“Search and Destroy” is a song by American rock band The Stooges, recorded for the group’s third album Raw Power (1973). Lead singer Iggy Popsaid that the title is from a column heading in a Time article about the Vietnam War.
I’m a street walking cheetah
with a heart full of napalm
I’m a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb
I am a world’s forgotten boy
The one who searches and destroys
Honey gotta help me please
Somebody gotta save my soul
Baby detonates for me
Look out honey, ’cause I’m using technology !
Ain’t got time to make no apology
Soul radiation in the dead of night
Love in the middle of a fire fight
Honey gotta strike me blind
Somebody gotta save my soul
Baby penetrates my mind
And I’m the world’s forgotten boy
The one who’s searchin’, searchin’ to destroy
And honey I’m the world’s forgotten boy
The one who’s searchin’, searchin’ to destroy
Forgotten boy, forgotten boy
Forgotten boy said
hey forgotten boy
“Search and Destroy” was written by Stooges’ frontman Iggy Pop and lead guitar James Williamson. The name of the song comes from a Time magazine article Iggy Pop saw about the Vietnam War. The lyrics are ripe with further references to the general Vietnam War scene, including napalm, nuclear bombs, fire fights, and radiation. The title refers to a military tactic used by the US military in the Vietnam War: to seek out the enemy, destroy them, and withdraw.
In our 2013 interview with guitarist James Williamson, he talked about the songwriting process: “Well, I had come up with kind of that ‘bum bum bum bum bum bum bum’ a little bit, but it was more in regard to imitating a machine gun, if you will. Because this is the era of the Vietnam War. And so we were kind of screwing around with that, and that’s where that figure comes from. Then the rest of the song was around that. But I think the beginning, the ‘bum bum bum bum bum bum bum, bum bum bum bum bum bum bum,’ that part was the thing that really kicked off that song.”
Iggy Pop recalled to Clash Magazine the making of the song: “The funny part about it was until I convinced him to step back a little and ease up on the thing, what James brought in was four times as fast and twice as heavy! (Laughs) It was two of the parts in the song, the two fastest parts – there are four basic building blocks – and when he did it there were just the two, and when he did it they just went over and over, faster and faster. I sort of said, ‘Look, can we make a new part that’s just like part two but in half time?’ So he went, ‘Okay’, and that became our chorus. Then I asked him for something which you’ll never hear on another Stooges record, something that approximates what professional song writers call a ‘pre-chorus’. That’s the part where I’m singing ‘Love in a middle of a fire fight’ and after that, the build-up where I say “Somebody’s got to save my soul / Baby penetrate my mind” – that’s a pre-chorus where you actually down-shift and then you heighten the tension through building the chords so that there is a release. So that was about the closest I got to getting any of these guys to Rock School. (Laughs) That one has more typical song writing structure in it, which is probably why it gets the most attention.”
This song and its album Raw Power have won a litany of awards. Rolling Stone ranked this song #468 on their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, VH1 ranked it 49th in their Best Hard Rock songs of All Time, and a 1970s Punk magazine based in San Francisco named themselves after it.
Henry Rollins (frontman for Black Flag) has the title of this song tattooed on his back!
Meanwhile, the album Raw Power has had a huge influence. The late Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Morrissey and Johnny Marr (The Smiths) have all said that this is their favorite album of all time. Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) said that he cut his guitar-playing teeth on this album. Rolling Stone, again, ranked Raw Power #125 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) executive-produced the 1997 Columbia Records remix.
In spite of all these honors, the original album and singles released from same did poorly in sales and the singles failed to chart, while the album itself barely scratched the Billboard Pop Albums chart at #182. This almost puts The Stooges in Velvet Underground territory when it comes to bands that initially flopped before becoming celebrated heroes worshiped by just about anybody in the music world. In fact John Cale (Velvet Underground bassist) produced The Stooges’ first self-titled album.
In a 2010 interview with Clash Magazine, vocalist and lyricist Iggy Pop described the sentiments behind the song: “The lyrics, I just sorta took out of Time magazine, the concept of search and destroy. I used to read Time obsessively, because they were the representatives of the ultimate establishment to me. They were giving the party line that represented the power people and the powers that be. So I kinda liked to look in there and see what they were talking about, and then I’d use that inventory in other ways. That’s what I was doing in that song.”
He added: “And the thing about ‘forgotten boy’ was basically a way to express my disgust. It’s kinda like the kid in Catcher In The Rye – once you find out how the people at the top of politics or at the top of the music industry or at the top of anything, how they begin to overvalue things and think that they can push any s–t down the throats of the youth, and they just don’t care if it’s something that kids would like or not. They just don’t f–kin’ care.”
Pop expanded to Q Magazine May 2010 on how the lyrical content was an attack on musical industry bigwigs: “Something I was trying to say through those words at the time was I had the impression that music as a branch of the entertainment industry was becoming an old cheese. It was about a bunch of people at the top manipulating certain institutional positions with the smug confidence that ‘kids’ at the bottom would swallow whatever they put out. They thought they could sell s–t if there was money in it but they’d forgotten about the simple truth that any kid can see.”
Bands and artists which have covered this song include: Cursed, Def Leppard, Red Hot Chili Peppers, EMF, the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious, Samiam, The Dead Boys, Rocket From The Tombs, The Dictators, Shotgun Messiah, Verdena, Peaches, The Hives, Emanuel, Radio Birdman, Adult Crash, Turbonegro, and You Am I.
Iggy Pop has expressed his pride in the song: “The part of myself I like best is the guy who would dare to sing a song like ‘Search And Destroy’ in the era I did, in 1969, so soon after ‘California Dreamin‘; who said, Stick your flower power up your ass ‘cos you’re not sincere about it. Yeah, that’s a side of myself I admire.” (Sounds, 1986)
Appearances in popular culture
- In the films Almost Famous, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Haggard: The Movie.
- In the sixth season of the television series Dexter during the episode “Nebraska,” as well as in the final season of Lost during the episode “The Substitute”, and in the first episode of season 2 of “The Wire.”
- As part of a ‘blood, sweat and vomit’ Nike Air ad campaign during the 1996 Summer Olympics.
- A cover version is featured in the video game Guitar Hero II.
- “Search and Destroy” was the name of an influential late 1970s punk magazine based out of San Francisco.
- Henry Rollins has a large tattoo on his back of an image with large text reading “Search & Destroy.”
- Skunk Anansie’s version is featured in the film Sucker Punch.
- Emanuel’s cover appears in the video game Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland.
|Also known as||Iggy and The Stooges Iggy Pop and The Stooges The Psychedelic Stooges|
|Origin||Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States|
|Genres||Punk rock, garage rock, protopunk, hard rock, punk blues|
|Years active||1967–1974, 2003–present|
|Labels||Elektra, Columbia, Virgin|
|Associated acts||Iggy Pop, The Iguanas, The New Order,Minutemen, Sonic’s Rendezvous Band,Destroy All Monsters, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers|
|Members||Iggy Pop Scott Asheton Steve Mackay James Williamson Mike Watt|
|Past members||Ron Asheton Dave Alexander Billy Cheatham Zeke Zettner Jimmy Recca Bob Sheff Tornado Turner Scott Thurston|