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Music / The Idiot

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"We're having fun."

The Idiot is the debut studio album by Iggy Pop, released in 1977.

Made after the breakup of The Stooges, the album was written and recorded with help from David Bowie. Recorded just before Bowie's album Low but released two months after, The Idiot acts as a direct prototype for Bowie's Berlin Trilogy (which makes up 1977's Low & "Heroes" and 1979's Lodger), featuring a similar Krautrock and ambient-infused style of art rock that builds off Bowie's earlier avant-funk experiments on Station to Station. Bowie would co-write and co-produce two more of Pop's solo albums, Lust for Life later in 1977 and Blah-Blah-Blah in 1986.

To promote The Idiot, Bowie eschewed the possibility of a supporting tour for Low and instead acted as a sideman for Pop during his own tour. Two other stage players on the circuit, Todd Rundgren collaborators Tony Fox Sales and Hunt Sales (sons of Soupy), would later become Bowie's bandmates in the Hard Rock supergroup Tin Machine just over a decade later.

In the years since its release, the album would, alongside the Berlin Trilogy, be cited as a major influence on a number of Post-Punk, Synth-Pop, industrial, and Alternative Rock musicians in the following decades. David Bowie would later rewrite "Sister Midnight" as "Red Money" for Lodger, later covering "China Girl" on Let's Dance (1983).

On a less pleasant note, the album is infamous for the fact that Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis listened to it shortly before killing himself in 1980; it was still spinning on his turntable when his body was found. A similar case would occur with R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People and Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain 14 years later. By coincidence, R.E.M. had previously covered "Funtime" as a B-Side to their 1989 single "Get Up".

The Idiot was supported by two singles: "Sister Midnight" and "China Girl".


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)

We learn tropes, brand new tropes, like the nuclear bomb...

  • Album Title Drop: "Sister Midnight"
    I'm an idiot for you
  • Atomic Hate: "Nightclubbing"
    We learn dances, brand new dances, like the nuclear bomb
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: "Nightclubbing", a song about people who go out to night clubs and see it as a way of life.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The album cover.
  • Den of Iniquity: The drug world portrayed in the songs.
  • Dirty Old Man: "Tiny Girls"
    When you only want just a tiny girl
    And you hope she'll sing
    So you turn around
    Toward the tiny girls
    Who have got no tricks
    Who have got no past
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Dum Dum Boys", written by Iggy to commemorate all the people he knew and are now lost because of fatal drug overdoses.
  • Epic Rocking: Three tracks ("China Girl", "Dum Dum Boys" and "Mass Production") are over five minutes.
  • Evil Colonialist: "China Girl" is an interesting case because Pop effectively admits to being one himself. The song was cowritten by Bowie, who detested racism and envisioned the song as a satire of how white society fetishizes Asian women. The line about "visions of swastikas in my head," for instance, relates to how the swastika is a good luck symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism that was appropriated and perverted by the Nazis.
    I'd stumble into town
    Just like a sacred cow
    Visions of swastikas in my head
    And plans for everyone
    It's in the white of my eyes

    My little China girl
    You shouldn't mess with me
    I'll ruin everything you are
    I'll give you television
    I'll give you eyes of blue
    I'll give you men who want to rule the world
  • Face on the Cover: A photo of Iggy striking a pose in the nighttime snow.
  • Growing Up Sucks: "Baby".
    Baby, please stay young.
  • In the Style of: Bowie advised Iggy Pop to sing "Funtime" like Mae West.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The lyrics to "Funtime" are energetic-sounding on paper, describing a particularly joyous and all-including night out. The sound meanwhile is the exact opposite, being a frigid and bone-splitting industrial tune with droning, deadpan vocals.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Iggy Pop's infatuation for an Asian woman was the inspiration for "China Girl". Even though she was actually Vietnamese.
  • One-Woman Song: "China Girl", based on Pop's brief infatuation for Kuelan Nguyen, who was French pop singer Jacques Higelin's partner at the time. Both Pop and Higelin were recording at the Château d'Hérouville in France when the song was written.
  • One-Word Title: "Nightclubbing", "Funtime", "Baby".
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: "Dum Dum Boys" was written by Iggy in remembrance of his former Stooges bandmates who succumbed to their wild lifestyle.
  • Repurposed Pop Song: Bowie re-worked "Sister Midnight" with new lyrics and a new title as "Red Money" on his 1979 album Lodger. The song "China Girl" would later be re-recorded by David Bowie on his album Let's Dance (1983).
  • Self-Deprecation: Despite its unflattering title it's still Iggy who we see on the album cover.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: "Funtime", "Nightclubbing", and "Dum Dum Boys" both romanticize as well as criticize the shallow lifestyle of people just partying on.
    Nightclubbing we're nightclubbing
    We're walking through town
    Nightclubbing we're nightclubbing
    We walk like a ghost
    We learn dances brand new dances
    Like the nuclear bomb
    When we're nightclubbing
    Bright white clubbing
    Oh isn't it wild...?
  • Shout-Out:
    • The title is a shout-out to the literary classic The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
    • The album cover was inspired by German impressionist painter Erich Heckel's Roquairol. Cover photographer Masayoshi Sukita would use the same painting as the basis for the "Heroes" album art later that year.
    • "Funtime" namedrops the title character of Dracula.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Dum Dum Boys" starts off with Iggy asking questions about people he knew, but all of them turn out to have either died from drug abuse or cleaned up their act.
  • Studio Chatter: Some faint chatter can be heard at the start of "Funtime".
  • Too Dumb to Live: "Dum Dum Boys" portrays the drug overdose-induced deaths of Iggy's peers as the product of their own idiocy.