The Passenger (1977)
The world wasn’t quite ready when Iggy Pop and The Stooges first burst upon the scene in 1968. The farthest out act at the time was The Doors, while The Rolling Stones were a distant second in the outrageousness race. Iggy was a maniac, a true rebel, and as he has been termed, somewhat erroneously, “The Godfather of Punk,” although inarguably he is one of the genre’s great pioneers.
By the time he had signed with RCA records in 1977 and joined forces with David Bowie, Iggy’s music was somewhat shaped and sanded down, but his fierce streak always surfaced in live performances. Essentially we got a new-fangled crazy man rocking in an old-fashioned way. No place is this truer than in “The Passenger.”
“The Passenger” shows a strong Bowie influence, mainly through the song’s dense production values and precision playing, and Bowie’s singing on the “La-la-la-la-la-la” chorusing. There is also a mercurial Blues theme that springs from the simple chord progression that Rick Gardiner provided off the cuff.
Bowie and Iggy
In the UK Independent’s October 14, 2005 edition Gardiner recalled, “It was a case of the chord sequence ‘slipping through’ while I was lost in the glory of a beautiful spring morning.” And so a glorious spring morning becomes a trip through Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Go figure. And that is the magic of Rock-N-Roll.
Stitched through the song is the shadowy thread of Jim Morrison’s ghost, both his poeticism and vocal delivery. There is the earnest seriousness demanded when a singer delivers a view of urban – and urbane – dislocation that Morrison and The Doors embraced in such songs as “Riders On The Storm.” There is also a form of archness hard to pinpoint, a tone that verges on self-parody but never quite crosses the line. The listener is being let in on an inside joke that is mildly amusing.
A la Morrison, “The Passenger” is salted with gloomy, near apocalyptic images: “hollow sky” and “the city’s ripped backside.” This is seen through the large windows of Berlin’s speedy S-Bahn train. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “The evening is spread out against the sky.”
“The Passenger” resists the temptation to drown in despair. Instead, Iggy’s tender side comes out. There may even be – heavens above – a hint of love (and some oblique allusions to lust).
He sees the bright and hollow sky
He sees the city sleep at night
He sees the stars are out tonight
And all of it is yours and mine
And all of it is yours and mine
So let’s ride and ride and ride and ride
From the opening bippity-boppity riff, the listener knows that there is something of the wanderer in the song. The music lopes, as a walker through a vast urban area would on a long stroll. Drums kick in forcefully after a few bars followed shortly by Iggy’s seductive voice.
Wild, short-strum guitar licks percolate throughout. Teased out by a pleasurable bass line, the rhythm is scrupulously kept by all players – a very, very tight band.
As mentioned, Jim Morrison inspired Iggy, but there is also a discernible suggestion of Lou Reed’s voice and The Velvet Underground’s work in “The Passenger.”
The chorus of “La-la-la’s” is by now part of Rock’s vernacular. “The Passenger’s” other roots range deep across earlier influences like Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Honky Tonk Wine,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “Whistlin’ Past The Graveyard,” and Bowie’s “Oh You Pretty Things.” For being regarded as a revolutionary, Iggy Pop ends up a direct descendent of many of his predecessors.
“The Passenger” is an example that invited many subsequent bands to experiment with behavior but still surf the edges of mainstream Rock-N-Roll.
The shirt shortage of the 1970s illustrated
- “The Passenger,” when released as a single, was considered only the B-side of the song “Success.”
- The album credits as producers “The Bewlay Brothers.” They were a trio that included Iggy, David Bowie and Colin Thurston. Besides Bowie, Thurston also produced, among others, Duran Duran’s first two albums. Bowie memorialized the Bewlay Brothers in a song of the same name on the album Hunky Dory.