The Idiot (album)

The Idiot
Iggy Pop - The Idiot.png
Studio album by
Released March 18, 1977 (1977-03-18)
Recorded July – August 1976
Length 38:49
Label RCA
Producer David Bowie
Iggy Pop chronology
The Idiot
Lust for Life
Singles from The Idiot
  1. "Sister Midnight" / "Baby"
    Released: February 1977
  2. "China Girl" / "Baby"
    Released: May 1977

The Idiot is the debut solo album by American musician Iggy Pop, released on March 18, 1977 by RCA Records. It was the first of two albums that Pop wrote and recorded in collaboration with David Bowie, who is credited as producer. The sessions for the album began before the recording of Bowie's 1977 album Low; as a result, The Idiot has been called the unofficial beginning of Bowie's Berlin period.[1]

Described by Pop as "a cross between James Brown and Kraftwerk," The Idiot marked a departure from the guitar-based proto-punk of his former band the Stooges, and has been compared with Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" of albums in its electronic sounds and introspective atmosphere.[2][3] Its title was taken from Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel of the same title, three of the participants in the recording — Bowie, Pop, and Tony Visconti — being familiar with the book.[4]

The Idiot received critical acclaim upon its release, and is regarded by many as one of Pop's best works; however, it is not generally considered representative of his output. It was accompanied by the singles "Sister Midnight" and "China Girl," Bowie issuing his own version of the latter as a single in 1983. The album has been characterized as a major influence on subsequent post-punk, industrial, and gothic artists.[5][6]


The album's opening track, "Sister Midnight", was written by Bowie, Pop and guitarist Carlos Alomar, and performed live on the Station to Station tour in early 1976. In July that year, following the end of the tour, Bowie and Pop holed up in Château d'Hérouville, the same locale where Bowie recorded Pin Ups (1973) and would soon record much of Low, and began putting together the rest of the songs that later became The Idiot. At the Château they were augmented by Laurent Thibault on bass and Michel Santangeli on drums, who were required, with minimal guidance, to add to rough music tracks already taped by Bowie, their first takes often becoming part of the final mix.[4]

Recording continued in August at Musicland in Munich, Germany with guitarist Phil Palmer, who found the creative collaboration with Pop and Bowie stimulating but disquieting, never seeing them around during the day ("Vampiric would be the perfect word", he said later).[4] Overdubs by Bowie's regular rhythm section of Carlos Alomar, Dennis Davis and George Murray, plus a final mix by Tony Visconti, took place in Berlin at Hansa Studio 1 (not, as is often incorrectly reported, the bigger Studio 2 by the Berlin Wall).[4] Given the almost demo quality of the tapes, the post-production work was, in Visconti's words, "more of a salvage job than a creative mixing".[7]

Because of its ambiguous and in some cases non-existent credits, misconceptions have arisen over the years as to who contributed what to the album. Although the common belief that Pop wrote the lyrics while Bowie composed the music is generally accurate, their approach occasionally saw the positions change, with some music (such as "Dum Dum Boys") being Pop's and some lyrics (including the first verse to "Sister Midnight") being Bowie's.[1] The album's cover photo – which is a flopped image – was inspired by Erich Heckel's painting Roquairol. It is often assumed to be by Bowie but was in fact taken by Andy Kent.[7][8] No instrumental credits were included on the sleeve, causing some speculation as to the musicians involved;[2] however, recent works by Hugo Wilcken, Paul Trynka and Nicholas Pegg have provided a generally agreed list of the personnel involved.[1][4][8]

Style and themes

At the time of its release, Pop described The Idiot as a cross between James Brown and Kraftwerk.[5] Retrospectively, commentators have primarily categorized The Idiot as art rock,[9][10] but have also noted the presence of gothic rock,[11] industrial rock,[12] post-punk,[13] and punk rock.[14] Bowie biographer David Buckley has called it "a funky, robotic Hellhole of an album".[7] The funk influence was most pronounced on "Sister Midnight", based on a riff by Carlos Alomar and laced with Pop's oedipal dream imagery. Its lack of overtly electronic instrumentation belied what critic Dave Thompson has described as a "defiantly futuristic ambience".[15]

Pop, speaking of Bowie, described the Krautrock-influenced "Nightclubbing" as "my comment on what it was like hanging out with him every night". The track was recorded one night after the other musicians had left, Bowie playing the melody on piano with an old rhythm machine for backing. When Pop pronounced himself happy with the result, Bowie protested that they needed real drums to finish it off. Pop insisted on keeping the rhythm machine, saying "it kicks ass, it's better than a drummer". Pop largely wrote the lyrics on the spot "in ten minutes", Bowie suggesting that he write about "walking through the night like ghosts".[16] The riff has been described as a mischievous quote of Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll".[4]

