Wednesday, July 22, 2009

July 22: MC5, "Kick Out The Jams"

Artist: MC5
Album: Kick Out The Jams
Year: 1968 (recorded), 1969 (released)
Label: Elektra

With an overwhelming majority of bands and musicians, often the most difficult task is properly capturing their live sound within a studio environment. In most cases, the more aggressive and intense a bands' stage presence, the tougher it is to accurately represent them on record. This is rarely more true than in the case of the seminal hard rock/punk band, Detroit, Michigan's own, MC5. MC5, short for "Motor City Five," remain one of the most influential bands in both hard rock as well as being widely regarded as one of the first more "traditional" sounding punk rock bands. With their stunning musicianship, highly charged lyrics, and amazingly intense delivery, there are truly few bands that can compare to their sound. It is due to this intensity and spirit that makes it understandable for them to have opted for a live recording to mark their debut release. Recorded on "Devil's Night" and Halloween of 1968 at Detroit's Grande Ballroom, MC5's 1969 debut, Kick Out The Jams, remains one of the most powerful and important albums in music history.

Much like the band itself, Kick Out The Jams brought with it a great deal of controversy. While a number of songs on the album have rather blunt and rousing lyrics, it was one simple word on the title track that caused all of the chaos around the album's release. Though it is now almost cliché, yet one of the most recognizable openings to a song, "Kick Out The Jams" begins with vocalist Rob Tyner yelling, "...right now...right now it's time to...KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!" Obviously, this made the song unplayable on radio, and many stores refused to sell the album due to this phrase being present. Even the bands' record label was opposed to the line, but the band and their management refused to budge. The band even went further, having the line printed on the inside cover of the record, though this version was quickly pulled from stores. The chain store, Hudson's, completely refused to carry the record, and after Tyner took out a newspaper ad, rumored to simply be a photo of himself with the phrase, "Fuck Hudson's" on it, Elektra dropped the band from the label. Due to all of this, there are multiple versions of the album in existence. Some have censored covers, some censored audio, yet a majority of them are, in fact, the original, uncensored version. One quick note is that the great Sun Ra receives a "writer" credit on the album, and this is due to the fact that the lyrics to "Starship" were partially taken from one of his poems.

The music found on Kick Out The Jams is as intense and provoking as the lyrics of the songs. The energy that the band brings explains why they chose to make their debut record a live recording; as it would prove nearly impossible for any of their studio recordings to accurately represent the bands' stage presence. The names of the musicians within MC5 represent some of the most influential and talented names in the history of music. The dual guitars of Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith create a sound that is virtually unmatched anywhere else in music history. Both excelled far beyond their peers in both their technical ability, as well as the sheer force of their sound, and the way in which the two interact with one anothers' playing is nothing short of stunning. Bassist, Michael Davis, was actually the bands' second bass player, yet it is clear why the band chose him, as his sound helps to create half of one of the greatest rhythm sections ever. The other half of this top notch rhythm section is drummer Dennis Thompson. Thompson earned the nickname, "Machine Gun" for the extremely aggressive and fast paced manner of his playing. Thompson's sound and style has had a profound influence on nearly every drummer in hard rock, heavy metal, and punk who came after him. Upon listening to Kick Out The Jams, the early formation of what is now called hard rock and punk rock is quite evident, and it is also clear that MC5 have, by far, some of the most talented musicians that the world has ever heard.

The frontman for MC5, Rob Tyner, actually took his stage name as a tribute to jazz pianist, McCoy Tyner. It was Tyner's (real name Robert Derminer) infamous shout that created all of the chaos around the album, and in many ways, it was also due to his shout that the band gained as much attention as they did. While the musicianship of MC5 would have been enough to make the band legendary, it is Tyner's lyrics, as well as the way in which he delivers them, that makes the band as influential as they are. Half speaking, half shouting, every word Tyner delivers is just as important as the next, and the passion and potency with which he sings was like nothing else before him. While he was certainly not the first to sing politically motivated, "call to action" type lyrics, the ferocity and urgency in his voice remains largely unmatched. Rob Tyner's style of vocal delivery can clearly be heard in the sound of later artists like Joe Strummer as well as Zack De La Rocha. Lyrically, Kick Out The Jams features a cavalcade of "call to arms" anthems, and even when working cover songs, the band gives it their own, unique touch. Whether it is the incendiary title track, or Tyner praising the snipers from the Black Panther "Detroit Insurrection" of 1967 during the bands' version of John Lee Hooker's, "Motor City Is Burning," Kick Out The Jams is an unrelenting, polarizing display of some of the finest hard rock that has ever been recorded.

Few bands can claim the overall level of talent that can be found on the debut record from MC5. With what is arguable one of the greatest rhythm sections ever, as well as the unrivaled duo of Smith and Kramer on guitar, the music found on Kick Out The Jams is of the highest quality, and it is one of the reasons why the bands' success was somewhat inevitable. Combining this music with the high energy, riotous lyrics and delivery of Rob Tyner, one has everything needed for the ultimate "revolutionary" band. While hard rock and heavy metal were being explored elsewhere in music, it is largely the work of MC5 that serves as the foundation for what became punk rock, and the power of their music still resonates within modern music. Truly a band that did things exactly as they saw fit, and refusing to compromise anything about their music, lyrics, or appearance, MC5 paved the way for nearly every high energy or politically charged band who followed. While it usually proves to be a disastrous move for a band to make their first release a live recording, MC5's 1969 debut, Kick Out The Jams, perfectly encapsulates everything that made the band so phenomenal, and it remains a spectacular sounding and massively influential recording to this day.

Standout tracks: "Ramblin' Rose," "Kick Out The Jams," and "Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)."


Machinegun said...

Thank you for the great post!


The Music Guru said...

Thank YOU for the great music! For so many people, myself included, it stands as one of those "life changing" albums. I am truly honored that you read and appreciated my writing!

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.