Tuesday, December 25, 2007

No. 294: Kick Out The Jams

Band: The MC5
Album: Kick Out The Jams
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of the classic pre-punk records, “Kick Out The Jams” has become a rallying cry for punkers everywhere. At any point in time, you can find millions of high schoolers rocking out to this record. Also, Wayne Kramer.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The MC5's sound isn't really remarkable, all things being equal. They did something that a lot of people did; They just built up a really big audience in the Midwest.
Best song: The starting and ending tracks are, by far, the best.
Worst song: I don't like “Motor City Is Burning” much, though I do credit them for playing it on Devil's Night.
Is it awesome?: It's close.

So, here's my question: What the hell was in the water in Detroit during the 1960s? In addition to Iggy and the Stooges, you had Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent (though he grew up in Illinois) and, of course, the Motor City Five. Protopunk, while mostly spawned from New York's Velvet Undergound, certainly got a huge lift from the same place that gave us Motown, the Detroit Pistons, Henry Ford and Mitch Ryder. That's pretty cool, but very very strange.


Notable is that the title track has been covered many, many times. Bad Brains (with Henry Rollins), Blue Oyster Cult, Rage Against the Machine and Jeff Buckley have all done notable covers. An odd collection, for sure, but for something of an iconic song, I guess that makes some sense.

Reading Lester Bangs' 1969 review of the album was a great starting (and, probably, ending point). Bangs – in a way that only he could – asked a pretty interesting question: Why have the Motor City Five gained more fame and notoriety than its contemporaries? Bangs, being the center of rock criticism, had the answer:

Most of the songs are barely distinguishable from each other in their primitive two-chord structures. You've heard all this before from such notables as the Seeds, Blue Cheer, Question Mark and the Mysterians, and the Kingsmen. The difference here, the difference which will sell several hundred thousand copies of this album, is in the hype, the thick overlay of teenage-revolution and total-energy-thing which conceals these scrapyard vistas of cliches and ugly noise.

So, on some level, the MC5 were 1969's Strokes. Something to think about.


But, whether it's hype or not, the record endures. It has one of the more iconic (spoken) lines “And right now it's time to... kick out the jams motherfucker!” Though there really isn't a meaning behind this – despite hippy protests – famous line, it's punk rock in a phrase, essentially. There's real energy and love for the music in there.

(I'd argue it's all the bad things about punk. It's mindless, meaningless and angry.)


The record, of course, was recorded live at Detroit's Grande Ballroom. The band, as with most protopunk, just played their stuff faster and louder than other bands. It was somewhat interesting then (though, as Bands points out, not that interesting), but it's downright boring now.

That's the thing about the MC5; The Nuggets box really makes the MC5 sound largely uninteresting. That set has tons of great bands doing cool songs and the MC5 doesn't sound like the super important band that I'd thought of them when I was in high school.


Justin said...

Detroit is still a fantastically strange place for rock bands. My favorite band of the past decade hails from there, Mick Collins' Dirtbombs. Do yourself a favor and buy 2001's Ultraglide in Black if you don't own it. I'm eagerly anticipating their next release in February.

Justin said...

Oh, and I'd take the Stooges, Mitch Ryder, or the Amboy Dukes over the MC5 anyday. Their sound really hasn't held up as well and I wonder if the love for them comes from the "motherfucker" line that caused so much controversy back in the day.

R.J. said...

I think that's my issue: The MC5 aren't really discernible from Mitch Ryder, plus they're a pretty big step below the Stooges just within their own city. If you're comparing the MC5 to other protopunk bands? I just don't see it. It's mostly hype.