idiot, RCA had given the newly popular Pop a rather large advance to make his follow-up. As Iggy recounted to biographer Joe Ambrose in his book, Gimme Danger: The Story of Iggy Pop:
"David and I had determined that we would record that album very quickly, which we wrote, recorded, and mixed in eight days, and because we had done it so quickly, we had a lot of money left over from the advance, which we split."
10. Lust For Life was released three weeks after Elvis’s death.
For most albums, timing is everything and Iggy’s second solo effort couldn’t come at a worse time. Just before its release, Elvis Presley unexpectedly died on 15 August 1977, kicking the RCA record presses into high gear to meet the renewed demand for the King’s back catalogue, most of which had been out of print. As such, the machines at RCA’s UK plant were preoccupied with pressing Elvis records rather than keeping up Lust For Life stock.