A Million in Prizes is the second retrospective of the career of Iggy Pop—the godfather of punk, the world’s forgotten boy, a streetwalking cheetah with a heart full of napalm, Bowie sidekick, and generally fucked-up rock ‘n’ roll lunatic who should have died in a gutter 30 years ago. But Iggy is nothing if not full of contradictions. On “Cry for Love” (which is included on this compilation), he tenderly croons, “In searching for a meaningful embrace / Sometimes my self-respect took second place / And I cry for love”. Of course, he also once sang “I got my cock in my pocket / And I’m reelin’ down the old highway” (sadly, “Cock in My Pocket” does not appear here). There have been moments in Pop’s career when he rolled around in broken glass, was knocked out cold by a biker onstage, and spent some time in an institution, but he’s always been just as likely to croon a standard like Frank Sinatra, record confessional neo-beat poems about his emotional shortcomings, or charm the pants off Dinah Shore on her 1970s talk show. Here is a man who seemed to find time to read Dostoyevsky and go to the gym (judging from those washboard abs of his) even while cultivating a lifestyle that included self-mutilation and heroin. In other words, Iggy Pop is a man of many moods, and A Million in Prizes, while not perfect, illustrates that much better than its predecessor, 1996’s Nude & Rude: The Best of Iggy Pop.
For the uninitiated, Pop was born James Osterberg and grew up around Ann Arbor, Michigan. After playing drums with local bands the Iguanas and the Prime Movers, Pop formed the Stooges with guitarist Ron Asheton, his drummer brother Scott, and bassist Dave Alexander, all of whom Pop later described in his memoir, I Need More, as “the laziest juvenile delinquent sort of pigslobs ever born”. The band’s two albums on Elektra, the eponymous 1969 debut and 1970’s Fun House, laid the foundation for punk and are hailed as masterpieces today, but their commercial failure led to the band being dismissed from the label. A lot of drug abuse and erratic behavior followed, but eventually the band regrouped as Iggy and Stooges, sans Alexander; James Williamson joined on guitar and Ron Asheton switched to bass. Under the patronage of David Bowie, the second incarnation of the Stooges signed to Columbia and released Raw Power in 1973. Again, it was a commercial failure that is now regarded as a classic.
After a few years of drugs and general degradation, Iggy Pop began his solo career with the 1977 release of two classic albums mostly co-written with Bowie, The Idiot and Lust for Life. Since that time, Pop has released albums with regularity, but the quality of his music has been as erratic as his personal life once was. Poison once sang that every rose has its thorn, and in Iggy’s case, every Lust for Life has its Party and every Brick by Brick has its Instinct. But even Iggy’s worst albums contain one or two good tracks, and sometimes the stinkers are downright fascinating. Full of hits, near hits, and assorted strong singles spread over mediocre albums, Pop’s career seems perfect for anthologizing.
The single-disc Nude & Rude did a decent job of capturing Pop’s magic, but it was far from perfect. The collection suffered not so much due to its fairly short length, but because licensing issues reportedly limited the number of selections by the Stooges and led to the omission of Pop’s recordings for Arista and Animal Records. The liner notes consisted of a few off-the-cuff sentences from Pop, and the sound was adequate but not stellar. A Million in Prizes betters its predecessor in almost every way. At two discs and 38 tracks, it includes superior mixes of all 17 songs that appeared on Nude & Rude and features at least one track from every studio album by Pop, including those with the Stooges. There are also liner notes by music journalist and Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye and onetime Stooges manager Danny Fields; although they weren’t included with the promo I received, I’d bet my life that the always entertaining Fields wouldn’t write anything less than stupendous.
Of course, hardcore fans will find something to criticize in any anthology, so let’s get it out of the way. While it’s admittedly not a “singles album”, Fun House is a bona fide classic, and including just one cut from it (“Down on the Street”) is criminal. Space is given to five tracks from the admittedly classic Lust for Life, but it’s hard to rationalize why that album’s nonessential “Success” and “Tonight” are included while the great but relatively obscure 1979 Arista album New Values gets short shrift with just one inclusion (“I’m Bored”). The sole selection from Party, “Pleasure”, is downright baffling. While Party is arguably Iggy’s very worst album, its “Eggs on Plate” is a solid rocker, and “Bang Bang” and “Pumpin’ for Jill” would at least have been more representative of the mainstream sound Pop was attempting with it. There are two live versions of Stooges songs (“TV Eye” and “Loose” from 1993), which are fine, but one wonders why the compilers didn’t include live versions by the reunited band, whose 2003 concert in Detroit was recorded for a DVD. Pop’s albums from the past 12 years merit just one track each, except the oft-maligned 1999 release Avenue B, which scores two inclusions (“Corruption” and “I Felt the Luxury”). Oddly, its standout track, a cover of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over”, isn’t included, nor is the somewhat infamous version of “Louie Louie” that appeared on 1993’s American Caesar. And where is the fantastic theme song from the film Repo Man?
Part of the problem might lie in the attempt to cover the careers of the Stooges and Iggy Pop as if they were one entity. Fourteen of the anthology’s 38 tracks are by the Stooges, feature members of the Stooges, or are Stooges songs performed by Pop alone. If those 14 tracks had been dedicated solely to Pop’s solo material, the omissions mentioned above wouldn’t have been necessary. If the Stooges had merited the additional 24 tracks devoted to solo Iggy, the compilers could have painted a clearer picture of the band’s importance by including more from Fun House, important non-album tracks like “Johanna” and “Rubber Legs”, and material from the infamous recording of the band’s chaotic final show, Metallic KO. Treating Iggy Pop as a separate entity from the Stooges and anthologizing each separately would better do justice to both artists.
All that said, A Million in Prizes is a great collection of music from start to finish. Not only does it include more album tracks by the Stooges than Nude & Rude, but it even hits on a few of the band’s non-album tracks, “I Got a Right”, “Gimme Some Skin”, and “I’m Sick of You”. There are generous portions of the classic The Idiot and Lust for Life albums, and a smattering of tracks from Iggy’s three Arista albums and from Zombie Birdhouse, released on Chris Stein’s (Blondie) Animal Records. This collection also shows off Pop’s range by putting his campy duet with Blondie’s Debbie Harry on “Well Did You Evah?” from the 1991 Cole Porter tribute Red Hot + Blue alongside contemplative tracks like “Look Away” and all-out rockers like “Wild America” and “Skull Ring”. The sound is great throughout, and so are the songs, even as they veer from proto-punk primitivism to metallic ear-shredding to dope-fueled new wave to energetic anthems to pop crooning to mainstream rock to beat poetry. Iggy Pop is the consummate rock star even if his record sales don’t bear it out, and if you don’t believe it, A Million in Prizes just might convince you.