One day, back sometime in the mid-70s, Ricky Gardiner (co-writer of The Passenger) had a chord progression stuck in his head and thought it was damn catchy. He ran straight to his guitar and whacked out the chords that would become one of the catchiest, most irresistible riffs in rock history. That riff was The Passenger. Iggy Pop would put a fine lyric and vocal on it and before long it was born. The pair had written a truly great song.
Iggy’s lyric which is the embodiment of do it yourself, nomadic punk attitude may well be one of the most inspiring pieces of prose ever written. He summons up Kerouacian imagery of being out on the road driving through the city and paints the glory, the buzz and the cesspit feel of it all. Speaking of “the city’s ripped backsides” and painting himself as some kind of Dean Moriarty character with “I am the passenger”.
Musically, The Passenger is a pretty simple song. What Gardiner and Iggy did with the song is probably one of the hardest tricks to pull off – they took a simple harmony and vocal melody and penned an instant classic.
That it was released in 1977 just adds to the punk romanticism of a truly great song.