The Idiot is the debut solo album by American rock singer Iggy Pop. It was the first of two LPs released in 1977 which Pop wrote and recorded in collaboration with David Bowie. Although issued after Low, the opening installment of Bowie's so-called Berlin Trilogy, the pair began writing and recording songs for The Idiot in mid-1976, before Bowie started work on his own album. As such, The Idiot has been claimed as heralding the unofficial beginning of Bowie's 'Berlin' period,[1] being compared particularly to Low and "Heroes" in its electronic effects, treated instrument sounds, and introspective atmosphere.[2][3] A departure from the hard rock of his former band the Stooges, the album is regarded by critics as one of Pop’s best works, but is not generally considered representative of his output. Its title was inspired by Dostoyevsky's novel The Idiot, three of the participants in the recording—Bowie, Pop and Tony Visconti—being familiar with the book.[4]


 [hide*1 Production


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 Santageli 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 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".[5]

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, inspired by Erich Heckel’s Roquairol, is often assumed to be by Bowie but was in fact taken by Andy Kent.[5][6] 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][6]

Style and themes[edit]Edit

At the time of its release, Pop described The Idiot as a cross between James Brown and Kraftwerk.[7] Bowie biographer David Buckley has called it "a funky, robotic hellhole of an album".[5] 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".[8]

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".[9] 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.[6] 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 band mates ("an exceptionally insensitive use of old colleagues for theatrical effect", in the words of biographer Joe Ambrose);[10] and "Mass Production", a harsh, grinding piece of early industrial electronica.[1]

Release and reception[edit]Edit

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic [11]
Robert Christgau A−[12]
Spin [13]

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.[6]

The Idiot made #30 in the UK, the first time any of Iggy Pop's records had cracked the Top Forty. It also peaked at #72 in the U.S. charts. "Sister Midnight" and "China Girl" were released as singles in February and May 1977, respectively—both with the same B-side, "Baby".[14] Biographer Paul Trynka has written thatThe 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] On its original release Rolling Stone termed it "the most savage indictment of rock posturing ever recorded ... a necrophiliac's delight".[15]


Whilst the album has become highly praised in its own right over the years, Iggy Pop purists have criticised the work as unrepresentative of his repertoire and as evidence of his being "co-opted" by Bowie for the latter's own ends.[5][10] 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.[16]

Pop himself has called The Idiot his "album of freedom".[10] Siouxsie Sioux described it as "re-affirmation that our suspicions were true - the man was a genius and what a voice!"[10] The album has been cited as a major influence on a number of post-punk, electronic and industrial artists including Depeche ModeNine Inch Nails and Joy Division, whose lead singer Ian Curtis was found hanged in 1980 with the record still spinning on his turntable.[6] Martin Glover also described The Idiot as one of his favorite albums.[17]

Covers and live versions[edit]Edit

"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.

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

In 1980 The Human League covered "Nightclubbing" in a medley with Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll". The song was remade again the following year by Grace Jones as the title track to her albumNightclubbing.

"Nightclubbing" also provided the kick drum sound for Nine Inch Nails' 1994 hit, "Closer"; sampled by Trent ReznorSiouxsie and her second band The Creatures used to perform it live in 1999 coupled with their track "Pluto Drive".[18]

The drum loop Of "Nightclubbing" was also duplicated by Oasis for "Force of Nature", a track recorded for their 2002 album Heathen Chemistry.

"Nightclubbing" was sampled in the song "Small Town Witch" by the British band Sneaker Pimps on their 2002 album "Bloodsport".

"Funtime" has been covered by The CarsBauhausPeter MurphyBebe BuellR.E.M., and Boy George.

"Tiny Girls" was covered by Depeche Mode's Martin Gore in 2003.

Track listing[edit]Edit

All songs written and composed by Iggy Pop and David Bowie, except "Sister Midnight" co-written by Carlos Alomar

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Sister Midnight"   4:19
2. "Nightclubbing"   4:14
3. "Funtime"   2:54
4. "Baby"   3:24
5. "China Girl"   5:08
Side two
No. Title Length
6. "Dum Dum Boys"   7:12
7. "Tiny Girls"   2:59
8. "Mass Production"   8:24

Alternative versions[edit]Edit

  • "China Girl" (7" Edit) - 3:26
  • "Sister Midnight" (7" Edit) - 2:54


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