"IF YOU WERE THERE , YOU COULDN'T DENY THE POWER OF THE EXPERIENCE ,
OR RESIST IT."
by Don McLeese
[p.74 to 79] ... Some of those who were introduced to the 5's music by the album tended to respond like gapers at a car crash or onlookers at a street brawl. Hard to turn away , hard to comprehend. The first side of the album (and this is definitely and artifact of an era when vinyl albums had sides) is a rush of adrenalin , a roar of testosterone , and a revolutionary testimonial to the dick that stays hard all night long. Whatever John Sinclair envisioned for his guerrilla assault , the band plainly believed mainly in the power of the penis , the revolution as group grope.
From the start , the crowd is pumped , carrying a higher change before the bans even takes the stage than most concerts generate with the encore. First comes the invocation by "spiritual advisor" Brother J.C. Crawford (aka John , aka Jesse) , the encore as street preacher , merging James Brown's "Star Time" intro with a gospel call-and-response and a militant's call to arms :
Brothers and sisters , I wanna see a sea of hands out there... I want everybody to kick up some noise , I wanna hear some revolution... Brothers and sisters , the time has come for each and every one of you to decide whether you are going to be the problem or you are going to be the solution! You must choose , brothers , you must choose. It takes five seconds , five seconds of decision , five seconds to realize your purpose here on the planet. It takes five seconds to realize that its time to move , it's time to get down with it. Brothers , it's time to testify. And I want to know - are you ready to testify ? Are you ready !! I give you a testimonial. THE MC5 !!
The crowd erupts as four of the five come bucking out of the chute , the guitars charging and drums pounding behind Wayne Kramer's breathy falsetto on "Ramblin' Rose." It's a song about sex. With two notable exceptions on the album's second side , every cut on "Kick Out The Jams" is a song about sex - sex as stamina , sex as conquest , sex as manhood , sex as rock and roll. "Love is like a ramblin' rose," Wayne squeals. "The more you feel it , the more it grows." The second time he sings the line , he rubs the crotch of his skintight satin pants. The band and the crowd are ready to explode ; the set is barely two minutes old.
The explosion comes with the fuse hit by the belated emergence of the fifth of the MC5 , the bushily afro'd Rob Tyner. Stomping to center stage , he introduces the band's signature anthem with a series of pregnant pauses , "And right now... right now... right now... it's time to... KICK OUT THE JAMS , MOTHERFUCKERS!!!" Again , the song is about sex - sex as getting down , sex as getting stoned , sex as going crazy , sex as partying all night long if you're man enough to do it. Mostly , it's about the sexual power of being in a rock and roll band. It should have been a bigger hit than "We're and American Band" by Grand Funk Railroad , one of the many bands inconceivable without the 5. (By appropriating the all-American iconography while eliminating the politics from the equation , Grand Funk would prove far more commercially successful at spreading the high-energy ethos to the lowest common denominator.)
While the rhythm section has yet to finish with "Kick Out The Jams," the guitars are already surging into "Come Together," a song that has little in common with John Lennon's Chuck Berry rewrite that would later open Abbey Road. The longest sustained orgasm this side of Donna Summer , the song is about sex as cosmic rhythm and energy , "the dance from which all dances come," as Tyner moans , the drums pound and the guitars spurt.
After a pause to allow Tyner to catch his breath (and indulge in a brief Donald Duck impression), the multi-orgasmic 5 launch in to the album's centerpiece and the anthem that would remain the highlight of their live sets , "Rocket Reducer No.62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)." This is the supercharged 5 in all their garage-band glory , with pedal to the metal and flight plan to the stars. Between the way the verses lurch and the choruses soar , the band generates so much kinetic energy that it fulfills the most grandiose claims ever made for the music.
The revolutionary message? "Rama lama fa fa fa" : "I said wham , bam , thank you ma'am, I'm a born hell-raiser and I don't give a damn. I'm a man for you , baby. Yes I am for you , baby." Not exactly a dialectic manifesto , but Che Guevara never rocked like this.
