30 Years Ago: Iggy Pop and David Bowie Team Up One Last Time on ‘Blah Blah Blah’
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The rock star had been on hiatus from music while he attempted to live as a responsible adult. Iggy had gotten clean in ’83, he’d gotten married in ’84 and he had some decent money coming in from having co-written Bowie’s hit, “China Girl.”
“I went totally straight,” Pop told Danish television in 1986. “It’s taken me the last three years of my life just to learn the normal discipline that other people take for granted in their everyday living. But I’ve done so and it’s probably been the most exciting three years in my adult life – just walking down the street, buying a vegetable like everybody else.”
In addition to acclimatizing to the mundanities of day-to-day living in New York City, Pop channeled his creative forces into new endeavors. He wrote essays for himself, he took acting classes and he began a painting hobby as an alternative to watching TV, which he had grown to loathe.
Television is “dangerous, it’s paralyzed people,” Pop told Radio Luxembourg. “And I also find the ads… I find them patronizing. And I find that, if I watch it for a couple of hours, I find myself ashamed of myself that I did so.”
The idiot box was on his brain when Iggy began working on song demos with ex-Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones in 1985. Two of those tracks mention TV in the lyrics, with Pop singing “bad TV that insults me freely” on “Cry for Love.”
Pop was enthused about the demos, which he felt showed the benefits of his increasing focus on melody. When he met up with Bowie, the old friends and collaborators played each other their works-in-progress. David presented his Labyrinth tunes and Iggy put on “Cry for Love.”
“And he heard the tapes and his jaw dropped,” Pop told Interview magazine. “I was really proud, and proud that he… really liked them. I was able to show [him] that I had not been wasting my time, or wasting the money that I’d made off his records.”
Bowie asked to produce Pop’s new album and lend his expertise to some of the less-finished demos. Iggy, perhaps reluctantly, agreed and the two set to work on Blah Blah Blah, which would become Pop’s first record for A&M.
TV and the media remained a focal point in Pop’s lyrics on that record, with the singer taking apart a mindless medium that blends entertainment, violent news, pop culture and consumerism on the title track. “We are the world / We are so huge,” Pop sings. “Blah blah blah / Johnny can’t read.”
Bowie, Pop and co-producer David Richards brought a new-wavey sheen to the songs, but also a little (dated) weirdness. “Blah Blah Blah” features compressed drums, stinging guitar attacks from Bowie sideman Kevin Armstrong and barking samples that give the track an off-kilter feel. Most of the other songs featured a more straight-forward, commercial approach, with big drums and gauzy synthesizers.
Watch the Video for “Real Wild Child”
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Iggy copped to trying for a commercial hit on this album, and he sicceeded. First, “Cry for Love” hit the Top 40 in the States, followed quickly by the success of “Real Wild Child (Wild One),” which was a slick update of a ’50s hit for Aussie rocker Johnny O’Keefe. The single became Pop’s biggest hit in both America and Britain, where it went to the Top 10. When recording “Real Wild Child,” Iggy had even found a bit of deeper meaning in this “celebration of the juvenile instinct.”
“I liked the song because in the third verse… he’s mentioning ‘the world gone crazy and everything hazy,’ even before ‘Purple Haze’ was written,” Pop said. “And I just thought, I like that.”
The success of “Real Wild Child” and “Cry for Love” was aided by MTV clips for both songs, which showed a new Iggy: dyed black hair cut short, black leather jacket, a rough rock ’n’ roller at the age of 39.
In spite of, or maybe because of, the commercial success of Blah Blah Blah, Pop and Bowie never worked together again. The two grew apart, which David chalked up to Pop’s desire to succeed without any mention of his famous friend. Indeed, Iggy would do that in the late ’80s and early ’90s, charting with the albums Instinct and Brick by Brick and scoring hits, such as 1990’s “Candy.” Pop became a bigger star, although he later looked upon the period with some disdain.
“I peaked commercially,” Pop said in 2010. “I’d done pretty well with Brick by Brick and Blah Blah Blah, and I’d lined up a lot of apples in a certain way, but that sort of professionalism – that professional West Coast type of American career that I was beginning to put together – just was a drag! Honestly! So I found myself little by little slipping back to… Stooge-ism and amateurism started slipping back into my life.”
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