[…continued from last post]
Unlike the Bowie cover, the original “China Girl”cuts in on the “one” with only a split second before Pop began singing. None of the cod-orientalism [courtesy of producer Nile Rodgers] of the Bowie cover was present here. The song was unusual for not having any chorus; just verses. What I thought at first blush was glockenspiel, was in fact a toy piano, adding a ramshackle charm to the otherwise fatalistic song of cultural corruption. Iggy sounded full of remorse at the tragedy he had wrought by his hungers and desires. David Bowie sang the critical fourth verse like Nitzsche’s übermensch in his cover. Pop, in contrast, squealed in anguish delivering the “it’s in the white of my eyes” lyric.
As Iggy went into the red on that line, the elka string synths cut through the miasma of the song to add still notes of placidity to the coda as verse five had the subject of the song trying to calm the agitated singer. Then the final minute of the song played out as an instrumental coda. Tony Visconti mixed Bowie’s sax way down here, which was probably a good idea as it would have jarred with more prominence. With Phil Palmer’s guitar vying with the string synth again to plateau the song out on a grace note. I especially loved the juxtaposition of the string synth with the “galloping” rhythm guitar pulse that ended the unsettled song with a sense of healing and renewal. This song has stuck in my mind for days in spite of being over familiar with the Bowie cover; which seemed facile and misguided though listening to the original, it made sense that this was the single released from “The Idiot” and when Bowie came to put “Let’s Dance” together he cannily realized that this one made a strong single during a period of writer’s block that saw him re-use two earlier songs and a cover to fill out the album.
While all of the songs thus far on side one of “The Idiot” looked forward in their sound as they anticipated the upcoming eighties more than anything else, the one song here that definitely reflected its decade was “Dum Dum Boys.” David Bowie had suggested to Pop that he write a song called “Dum Dum Days” and you can hear that being sung [loudly] by Bowie on the chorus, but Pop revised the title as the song was his story of The Stooges to tell on his own terms. As befits a song about The Stooges, the more “traditional” rock vibe featured a lot of distorted guitar but there sounded like a few synth lines treated with wah-wah as well running through the mix. Bowie’s electric piano added the right amount of jazzy streetwise funk to the swagger of the guitars.
Iggy opened the song in dialogue with himself over finger snaps as two guys met on the street and talked about the old gang. Two guys were dead from their exploits and the other two were trying to clean up their act. I noted how when discussing James Williamson’s attempt to go straight there was a hint of disdain and disappointment in Iggy’s voice. As with most of the songs here, chord changes were doled out grudgingly, with a miser’s fist. The repetitive groove sauntered through history with a plodding tempo as the circular guitar riff was an example of Krautrock without a motorik beat. Dennis Davis’ drums here were relatively free from effects for a change. But the song was making the most of repetition for the sake of creating a mood of defeat and anxiety; the twin hallmarks of The Stooges existence.
I got a charge of how Pop reflected on how he first met the Asheton brothers and Dave Alexander as they hung out on the street in front of the old drug store. He admitted to being “most impressed” with the cut of their jib as they “looked as if they put the whole world down.” Better still, in the next line, he admitted that “no one else was impressed… not at all.” That was clearly an example of great songwriting as near journalism.
The album’s true outlier to nowhere was the brief R+B ballad “Tiny Girls.” An embittered meditation on how his relationships with women [all actual tiny girls… as described in Paul Trynka’s excellent “Open Up + Bleed,” Iggy thought nothing about picking up high school girls in his 20s] all seemed to end in the same way. If only he could find different tiny girls who had not learned all of the “tricks” that he decried here. The tempo and rhythms were straight from any R+B song that could have existed from 1958 to 1973, but the Bowie dominated the song with his lugubrious R+B sax solos that book ended the tune. His playing was almost maudlin but was just to this side of being slick. This was not David Sanborn on “David Live” by a long shot! The final effect was that of ironic distance.
Next: …The Final Act