<MC5 album reviews>
By Christopher Stigliano
JUNE,6 2002

    I first bought a copy of the MC5's debut platter at a time when the avant punk movement that spawned more than a few groups influenced by the Five's rebel rock were beginning to pop up across the planet. Prior to this time I never knew they existed...I wasn't even aware of the fanzine culture that had deified the Five as fallen heroes of a valiant late-sixties attempt to re-capture rock & roll aesthetics, and naturally the mainstream magazines, the FM-rock totalitarians, and the fans had forgotten all about their existence, if they ever knew at all. What could you expect in a household that tried to discourage their children's rock & roll proclivities to the max? And what could I expect with an older sister who wasn't even ALLOWED to purchase records of any sorts for ages, and whose few acquisitions (mostly gifts from sympathetic cousins and boyfriends) consisted of all the Moody Blues albums, Sgt. Pepper and maybe an Emerson Lake and Palmer album or two?

    I must have been aware of the Five from brief mentions with regards to the budding underground scene of the day (used to peruse Creem magazine at the newsstands before being chased away), but my first major exposure to their whole reason for being came from their big writeup in an early 1969 issue of Rolling Stone that I happened upon...that article, with the great live photographs and jam-packed information on the Five's "avant rock" was sure eye-opening. I was "getting into" free jazz and sixties garage rock at the time, and along with the shards of information on these new and exciting groups like Pere Ubu that were changing the concept of rock & roll (or better yet, rediscovering rock concepts long-forgotten), the MC5 seemed like the best rock & roll ideal to come down the pike since the Velvet Underground. Imagine, a group that could play sixties-punk standards, blistering hard/heavy rock and cover massive freedom jazz giants like Coltrane and Shepp...all rolled into one big ball of fuzzy hair for the bored youth of 1969 (or '79, '89...). I mean, what more could I ask for?

    Later on I finally read Lester Bangs' review of the debut KICK OUT THE JAMS and, although he slammed that one to pieces (something he regretted for the rest of his life) I dug the writeup immensely just like I loved Chris Holdenfield's review of the first Stooges LP even though that was a complete slam as well, even though Holdenfield should have KNOWN that any review that exemplified a group's use of wah-wahs, cheap leather jackets and teenage suburban pose was BOUND to pique my attention, just as Bangs should have known that a group making Coltrane horn sounds on the guitar while rewriting Barrett Strong's "Money" (as done by the Kingsmen) for "the revolution" was gonna do nothing but get Young Punk America to save their shekels for such desirable wares! Needless to say, I just HADDA get it!

    After much thought (looking through the import bins and even debating whether to spend $2 on a factorycassette cutout---money was hard to come by back then) I finally bought a used copy of KICK OUT THE JAMS at a Cleveland Heights record shop. I remember my cousin asking me about them on the way home and telling her that they were one of the first punk rock groups and this and that about 'em, and she seemed to be very astute and understanding about it even though I just knew she didn't understand a thing I was talking about. The next morning I played the album loud in order to prepare for a painful dental appointment. The hard sounds, teenage snot attitude and general chaos that ensued was more than appropriate.

    So how does KICK OUT THE JAMS hold up long after I gave it a commencing spin? Well, the reams of live albums that have come in its wake covering the entire gamut of the MC5's career have colored my and probably your viewpoint somewhat, but I still find it a exhilarating experience. From the sparkling cover collage to the sounds contained therein (a fine, successful attempt to recreate the feeling you get sticking your head into the exhaust of a freshly-launched rocket), KICK OUT THE JAMS is a winner throughout, perhaps one of the brightest debuts of '69 alongsides the first Stooges platter as well as the Archies!

    The opening rant courtesy of Brother Jesse Crawford is actually a nice reworking of the beginning of THE SEEDS LIVE, which only goes to show you why the more radical of American Youth thought that the Five were bubblegum! Of course "Ramblin' Rose" is a fine way to begin things with its scraped vocals and frantic pace that must've given America over Thirty a massive headache once this longplayer began being blast from turntables nationwide! Of course the title track's no slouch as well, and I remember being kinda "scared" listening to this once to see if it was "uncensored" or not. It was censored meaning I could play this one in front of the folks! Lucky people, eh?

    Of course, "Come Together" wasn't the Beatles hit but a nice "rewrite" of the Who's "I Can See For Miles." Considering how the Who were releasing substandard pap like "Who Are You?" at the time (which I thought was actually a number by one of the new slick-o pop groups of the day like Ambrosia or Journey and certainly NOT the once-revered Who!), it was stuff like this that was speaking TO me as a young, disaffected and hated creature and certainly NOT the regurgitation that the bong generation with too much money was pushing to the top of the heap, er, charts. "Rocket Reducer" was a wild one too (especially the heavy metal in a time of metal as rustbucket aesthetics guitar coda) though believe it or not I thought it was just TOO "funky" at the time. Can you believe THAT?

    The flipside was even cooler. Yeah, I didn't care for the blues number "Motor City is Burning" any, but side-opener "Borderline" was massive...I remember getting chills down my spine at that point where Rob Tyner went "ooooooooh---YEAH!" and the song continued with a big plummet! And then there's the uncredited cover of the Troggs' "I Want You" (with "Right Now" added to avoid royalty payments)...when I found out this was a Troggs song I was stymied...you see, I always pictured the Troggs as mid-sixties hard rather than late-sixties heavy. Of course, when I heard "Come Now" and "Feels Like a Woman" the connection was all the clearer!

    The LP finale "Starship", one of many MC5 free jazz "rewrites" was also an eye opener. I had just heard Sun Ra and was amazed at the electronic free big band jazz that groups could exude, and I gotta admit that the Five did a good job capturing the avant jazz of Ra and turning it into their own avant rock. Still remember the ending which sounded like that very same starship was heading for a brick wall, with ME at the controls! It only left me begging for more, and come to think of it why isn't Rhino or whoever handles this reissuing KICK OUT THE JAMS with all the live outtakes including "Ice Pick Slim", "I Put a Spell on You" and of course the infamous show-stopper "Black to Comm"? Complete with a gigantic booklet and rare photos and other bits of exciting things to satiate people like myself who were in on the "secret" for more than a few years.

    I once said that I'd listen to just about ANY group influenced by the Velvet Underground that existed between 1967 and 1975. I'd say pretty much the same thing about groups influenced by the MC5 and KICK OUT THE JAMS that existed around the same time, given that the first year listed correlates with KICK OUT's 1969 release date. After '75, forget it...y'see, everybody (including myself) knew about 'em, thus losing the original mystique once and for all.


MC5's Recordings - reviews & overviews