Back in 2001 the musical landscape was awash with nu-metal and Dad rock. Something had to change.
Thankfully it did – when five young upstarts from New York City unleashed their debut album Is This It onto the world.
This weekend (July 30) sees the 15th anniversary of The Strokes‘ game-changing debut album, an album that reshaped the face of indie music and made guitar bands cool again.
Here are 15 things you (probably) didn’t know about Is This It:
1. The cover image is of the photographer’s then girlfriend
Photographer Colin Lane reportedly took the picture of his then girlfriend’s rear end on a whim after she got out of the shower. It was found by the band two years later when they were flicking through his portfolio during a shoot for The Face magazine.
2. Though it was deemed too raunchy for the American market
Of course the image of a suggestively bare bottom was never going to fly in the relatively conservative US market, which is why the album artwork was changed for music fans on the other side of the pond.
They instead got a psychedelic photograph of subatomic particle tracks in a bubble chamber, and the story goes that Julian Casablancas preferred that image to its more seductive counterpart, and wanted it to appear on all versions of the album globally.
3. There’s no real message to it
Speaking to the NME in 2006, Lane confessed that there is no hidden meaning to the shot, saying: “There was no real inspiration, I was just trying to take a sexy picture.”
4. It wasn’t the only change for US fans
The track ‘New York City Cops’ was omitted from the US version in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The track contains the notorious line: “New York City cops/They ain’t too smart.”
5. There’s a reason for that weird yelp
As strange as it is memorable, Casablancas’ odd yelp at the start of ‘New York City Cops’ is one of the album’s stranger moments. There is method to the madness though; it was meant as a pastiche of classic rockers Aerosmith.
6. There’s an awful pop cover version of ‘Last Nite’
The terrible pop cover is a rite of passage for many bands. Can you really say you’ve “made it” until you’ve had your biggest hit mangled through a web of synthesisers and auto-tune?
Vitamin C’s version of ‘Last Nite’ is truly awful, and debuted at Number 70 in the UK Singles Chart before falling dramatically. The New Jersey native subsequently had her album cancelled, and was dropped by label V2.
7. There are shades of Tom Petty
The similarites between Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ ‘American Girl’ and ‘Last Night’ are obvious, and the singer – in an interview to Rolling Stone in 2006 said:
“The Strokes took ‘American Girl’ [for ‘Last Nite’], there was an interview that took place with them where they actually admitted it. That made me laugh out loud. I was like, ‘OK, good for you.’ It doesn’t bother me”.
It all worked out in the end though; Petty actually invited the band to open on several dates of his 2006 tour.
8. The LP’s first music video received hardly any television time
Broadcasters were unenthusiastic to screen the promo video for debut single ‘Hard To Explain’, as it didn’t contain enough shots of the actual band.
The Roman Coppola directed video was instead made primarily of stock footage of things that could be considered “hard to explain”; NASA footage, old-skool arcade games and the like.
9. But the second became a classic
It was decided that the band needed to be featured more in their next video (for ‘Last Nite’) but they were initially uneasy to do so.
Eventually, they settled on the simple live performance-style format, and the video was directed once again by Roman Coppola. It features all sorts of shenanigans: Julian Casablancas throws his microphone stand as if it is a spear, and Albert Hammond, Jr. knocks over the drumkit mics.
10. It nearly sounded very different
Lable RCA initially wanted the band to work with producer Gil Norton – who had previously produced The Pixies – and sessions to record the album got underway.
Despite the two parties gelling in the studio, the band felt like the results sounded “too clean” and “too pretentious”. They moved on to work with Gordon Raphael at Transporterraum in New York’s East Village.
11. It was all recorded extremely simply
In an age when bands can use all sorts of digital techniques and multi-tracking methods to make their albums sound bigger than they are, it’s comforting to know that no track on Is This It exceeded the use of 11 studio tracks in its production, keeping things very simple indeed.
12. Casablancas had high concepts for the album’s aesthetic
His time-bending philosophy dictated that the record should sound like “a band from the past that took a time trip into the future to make their record”.
13. The front man’s vocal sound was achieved through cheap equipment
Casablancas sung through a Peavey practice amp – the kind you might find at any half decent musical instrument shop for less than a hundred quid – to achieve the gritty vocal sound that pervades the album.
14. In case you’re wondering: there’s no question mark
The band deliberately laughed in the face of grammar conventions when writing the title, citing the fact that it just “looked better” as their reasons.
15. Austrailia got to enjoy the album first
July 30 marks the 15th anniversary of Is This It‘s debut to the world, though many won’t have heard the album until its wider release a month later.
It was released initially in Australia, with Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis explaining that the Australian continent had “special dispensation”, and that an export ban was put in place to ensure no interferences with release plans in the rest of the world.