In the late sixties, earning their spurs at the legendary Grande Ballroom in Detroit alongside The Stooges as a house band, the MC5 blasted their way into my affections, producing some of the loudest, baddest, heavy rock music ever heard at that time. Having given their support to a left wing, anarchist movement called the White Panthers (closely allied to the Black Panthers) and under the guidance of John Sinclair, their live performances were interspersed with political rhetoric, captured atmospherically on their debut album, ‘Kick Out The Jams’, a live recording of two 1968 concerts. Controversial ‘explicit’ liner notes caused the album to be withdrawn from many record stores. It sold over 100,000 copies, mainly in the US.
Back in 1969, this album was rarely off my turntable (Garrard SP25 MkII / Goldring G800E). The pure energy and rebellion bursting from this vinyl disc was simply incredible; and the bonus was - a very important factor then as a callow youth….very few people had heard of them.
This album stands at no. 294 in the Rolling Stone magazine poll ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’, being placed above many well respected releases from the likes of Dire Straits and The Beatles. In ‘heavy metal’ polls, it easily makes the top 50.
The two guitarists, Wayne Kramer and Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, provided a deafening wall of raw electric power on this album. While both were showmen extraordinaire, it was Kramer’s screaming solos that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
After Elektra Records sacked the band (too controversial), they moved to Atlantic where their second album release, ‘Back in The USA’ proved totally different, both in content and sound. This was a more traditional rock’n’roll, Chuck Berry inspired collection of songs. The production was very thin sounding, and it benefited from a Japanese remastering many years later. Sales were mediocre.
Their third and final studio album, ‘High Time’, was released in 1971; again, a change of style. Comprising a mixture of out and out rock songs alongside extended instrumental workouts featuring additional brass and percussion instruments, it sold poorly.
After the band broke up (three of the original members have sadly died) there was a raft of ‘best of…’ and ‘rare tracks..’ CD releases – I would advise anyone to avoid these.
Their music is not for the faint hearted and not for everyone, particularly on their debut album. At times the brittle guitars can shake the fillings from your teeth, and the howling feedback threatens your hearing, but if you want to hear one of the most significant live rock albums of all time (IMHO!), give ‘Kick Out The Jams’ a spin. If you like Chuck Berry, the guitar licks on ‘Back In The USA’ will appeal. ‘High Time’ will please more mainstream rock fans.
Stay alive with the MC5!
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