Iggy Pop has been many things in his musical career, a riotous and controversial performer that has never hesitated to step into a new genre or style when the current shifts. But it was his first musical evolution-the, the guiding of the rock group The Stooges into a proto-punk band, that earned him an undisputable place in music history under the title of the Godfather of Punk. His solo career further developed this style, evolving initially alongside his then-collaborator David Bowie and later mutating to cover the pop, hard rock, jazz, and countless other styles.
Defining any selection as the very best Iggy Pop songs requires choosing from decades of highlights that are as varied as they are memorable, and there are plenty of other tracks that could have made this list. Nonetheless, the ten that follow represent the very best of the best across his discography. Whether cult classics or radio hits, all of these tracks have stood the test of time in the years since their releases, and many of them have exerted obvious influence on genres and artists that continue the chain of innovation to this day.
10. Cold Metal
Iggy Pop’s Instinct is not his most artistically triumphant album, but it opens with a bang. “Cold Metal” is powered by guitar riffs that could go toe to toe with the strongest entries in the 80s hard rock scene, and the track makes Iggy’s stylistic transition feel effortless. The lyrics have the supercharged energy one would expect from the genre, but they navigate the field with the unique pairing of Iggy’s flair for evocative images and wry criticism. The repeating refrain of the title would work well enough without context, but the context is what makes it a great-an ode to misbegotten corners of the concrete jungle and an accusatory finger pointed at America’s attitude.
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“Candy” might have more airplay than the vast majority of Iggy Pop’s catalog, but it’s unlikely to rank at the very top of most serious aficionado lists. All the same, when talking about an overall selection of his highlights, “Candy” is hard to ignore as one of the best songs by Iggy Pop. Without the involvement of Kate Pierson from The B-52s, it might be a reasonably minor pop diversion for the artist. With her on board, though, the song becomes a fascinating match between two very different voices painting one picture of a romance gone by. A duet this strong between artists in reasonably separate lanes (although both dabbled in some of the same movement influences) is rare. For that reason, Candy more than earns its place on this list.
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8. Repo Man
If Iggy Pop had a kindred soul in the film scene, it might well have been Alex Cox, the director who hired him to write a theme for his 1984 film Repo Man. Repo Man was a darkly funny satire of Reagan’s America and launched a definitively punk career, followed by Sid and Nancy, the critically contentious Walker, and a slew of independent films. Iggy’s theme for Repo Man showcases the cynicism they shared towards life in the American city and displays an unusually personal and jaded perspective and tone for a movie theme, particularly surrounded by the triumphant title tracks carrying box office hits that were common in the decade. Sharing a soundtrack with songs from various contemporary punk bands, “Repo Man” still manages to come out the most memorable.
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2016’s Post-Pop Depression proved that Iggy Pop is anything but washed up. The slick production comes courtesy of Josh Homme, the frontman of Queens of the Stone Age and one of the evident modern bearers of unquestionable Iggy influences. At the same time, sounds and stylings from much earlier in Iggy’s career come calling once more in tracks like the standout six-minute “Sunday.” It is almost hard not to think of David Bowie’s swan song from the same year, Blackstar, and note how the sounds that they once developed together can still evolve and sound fresh for each so many years later. An album wrestling with the lingering dregs of former glory rarely sounds this glorious.
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6. China Girl
More famous through David Bowie’s eventual rendition of Let’s Dance, the first version of “China Girl” appeared as an Iggy Pop track for The Idiot. Rating the track among the best of Iggy Pop songs is not a consolation prize. The instrumentation on Iggy’s track is striking, harsh, and multifaceted in a way that holds its own against Bowie’s version. What really stands out, however, is the vocal performance. Iggy builds to a raw, screaming intensity that rails emotion at the listener before easing his input back down as the intensity of the drums and a wailing saxophone carry the energy forward. Listening through the track and discounting it as a minor alternate take is impossible.
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5. I Got Nothin’
Among the rubble of the Stooges emerged the Kill City demo, a project with a number of standout songs. The title track or “Johanna” could have just as easily taken a spot on this list. “I Got Nothin'” makes its own particular mark as it weaves back and forth between melodic sections and blistering vocal intensities, the instrumentation making the accompanying jump each time it shifts. The song represents the sort of stylistic variation that takes a deft hand to pull off convincingly, particularly when committed to with such abandon, but “I Got Nothin'” leaves no question as to whether it works. For all of Iggy’s insistence on the track that he had nothing to say, the song itself made it clear that he did.
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4. I Wanna Be Your Dog
Iggy made his solo mark in the 70s, but “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is a clear example of how much he was innovating with the Stooges toward the end of the 60s. As a musical counterculture emerged with more sonic aggression than anything that had been heard before, Iggy Pop and the Stooges placed themselves at the forefront of change with a minimal chord structure and distorted guitar that still screams its influence in punk music today. Italian rock band Måneskin reminded the world of the track’s enduring influence by inviting Iggy to perform a version of their referentially named “I Wanna Be Your Slave” in 2021.
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Few solo debut albums can boast tracks as boundary-pushing as “Nightclubbing.” Lingering traces of a traditional pop song or even an old-school show tune hover over the more contemporary sound of a Roland drum machine, an element that Iggy insisted on keeping against Bowie’s protestations. The track is effortlessly cool-an “ice machine”-and, among Iggy’s many edgily ironic performances, one of the most obviously sardonic. He plays up the deadpan to the degree that could drag down the energy, but the energy is all engineered to be exactly where it should be.
2. The Passenger
“The Passenger” is unquestionably one of Iggy Pop’s most enduring songs, graced with plenty of covers and appearances in media over the decades since its release. It only takes one listen to see why. The track is immediately arresting, an aggressively up-tempo rhythm from guitarist Ricky Gardiner grabbing the listener from the opening seconds. All the same, much of its staying power is owed to Iggy, who memorably delivers cheery lyrics in a tone with patent elements of darkness. The writing is repetitive and, in moments, simple, but phrases like “the city’s ripped backsides” evoke more than lines of waxing poetic could.
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1. Lust for Life
“Lust for Life” from Iggy Pop’s 1977 album of the same name more than earns its place as the title track. If “The Passenger” feels oddly brooding for its cheerful lyrics, “Lust for Life” might be construed as the inverse. The track is an infectious rock and roll groove that easily conveys an exultant attitude of joie de vivre, but the weight hangs on the back end of the lyrics. The desperate joy is on the run from a past of drug and alcohol abuse, deeply pertinent to both Iggy and co-writer Davie Bowie at the time of the song’s creation. Such a stark underpinning of humanity keeps the track from feeling frivolous, instead resulting in a genuine, relatable, and timeless testament to life.
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One could perhaps spend hours listening and re-listening to any number of Iggy Pop’s highlight tracks or his diverse set of albums as a whole and might come up with a different Iggy Pop best songs ranking at any time. If you find yourself wanting to take this approach, ListenOnRepeat.com provides an easy way for you to loop YouTube videos of his tracks or others, whether you want to start learning the guitar parts or simply listening for the nuances in his aggressive production style. Regardless, your list will unquestionably be different from this one in certain ways, just as surely as it is bound to share some of the same masterful tracks. Feel free to share your own picks in the comments, and keep enjoying the music of a punk rock legend.