"China Girl", originally called "Borderline", was a tale of unrequited love inspired by Kuelan Nguyen, partner of French actor-singer Jacques Higelin, who was also recording at Château d'Hérouville at the time. The protagonist's "Shhh..." was a direct quote from Nguyen after Pop confessed his feelings for her one night.[4] Production-wise it was raw and unpolished compared to Bowie's hit remake in 1983.[8] Other songs included "Funtime", a proto-gothic number that Bowie advised Pop to sing "like Mae West";[1] "Dum Dum Boys", a tribute/lament for Pop's former Stooges bandmates (the spoken intro references Zeke Zettner, Dave Alexander, Scott Asheton and James Williamson) and "Mass Production", a harsh, grinding piece of early industrial electronica.[1]


Original edition

Although the bulk of The Idiot was recorded before Low, the initial installment of the "Berlin Trilogy", Bowie's album was released first in January 1977, while Pop's was held over until March. Laurent Thibault opined that "David didn't want people to think he'd been inspired by Iggy's album, when in fact it was all the same thing".[1] In 1981, NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray suggested that The Idiot's electronic sound had been "pioneered" on Low,[2] whereas by 2000, Nicholas Pegg would describe it as "a stepping stone between Station to Station and Low.[8]

The Idiot peaked at number 72 on the Billboard 200, and also reached number 30 on the UK Albums Chart, marking the first time an Iggy Pop album had cracked the top 40. "Sister Midnight" and "China Girl" were released as singles in February and May 1977, respectively, both with the same B-side "Baby".[17]

2020 deluxe edition

On April 10, 2020, Pop released an alternate mix of "China Girl" in promotion of the forthcoming release of The Bowie Years, a seven-disc deluxe box set featuring expanded remastered versions of The Idiot and Pop's second Bowie-produced album, Lust for Life. The box set, released on May 29, includes remastered versions of both albums along with outtakes, alternate mixes and a 40-page booklet. The two original albums were also re-released individually, each paired with an additional album of live material to create separate stand-alone two-disc deluxe editions.[18]

Critical reception

Biographer Paul Trynka wrote that The Idiot "would remain an album that was more respected than loved, the reviews mostly neutral", but that it "prefigured the soul of post-punk".[4] In a contemporary review of the album, Rolling Stone termed it "the most savage indictment of rock posturing ever recorded" and "a necrophiliac's delight".[28]


While the album has become highly praised in its own right over the years, fans of Iggy Pop have criticized the work as unrepresentative of his repertoire and as evidence of his being "co-opted" by Bowie for the latter's own ends.[7][29] Bowie himself later admitted:

Poor Jim, in a way, became a guinea pig for what I wanted to do with sound. I didn't have the material at the time, and I didn't feel like writing at all. I felt much more like laying back and getting behind someone else's work, so that album was opportune, creatively.[30]

Bowie later re-worked "Sister Midnight" with new lyrics as "Red Money" on his 1979 album Lodger, while his version of "China Girl" on 1983's Let's Dance became a major hit.

Pop has called The Idiot his "album of freedom".[29] Siouxsie Sioux described it as "re-affirmation that our suspicions were true – the man was a genius and what a voice!"[29] and she performed "Nightclubbing" with her second band the Creatures at the Glastonbury festival in 1999.[31] The album has been cited as a major influence on a number of acts, including Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and Joy Division – the lead singer of Joy Division, Ian Curtis, committed suicide in 1980 with the record still playing on his turntable.[8] Killing Joke's Youth also described The Idiot as one of his favorite albums.[32]

In 1981, Grace Jones covered the song "Nightclubbing" as the title track to her album of the same name. Pop's version of "Nightclubbing" provided the kick drum sound for Nine Inch Nails' 1994 song "Closer". The drum loop of "Nightclubbing" was also duplicated by Oasis for the song "Force of Nature" on their 2002 album Heathen Chemistry. "Nightclubbing" was also sampled in the song "Small Town Witch" by the British band Sneaker Pimps on their 2002 album Bloodsport.

Live performances

"Nightclubbing" and "Funtime" appeared on the 1978 live set TV Eye, recorded during Pop's 1977 tour, the UK and portions of the US leg of which featured Bowie on keyboards and backing vocals.[citation needed]

Most of the album was performed alongside Lust for Life material during the 2016 spring tour by Pop and his new band featuring Josh Homme, Dean Fertita and Troy Van Leeuwen from Queens of the Stone Age and Matt Helders from Arctic Monkeys, as part of the promotion for Post Pop Depression, an album self-referential to Pop's Berlin period. Tracks such as "Mass Production" and "Baby" were performed live in some cases for the first time since they were released.[citation needed]

Track listing

All tracks are written by Iggy Pop and David Bowie, except "Sister Midnight", co-written by Carlos Alomar.

