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In case you missed it, Vinyl Me, Please is presenting the first-ever vinyl release of the legendary lost John Cale mix of The Stooges as our Essentials Record of the Month in April. We’ve already told you the story of how we ended up picking it for our Record of the Month, but there were a bunch of people behind the scenes who had a huge part in making this album happen.
We talked to a few of them about how the album came together, starting with Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra Records, who produced, along with Iggy Pop, the re-mixed version of The Stooges that has lived in the hearts and minds of rock fans since 1969. Holzman said that he never heard the Stooges before they recorded for the label; the band was signed off the recommendation of A&R man Danny Fields, and they never had them make a demo tape for Holzman to sample. So his first reaction to The Stooges was upon hearing the fabled John Cale mix of the album. Here’s what he had to say about it:
VMP: What did you think when you first heard the original mix of the album?
Jac Holzman: It needed OOMPH, needed to be more aggressive.
So then what was the process like for remixing the album?
JH: Push all the channels to the max, and pray.
What were the label’s hopes for the album when you guys released it?
JH: We hoped people would see and hear the uniqueness in the band. They didn’t!
*As Holzman says, the album was a flop, but that flop echoed out through so many branches of hard rock that to trace the family tree of The Stooges is to draw multiple forests. But the story of how the John Cale mix was lost, and then eventually released, and then fixed from its first digital release, is its own saga entirely. From here, we talk to Jason Jones, A&R from Rhino, who spearheaded the 50th-anniversary edition of The Stooges, and our vinyl release.
Jason Jones: The John Cale mixes first surfaced on a tape from the collection of the legendary Danny Fields (former Elektra A&R who signed the MC5 and The Stooges; later manager of The Ramones; a punk rock legend). The tape was supplied to Rhino by renowned music collector Jeff Gold in the late ’90s. It contained the Stooges debut as released, followed by another version containing John Cale’s mixes and his originally intended sequence. Personally, I believe the tape was an A/B exercise of the two versions of the album, perhaps to check the Cale mixes alongside the new Jac Holzman “remixes” that ended up as the final album.
A handful of these Cale mixes were released as a part of the two-CD deluxe-edition of the Stooges debut in the mid-2000s, which only whetted the appetite of Stooges obsessives like myself. The complete Cale mix of the album was released in 2010 on the now out-of-print Rhino Handmade Collector’s Edition. I remember when I received my copy in the mail. I was overjoyed at first, but then soon came to realize that the Cale mixes were at least 10 percent too slow due to a less than stellar transfer. I vowed that if I was ever in a position to correct this egregious error, I would.
VMP: What was it like for you, as a fan of the Stooges, to realize what these tapes represented?
JJ: It was a peek into an alternate universe. I first heard this record as a punk rock obsessed 13-year-old. I grew up in a rural area in Tennessee where record stores were pretty hard to come by. I would save up my money for months in the off chance my family might have a trip planned into Nashville. On one such trip, I picked up the first two Stooges records on CD. Do you ever have a day make such a lasting impact that you remember the exact date? For me, that was June 5, 1996. I remember putting on the first record and being transfixed. To have loved it for so many years, and then learn that an alternate version existed blew me away.
I also love when iconic albums have alternate tracklists. It creates a different muscle memory with a set of songs that most know by heart. One of my favorite pastimes is to take favorite records and re-sequence them (I do a yearly exercise where I remake The Clash’s Sandinista! into a single LP with different results each time). The Stooges (John Cale Mix) has an ebb and flow that showcases the record’s hypnotic quality. That we were able to make this happen is a gift.
To you, do you see why the original mix was shelved?
Yes, I can see why the John Cale mix was originally shelved. Jac Holzman told me the reason he stepped in was because Cale’s mix was too quiet and did not have the power Holzman had in mind. However, in my opinion, I relish the John Cale mix because it’s even more cavemen-like than Holzman’s! Ron Asheton’s guitars cut you down like a scythe in the Cale mix. It’s quite intense. Is it as muscular as the originally released version? No, but that’s not John Cale’s intent. His mix brings out the hypnotic aspects of these songs (listen to the Cale mix of “Real Cool Time,” for example, to understand what I mean).
