If you LISTEN to the MC5 you'll soon know that this is no ordinary rock
band that you are listening to. MC5 came on with an unprecedented
approach to what had hitherto been unheard of in rock. Down home gutsy
and loud rock'n'roll that was not afraid to embrace the more
arty side of music combining the elements with passion and intelligence
and a literate approach. Now 30 years down the road the music of the
MC5 seems as fresh as then.
Brothers & Sisters join in with me, the time has come for: MC5
KICK OUT THE JAMS
a flawless record MC5 made their LP debut with a nevertheless well
representation in sound. While the songs on KOTJ falls in two
categories, the more "straight" rock songs Ramblin' Rose, Kick Out The
Jams, Borderline and Motor City Is Burning (The songs which were also
chosen as singles), and the wilder more free form tunes Come Together,
Rocket Reducer No. 62, I Want You Right Now and Starship,
characteristic is it that the "straight" songs have the lead vocal
mixed more in front while all channels are more at level on the free
form group of
As KOTJ was composed of two "straight" songs followed by two free form
songs on each record side the effect achieved is that of the music
"opening" up on the third song on each side leading each side into a
While it can be said that while the mixing of the free form songs seems
in fine accordance with the concept of the MC5 sound it may be argued
that the "straight" songs has guitars, bass and drums mixed too much in
the back to render the band in its true fashion thus providing them with
what was more that Elektra signature sound of the producers Jac Holzman
and Bruce Botnick than the MC5 sound.
MC5 had by Elektra been promised the possibility of a in-the-studio
re-recording of the songs were they not content with the live
made for KOTJ and wanted to make use of that option but Elektra,
feeling the band's sound and attitude way too wild to handle, withdrew
That MC5 was not satisfied with the live recordings can be understood
such that some of the songs could have been presented in better
played/stronger versions and that the delicate nature of Tyner's voice
could have been better rendered within the facilities of a studio.
it this way it can be said that most successful are the versions of I
Want You Right Now, Come Together and Motor City Is Burning.
Elektra withdrew its promise -a shame. It could have been very
interesting to have had studio recordings of the songs.
What characterises KOTJ also is the artificial rendering of the concert
situation due to it being composed of recordings made over two days
spliced together. Some of the applause after songs seems unnaturally
short the artificiality of the rendering also showing in an odd musical
transition between I Want You Right Now and Starship.
Nevertheless KOTJ must be seen as a very decent presentation of the
MC5, as they sounded at the time, and with its artistic and
risky focus on MC5's own material rather than some of the many cover
tunes they played
during 1968 presenting the band with the fine sound
Rating: Beyond the stars
Back In The USA
MC5 proved themselves to be a too hot potato for Elektra, nothing in
their dangerous image changed with their switch to Atlantic for their
next two albums. If the cover art for Kick Out The Jams was great the
cover art for the two Atlantic albums were even better. BITUSA being the
most coherent and somehow most successful of the MC5 albums is probably
also the MC5 record with the greatest cover of them all. While
the cover art of KOTJ certainly signals LIFE it also renders the band
in a surrealistic (Common to much of Elektra's cover art in these
remote fashion, the cover art of BITUSA merely signalling LIFE PRESENT
HERE & NOW !
I always loved being stoned lying on my bed with the cover of BITUSA
resting on top of one of my three feet high record shelves (Nice ones I
have !) staring back at me from a twelve feet distance the picture of
MC5 coming out of the steam with Tyner, Davis and Thompson staring right
into the camera. And the white frame carrying the title and Atlantic
logo makes a perfect display for the picture...
Poor Landau ! As with Jac Holzman MC5 must have given Landau some grey
hairs and sleepless nights. Here was this rock
band dedicated to
free jazz and loud playing and a producer with almost no previous
studio experience. So what did he do ?!!! Reduce the drumkit to a
snaredrum, mix down guitars and bass in the background, presenting the
songs with an all-treble compressed sound !!!
Boy -did it sound odd the first times I listened to BITUSA ?!!! It took
me some listens to discover that there was in fact an enormous impact
that sound however artificial and removed from KOTJ as it sounded. And
not at least
due to the strong nature of the compositions and
performance, the high energy element intact, just squeezed in (i.e.
compressed), and the delicate nature of Tyner's voice now fully
Here is one strong song after the other and all played optimally. On
BITUSA the songs are short and compact and fit for radio format, devoid
any of the jazz elements.
While KOTJ with its expression in sound clearly identified MC5 as being
an American band the American landscape is on BITUSA now the
main theme in both the playing as well as in the content of most of the
Here we are down on "Shakin' Street". We meet the characters of "The
Human Being Lawnmower", "Call Me Animal" and "Teenage Lust" and
look out, here comes MC5's "High School" ready to ball and sick of "The
American Ruse". Mysterious seems the call in "Let Me Try" ("Tyner's
song" I call it !) as well as the tripped-out rendering of a concert
situation from the view of a person in the audience in "Looking At You".
As mentioned here is the delicacy of Tyner's voice fully displayed but
also the Landau sound ads to the songs a delicate sexiness to the
performances. The delicate character of BITUSA as a whole indicates the
literate element of the MC5 and now, brothers and sisters, the time
has come to put forth the question: Was MC5 really the D.H. Lawrences
of rock ?!
Rating: A chest full of diamonds.
as big a commercial success as Kick Out The Jams and Back In The USA,
High Time is probably the MC5 record with the most impressive
songs. As with BITUSA the cover of HT contains the in-your-face quality
but while the image of the BITUSA cover is certainly a positive lively
one the cover art of HT has a disturbing negative significance to it.
Consisting as KOTJ of fewer and longer lasting songs HT is the album
with MC5 now not only in control of the contents and arrangements of
the songs, but now also in control of the production of the sound. And
what sound ?!!! While the high-energy element came through in a
compressed form on BITUSA on HT the high-energy element is literally
poured right out on you. Again we have one strong song after the other
but while the songs on BITUSA came through in a stripped down manner
the songs on HT are all carefully ornamented. HT offers one splendid
instrumental and vocal attack after the other with all lines in the red.
The gospel comes through full blast in "Sister Anne" and "Baby won't
Ya" and in yet another "mystery song" the larger-than-life ballad "Miss
Equally mysterious in feeling seems songs like "Poison" and
"Future/Now" with their high-pitched vocals and religious imagery. It
is hard hitting
but with a sensitivity to it that only The 5 masters. More straight
rocking but no less delicate is "Over And Over" and "Gotta Keep Movin'
high-energy outlast reaches its climax in the wild "Skunk (Sonicly
Speaking)" coming at you like waves and waves of sound building from
percussion intro to the riff to a "crazed -out" hard bopsque inferno
nailing in the message: Life is so much bigger than what you're told.
Take it !
Larger than life -on HT every human ego seems gone in favour of the
pure spirit of the music.
Characteristically for HT and which may explain some of its lack of
commercial success is the order chosen for the songs. As a complete
HT must be seen as the least flamboyant and commercial presentation of
the individual songs as could have been achieved with the material.
While HT with an order of songs: Side 1 "Skunk (Sonicly Speaking)",
"Over And Over", "Poison", "Future/Now"/Side 2 "Baby Won't Ya", "Gotta
Keep Movin' ", "Sister Anne", "Miss X" (Try and encode your CD version
-see what happens !), easily could have come out a competitor to
contemporary hard-rocking bands like Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin it has
none of the flashiness of these two bands with the order chosen.
Rather each song on HT seems to stand very much on its own.
Laughing in the face of God.
Röder, Copenhagen 2002/04/24