"Search and Destroy" was written by Stooges' frontman Iggy Pop and lead guitarist James Williamson. The name of the song comes from a Time magazine article Iggy Pop saw about the Vietnam War. The lyrics are rife with references to the war, 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 a 2013 Songfacts 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 buildup where I say "Somebody's got to save my soul / Baby penetrate my mind" - that's a pre-chorus where you actually downshift 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.
Listen with headphones, and you might pick up the sound of swords clashing in the background. Pop explained in a 1999 interview with The Wire: "I originally wanted was to get the sound of stomping boots, but we would have had to hire a drill team and that became problematic, so we tried having a sword fight to get a clanking sound instead."
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
The song has been used in several TV shows, including HBO's The Wire and the last season of Lost. It also features in the movie Almost Famous.
This was used in a popular 1996 Nike commercial
which included the line, "Look out honey, 'cause I'm using technology," repurposing it to indicate innovations in sneakers rather than warfare. Audi did the same thing when they used the song in 2017 commercials for their A4.