What do you think John Cale saw in the Stooges that maybe other people didn’t? What were his strengths as their producer?
JJ: It’s fascinating to hear what Cale focused on in this mix, which was (in his words) “the evil” in Iggy’s voice. Elektra thought Cale was a good idea because of his pedigree. Cale is a classically trained musician with a foot in the avant-garde (having played with groundbreaking music theorist and composer John Cage), and because many felt The Stooges had a sound reminiscent of the early Velvet Underground (“White Light/White Heat,” “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “I Heard Her Call My Name,” “Run Run Run,” etc.). However, Cale did not want to try to turn The Stooges into a carbon copy of the Velvets. He knew The Stooges were too unique in their vision to be anything but themselves.
From a production perspective, I can see how Cale would have the same internal struggle that any producer would have for a band’s debut recording: How do you reconcile what the band does on stage with what it takes to make a studio recording? The Stooges were barely a band when they made their first album. They were more like industrial theater than a “rock” band. Their material was made up of feedback-laced, repetitive riffs that mutated into extended, hallucinatory improvisations. Initially, they were more in the vein of Harry Partch, playing experimental music on homemade instruments. It was only after some time that they began playing actual professional instruments. They only had five songs when Elektra signed them, and whipped up three additional songs in 24 hours to have enough material for an album. I remember reading that the band staged a sit-down strike when Cale asked them to turn down their amplifiers from 10. They eventually relented and went down to 9.
Beyond the tracklist, what’s your favorite part of the difference between the versions of the album.
JJ: After the tracklist, I am most proud of the new album design. It’s an amazing thing to behold. I wanted it to look like it could have come out in 1969, so I went back to the original Joel Brodsky cover shoot and found two fantastic and rarely seen photographs from those sessions for the front and back covers. In working with Rhino’s production team, we decided to go with glossy tip-on sleeves, and I chose a rarely used Elektra design for the labels. I took every piece of the design to heart. It’s an album that deserves reverential treatment. I applaud the work of Rory Wilson and Kristin Attaway at Rhino who oversaw the packaging. They did an amazing job.
Once he had the new package, Jones knew exactly who to ask to write new liner notes for the album sleeve: music writer Sean Maloney. Maloney’s liner notes bring everything full circle, and underline how amazing it is to hear this album, 51 years late.
VMP: Something I want you to expand on is something you mentioned in the liner notes, that the John Cale Mix is the version of the album too wild to hear, when the version we DID get was crazy and wild and groundbreaking.
Sean Maloney: I think John Cale, especially right after he left the Velvet Underground, was always able to tune into the hair-raising lunacy at the heart of rock ’n’ roll. He's able to groom unhinged instability in such a way that even comes through the most mild mannered artists. I mean, compare Cale's work with Jonathan Richman to any other recording JoJo ever made. Cale found craziness in rock ’n’ roll's most gentle soul. So when Cale was working with the craziest rock band in America the results were bound to be bonkers.
To you, what does the release of the John Cale mix mean to music history, and the history of the Stooges in the specific?
SM: I think the Cale mix proves my long held belief that Cale was always — ALWAYS — cooler than Lou Reed. Lou was going pop and Cale just went for the most intense, unrepentant noise in the Lower 48. I also think that without remixing this album Iggy wouldn't have been as prepared to make Funhouse, an album I would argue represents the zenith of American audio art.
‘Funhouse’ was the Stooges’ last album for Elektra, and they made just one more album as a group before flaming out in drugs and self-destruction, their place in the pantheon preserved, their debut coming out now in its original form. We’ll leave Holzman with the final word.
How do you feel about The Stooges today? Was kind of a commercial flop in its day, but a big deal now.
JH: Like someone who received a gift, the value of which is now evident to all.
Andrew Winistorfer is Senior Director of Music and Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard, The Story of Willie Nelson, Miles Davis: The Electric Years and The Story of Waylon Jennings. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.