Side one
  1. "Sister Midnight" – 4:19
  2. "Nightclubbing" – 4:14
  3. "Funtime" – 2:54
  4. "Baby" – 3:24
  5. "China Girl" – 5:08
Side two
  1. "Dum Dum Boys" – 7:12
  2. "Tiny Girls" – 2:59
  3. "Mass Production" – 8:24



1977 weekly chart performance
Chart (1977) Peak
UK Albums (OCC)[33] 30
US Billboard 200[34] 72


  1. ^ a b c d e f Wilcken 2005, pp. 37–58.
  2. ^ a b c Carr & Murray 1981, p. 118.
  3. ^ a b Deming, Mark. "The Idiot – Iggy Pop". AllMusic. Archived from the original on December 30, 2014. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Trynka 2007, pp. 242–250.
  5. ^ a b Arber, Amanda (March 16, 2012). "Classic Albums: Iggy Pop – The Idiot". Clash. Archived from the original on March 22, 2015. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
  6. ^ Freeman, Phil (March 22, 2016). "Iggy Pop Albums From Worst To Best". Stereogum. Archived from the original on November 17, 2017. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d Buckley 1999, pp. 298, 315–318.
  8. ^ a b c d e Pegg 2000, pp. 382–383.
  9. ^ Deming, Mark. "Blah-Blah-Blah – Iggy Pop". AllMusic. Archived from the original on June 1, 2015. Retrieved July 15, 2015.
  10. ^ Little, Michael H. (March 30, 2016). "Iggy Pop, The Idiot". The Vinyl District. Archived from the original on July 1, 2016. Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  11. ^ Thompson 2002.
  12. ^ "Gig Highlight: Iggy Pop". Totally Stockholm. May 4, 2016. Archived from the original on February 15, 2017. Retrieved February 14, 2017.
  13. ^ Reynolds, Simon (July 7, 2020). "Between 'Fun House' & 'Funtime': Iggy Pop in the Seventies". Tidal Magazine. Archived from the original on July 9, 2020. Retrieved July 8, 2020.
  14. ^ Brod, Doug; Kenny, Glenn; Peisner, David; Raftery, Brian; Robbins, Ira (October 2007). "The 30 Essential Punk Albums of 1977". Spin. Vol. 23 no. 10. pp. 67–70. Retrieved October 15, 2020.
  15. ^ Thompson, Dave. "Sister Midnight – Iggy Pop". AllMusic. Archived from the original on August 7, 2014. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
  16. ^ Pegg 2000, pp. 152–153.
  17. ^ Strong 2002, pp. 815–816.
  18. ^ Deriso, Nick (April 10, 2020). "Iggy Pop Box Set to Focus on First Two David Bowie-Produced LPs". Ultimate Classic Rock. Archived from the original on September 28, 2020. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  19. ^ Smith, RJ (September 2004). "Iggy Pop: The Idiot". Blender. No. 29. Archived from the original on June 30, 2006. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  20. ^ Kot, Greg (July 22, 1990). "Pop On Pop: Iggy Rates His Own Music (And So Do We)". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on December 26, 2016. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
  21. ^ Christgau 1981.
  22. ^ Larkin 2011.
  23. ^ Geffen, Sasha (June 6, 2020). "Iggy Pop: The Bowie Years". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on June 6, 2020. Retrieved June 6, 2020.
  24. ^ Goddard, Simon (Summer 2020). "The Berlin Stories". Q. No. 413. p. 108.
  25. ^ Evans, Jim (March 12, 1977). "Idiot uses his brain". Record Mirror. p. 14.
  26. ^ Coleman & Kemp 2004, p. 645.
  27. ^ Rubin 1995, p. 378.
  28. ^ Swenson, John (May 5, 1977). "The Idiot". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on January 7, 2015. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
  29. ^ a b c Ambrose 2004, pp. 175–178.
  30. ^ Loder, Kurt; Bowie, David (1989). Sound + Vision (CD liner notes). Rykodisc. RCD 90120/21/22.
  31. ^ "Siouxsie / The Creatures Glastonbury" Archived September 28, 2020, at the Wayback Machine. Youtube. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  32. ^ "Killing Joke's Youth on His 13 Favourite Records". The Quietus. March 29, 2011. Archived from the original on September 28, 2020. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
  33. ^ "Iggy Pop | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved 13 December 2020.
  34. ^ "Iggy Pop Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved 13 December 2020.


External links