MC5: Kick out the jams
13/12/10 || Khlysty
Continuing the trip down memory lane that I started, oh, so long ago, I want you to listen carefully, this time around, ‘cause there’s a lot of wisdom that I’m going to disperse within this here review. See, MC5 is not only one of the progenitors of heavy metal, but one of the bands that opened the way for almost every strain of extreme music that we listen to and enjoy today. This quintet from Detroit is responsible, not only for creating furious, powerful and bona fide heavy music, in a time when even the concept of “heavy music” was dubious, to say the least, but, having a really “out there” experimental streak running through each and every member of the band, these guys opened up a gazillion possibilities of what can a band do within the framework of playing, y’know, rock’n’roll.
“Kick Out The Jams” is a living, breathing, shouting, drooling and farting testament of the creativity, fury and unrestrained fun these guys had in mind, when they convened to form MC5. And, while their music is firmly rooted in the ‘60s tradition of blues-y rock’n’roll, it really sounds like a fucking carpet-bombing experience, where everything seems to blow towards everywhere at the same time. This being a live album (for the first record of the band, no less), it’s quite obvious that, no matter how much fidelity the production wants to put to the recording, the sound’s gonna bleed all over the place, what with the twin-guitar, everything-in-the-red attack the band deploys. This is one glorious clusterfuck, loud and proud of itself, warts and all.
What’s more surprising, though, is the fact that “Kick Out…” came out on Electra, one of the big players of the time and a label which was supposed to represent “quality” in music. How did the label brass decided to add to its roster such an incendiary group of malcontents, is something clearly beyond my powers of comprehension. But, this is what happened and, thusly, we have in our hands one of the best, most intense, most radical takes on rock’n’roll ever laid to tape. From the opening lines of the “testimonial” rant by Brother J.C. Crawford to the last spaced out of “Starship”, this is one of the records that started it all. One glorious, kick-ass experience, that hasn’t lost one ounce of its power and bite in the intervening 41 years from its initial release.
9. As I said before, the music’s roots can be traced in the ‘60s tradition of amplified blues-rock. But MC5 was a band that considered themselves not just “rock” musicians. Instead, they took everything they liked from psychedelia, jazz, blues, r’n’b, filtered it through their collective approach, overamplified it and unleashed it to the unsuspecting masses.
From the rock’n’roll-juggernaut-gone-ballistic of opener “Ramblin’ Rose”, to the clarion call for a whole generation of disillusioned young punks of “Kick Out The Jams”, to the steroid-pumped-up-blues-gone-to-hell of “Motor City’s Burning”, to the sexually-uncontrolled r’n’b of “I want you right now”, to the rock-psychedelic-metallic-experimental clusterfuck of “Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)”, to the noise/feedback experimentation of “Starship” and everything in between, MC5 displayed a real honest-to-goodness treasure trove of revolutionary ideas about what rock’n’roll should sound like.
The songs here represent a culmination, not only of the ‘60s, but of a whole generation of musicians that liked all things loud and crazy and powerful and ass-kickingly fun. “Kick Out…” is a marvel of unrestrained force, smarts, soul and power. The band members, as units, are exceptional musicians, fully in control of their instruments, with a clear vision of what they want to sound like and how to achieve this. As a whole, though, MC5 is like a fucking bulldozer with no brakes, driven by a guy who’s tripping on LSD, ‘shrooms and pure anger. The fact that many of the things that these guys tried here became staples of heavy music (and of punk rock, of course) in the future is testimonial enough of this record’s enduring power.
9. Super-raw, super-organic, super-all-over-the-place. I said it before and I’ll say it again: they don’t make them anymore like they used to.
10. Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith (who died in 1994, may Ubbo-shathla rest his soul…) comprise the ultimate twin-guitar-attack unit. Exchanging licks, riffs, leads, sonic experimentations with noise and feedback, covering every nook and cranny of the recording with their overdriven guitars, they represent, in my eyes/ears, at least, the clear exuberance –but, also, the anger and disillusionment- the band tried to capture in “Kick Out…”. Their work is definitive of what a heavy band should sound like and I cannot but stand in awe in front of the guitar work of this record.
9. Rob Tyner was the antithesis of what a frontman should look like. On the other hand, he’s the ideal frontman for MC5: unconventional, crazier than the whole band, totally unleashed. In here, he sings, shouts, slurs, slurps, screeches and –to pepper things up- his stage banter is inflammatory and excessively “blue”, especially considering the fact that this was recorded in 196fucking8. Great, great singer, who died in 1991 and will be forever sorely missed.
8,5. In the unholy racket the band creates throughout “Kick Out…” Michael Davis seems like a fucking rock, onto which the songs latch, lest they be sucked into the maelstrom of overdriven sound. Generally, Michael holds the fort, adding from time to time tasteful licks. He’s the man and he deserves out eternal respect.
9. Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson is a peculiar drummer. He seems not to be very interested in keeping the backbeat intact, preferring instead to go all over his kit, with fills, rolls and everything else a drummer can do. Surprisingly, he also keeps that backbeat, so kudos to him.
9. Check this out:
“Ya know, the Motor City is burning people,
there ain’t a thing that white society can do.
Ma home town burning down to the ground,
worser than Vietnam.
Let me tell you how it started now…
it started on 12th & Clairmount that morning.
It made the pig cops all jump & shout,
Ah said, it started on 12th & Clairmount that morning,
It made the pigs in the street freak out.
The fire wagons kept comin’, baby,
but the black Panther snipers wouldn’t let them put it out,
wouldn’t let them put it out, wouldn’t let them put it out”.
Politically charged to the point of exploding.
7,5. Even though it perfectly captures the feel of the band in live mode, I don’t particularly like it.
9. Even though I think that they changed it in future releases, the logo on this one is perfect, even if a bit more ‘60s than I woulda liked it.
-. Also got this on tape, which I bough in 1984. So, no booklet, which is a shame, since the liner notes were written by fucking John Sinclair...
Overall and ending rant
I’m going to repeat myself here, so please be patient. “Kick Out The Jams” is one of the most important records as far as the formation of heavy music is concerned. Its almost uncontrolled power, bite and forward-thinking compositions influenced so many bands that it’s useless to try and count them. Of course, after this incredible record, the band tried to “streamline” its sound a bit, which made future records more “palatable” to bigger audiences. But, if you really want to hear MC5 at its most raw, unrelenting and powerful, this is the only place to start. So, go buy and…
KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!!!!
- Released: 1969
- Label: Electra
- Website: www.mc5.org
- Rob Tyner: vocals
- Wayne Kramer: guitar, backing vocals
- Fred “Sonic” Smith: guitar, backing vocals
- Michael Davis: bass
- Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson: drums
- 01. Ramblin’ Rose
- 02. Kick Out The Jams
- 03. Come Together
- 04. Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)
- 05. Borderline
- 06. Motor City’s Burning
- 07. I Want You Right Now
- 08. Starship