As far as alternative rock music goes, Search and Destroy by the Stooges could serve as a perfection definition for what that is. Say aliens decided to finally invade Earth and they decided they need to know what rock music is. You could play them Search and Destroy and be confident they get a good idea of it.
The Stooges sound spills over from the recording. It sounds like the loudest, angriest band. Every instrument seems ready to stop from sheer exhaustion of playing this music. And behind the music you have a singer wailing with as much soul as Aretha or James Brown. “A world’s forgotten boy, the once who searches to destroy.”
This was the standout song off what is an already stellar third album by the slowly disintegrating Stooges. The album was Raw Power, one of the most quoted references to punk rock when it started and alternative rock styles until this day. Following it’s release the album enjoyed cult status at best. It was only years later when everyone from Kurt Cobain to J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. or Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age quoted the Stooges and this album especially as one of the best ever recorded.
The Stooges had already made two seminal albums by the time work started on Raw Power. The chaos of the records transferred to band dynamics and the band been broken up for slight period. Both the albums had not sold much, but much like contemporaries the Velvet Underground the influence of the music was profound and served as a foundation for countless bands.
David Bowie took the Stooges under his (very productive) helm and produced the record. It was his popularity and influence at the time giving him free reins over pretty much any project he was interested in. Bowie had befriended Iggy, who famously served as part of the inspiration for the character of Ziggy Stardust on Bowie’s monumental concept album. Bowie stated how he was impressed and distressed also by the nihilism of the Stooges music and performances. Apart from the gigantic and frenetic sound. the Stooges had also built a reputation for Iggy Pop stage diving, cutting himself or walking over the crowd while covering himself in peanut butter.
The Stooges had been battling lack of commercial success for years even through their notoriety as a live band. Their association with Bowie brought them a new spotlight in the media and a new recording contract with Bowie’s label, Columbia. The label also insisted that the album be crafted more to the likes of rock albums that were successful at the time. They insisted the album have dynamics and that it feature some slower songs (hence Gimme Danger and I need somebody). This was somewhat a departure from the Stooges first two records that are essentially a rough, pummeling ride, through Detroit’s mean Streets.
It was to be an album filled with gems, but with Search and Destroy taking center stage. This time around the name on the album was credited to “Iggy and the Stooges” as the cracks within the group began to be visible. The record label had initially expressed an interest in signing the singer alone. It wasn’t anything new that the Stooges band dynamic was misunderstood. This was to be their last album together for many years.
Another change was James Williamson’s addition to lead guitar. Original guitar player and saint to garage rock bands everywhere, Ron Asheton took over bass playing duties. It was decided at the time that Williamson displayed better technique. While certainly flashier, Williamson’s style did fit very well with the record, in as much as Asheton’s did on The Stooges and Fun House.
The song opens with the now famous guitar lines of the intro. The guitar sound is messier than Keith’s and angrier then any metal band. The sound adds the perfect atmosphere to the theme of the song. “Search and destroy” was a term used by American military in Vietnam operations and referred to seeking out an enemy target, eliminating it and then quickly withdrawing from the area. The lyrics tell the tale of conflict, internal or otherwise, playing on metaphors of war and destruction.
The song enjoyed it’s greatest fame long after the initial release in 1973. Starting with the mid 80’s many alternative rock bands cited the Stooges as one of the greatest bands and part of their biggest influences. Kurt Cobain named this as one of his favorite songs, Henry Rollins displayed a large tattoo featuring the song’s title and the song crept into mainstream media with appearances in movies like Almost Famous ( the scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman as music critic Lester Bangs). Over 40 years later Search and destroy sounds as powerful and emotional. It’s fame and exposure have not dulled the song’s power any bit.