MC5 – Kick Out The Jams

Furious, raging and raucous – just the way Rock ought to be

Those who think punk started and ended with the Sex Pistols should reassess their album (or iPod) collection. For if there was one ‘60s group that encapsulated the spirit of rock and roll in all its true revolutionary glory it was the MC5 (which translated means Motor City Five), and who, like the Velvet Underground only a year or two before, refused to conform, and perhaps because of this, blew apart after only a few short explosive years (although drugs and lack of commercial success no doubt also played a hand).

Rather than debut their manifesto from the proscribed confines of a recording studio, Kick Out the Jams was recorded live at Russ Gill’s Grande Ballroom in Detroit on 30-31 October 1968, and what a furious and raging document it is. That the songs themselves are nothing all that remarkable (like most garage outfits, song writing wasn’t exactly their specialty) is irrelevant, because these five scruffy and uncompromising misfits really knew how to amp it up and scream it out!

The two principle talents were guitarists Wayne Kramer, and Fred “Sonic” Smith (later husband to Patti Smith), whose frenzied guitar assaults are impeccable throughout. Mike Davis (bass), and Dennis Thompson (drums) both do their best to keep the proceedings from disintegrating at any second, yet it’s lead singer Rob Tyner’s show, who yells and hollers like some crazed lunatic who has just escaped from the local loony bin.

The opening “Brothers and Sisters” speech by co-conspirator J. C. Crawford may sound dated by today’s culturally conservative standards, but back then this was the sort of thing that could get any male teenager playing it in his bedroom sent off to military school by his white protestant parents. “Ramblin’ Rose”, the first song, is pure sonic dynamite, and is probably the only really memorable tune here, while the title track boasts a thunderous and raucous riff (think Chuck Berry meets Black Sabbath), that will blow the wig off every Republican in the house. If there’s a weakness, it’s that this is arguably one of those records which must be taken as a whole, and not dissected into individual songs, because if it was, it just wouldn’t stand up, or at least not as well as some people like to remember. And while it’s probably not the sort of thing one could listen to every day of the week (unless you’re a hormone-fuelled fifteen-year old who hates his or her parents), some 45 years after the fact, there remains an undeniable urgency and immediacy to this record rarely found on albums from the same era (much less today).

For those who like their rock loaded with plenty of attitude and radical social/political statements, then this could well be the band for you.