Four songs , fourteen and a half minutes of high-energy epiphany and raw sexual release. Then comes the second side , which remains the second side even in the CD era , another set of four cuts as diffuse as the first four are focused. In the vinyl era that spawned the album , you'd listen to both sides of a release at least once but then come to favor one side over the other. I'd guess that most of the more than 100,000 who bought Kick Out The Jams played side one 25-50 times for every time they turned the album over.
When Kramer helped compile Rhino's The Big Bang! Best of the MC5 in 2000 , the anthology included side one in its entirety and omitted side two in its entirety. Yet listening to the second half of the album can still offer flashes of revelation , where every note on side one left an indelible imprint decades ago.
"Borderline," one of the band's first originals and the B side to its second single , launches the B side of the album with the closest thing the early 5 were likely to come to a tender love song - sex as confusion. It even invokes the term "make love," a different sort of physical sensation from the "rama lama" thrust of side one.
From there , the set makes a sharp left turn into radical rabble rousing , when , from out of nowhere, Crawford returns to exhort , "Brothers and sisters , I wanna tell you something. I hear a lot of talk from a lot of honkeys , sitting on a lot of money , saying they're the high society. But , if you ask me , this is the high society , this is the high society!"
However high the crowd was by this time , the twelve-bar plod of "Motor City Is Burning" immediately brings them down. Despite the most politically incendiary message on the album , an expression of celebration of the riots , invocation of firebombs and "si-REENS," disdain for the "pigs" and solidarity with the Black Panthers , there's barely evidence of any audience reaction as the band tames itself to the strictures of standard blues. "I may be a white boy , but I can be bad , too," boasts Tyner at the fade , before prophesizing that Detroit is the harbinger of urban destruction to come : "They'll all burn ! They'll all burn !"
So much for politics. The band is back on familiar territory though forging new musical ground with "I Want You Right Now." What Detroit called "Heavy Music" (in a regional anthem by Bob Seger) the world would soon know as "heavy metal." Over six minutes of proto-metal sludge , the MC5 provide the bridge here between the Troggs and Black Sabbath. In the early punk uprisings of the mid-to-late 70s , punk and metal had little in common but mutual disdain. Yet the MC5 provided a template for each , and a prophetic example of how they would come to revel in a shared sonic sensation , driven by the visceral noise of the electric guitar.
In its climatic finale , credited to MC5 and Sun Ra , "Starship" takes rock where it had never gone before and has rarely ventured since (though the psycho-progressive likes of Pink Floyd and Hawkwind would take tamer the heavy , heavy sexual slurp of "I Want You Right Now" into the transformation of the guitars into Flash Gordon rayguns , as Tyner starts the count-down to blast off for "Startship." Through his out-of-body mantra of "leaving the solar system," the music proceeds through screams and crashes into an eerie euphoria , taking the 5's front man to the outer limits of his beloved science fiction. It's a long way from the burning ghettos of the Motor City.
©2005 by Don McLeese
Published here by permission of the author
Thanks to Don McLeese and David Barker at 33third Series
ABOUT 33 1/3 SERIES : " Each volume has a distinct , almost militantly personal take on a beloved long-player ... the books that have resulted are like the albums themselves - filled with moments of shimmering beauty , forgivable flaws , and stubborn eccentricity " - Tracks Magazine
OTHER TITLES : LOVE's Forever Changes *** PINK FLOYD's Piper At The Gates Of Dawn *** HENDRIX's Electric Ladyland *** SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE's There's A Riot Goin' On *** JAMES BROWN's Live At The Apollo *** ROLLING STONES' Exile On Main St. *** BEACH BOYS' Pet Sounds *** the RAMONES etc.
- 20 TESTIMONIALS TO THIS DAY -
Photos by Leni Sinclair , Joel Brodsky
MC5 GATEWAY 2006