<MC5 album reviews>
"MC5 Live Recordings - Notes & Critics"
By Aaron Duchan

I acknowledge that there is a problem with the 5's recorded legacy -- first of all, a technical problem on how to capture all of that distortion, feedback, and volume successfully in the recording process. Next, the production and mix of the captured "sound" itself leaves much to be desired when compared to the results achieved by other bands of the era. Rob's vocals often get lost (but I have to admit that Rob's vocals often got lost during their live performances, too). The songs, too, are of erratic quality --- some are classics, others are much more easily forgettable. What is NOT forgettable is the MC5's live performances in their peak years of 1967 to 1969, before John Sinclair was busted and most of the 5 jones'd out on smack. They were easily the most exciting live rock band in the USA -- perhaps the world, at that time. Personally, I LOVED THEM. If I was a girl at the time, I would have fucked their brains out. I agree with Dave Marsh that if I had a choice of seeing the Stones at their peak or the 5 at their peak, I'd choose the 5.

A few notes . . . I agree with Wayne Kramer that the "Motor City is Burning" was the best "engineered" song on their first album - - that is, this song sounds closest to the way it sounded in the Grande Ballroom. Besides, it's a killer number with the swooping bass lines, Rob's vocals, and Wayne and Fred's guitar work. "Tonight" is a Rock 'n Roll classic -- I don't know why it didn't make it to the top of the AM Pop charts. And "Baby, Won't Ya" is, just simply a great Rock song, as good as best work of the Stones (which is very good indeed). And I haven't even mentioned "Skunk", "Kick Out the Jams", Wayne's falsetto on "Rambling Rose", "Rama Rama Fa Fa Fa", or Rob's renditions of James Brown classics, such as "Please, Please, Please" and "It's a Man's World" -- which, unfortunately, never made it to vinyl. Every one of the MC5's three albums has more than one real gem on it, and several other very good songs.

Getting back to the critics . . . contrary to Lester Bangs opinion, the White Panther politics were not "hype" designed to sell records, but the sincerely (if in retrospect, rather naive) held beliefs of the group and thousands of other young people at the time, including myself. Whatever the faults of "Kick Out the Jams", it is not some boring, overproduced piece of plastic shit like the "Monkees" (which Mr. Bangs probably just looooved). True, Mr. Bangs, "Kick out the Jams" is not lyrical -- hey, we are not talking about Simon & Garfunckle here, but ROCK AND ROLL -- but than neither is James Brown "lyrical" (how many chords does James Brown use -- I count one, two -- maximum -- THREE). But James Brown is INTENSE. The 5 were nothing if not INTENSE when on stage. Sorry, Mr. Bangs . . . you don't make it.

Wayne Davis comes closest to understanding the Rock & Rock POWER of the 5. Unfortunately, his review deals with their most eviscerated album, "Back in the USA" -- where Jon Landau turned down the volume, and filtered out most of the feedback and white noise that characterized the MC5's sound on "Kick Out the Jams". I would love to see Wayne Davis review "KOTJ" and High Times". . .

Lenny Kaye tries to strike a "balanced" pose in his review of "High Times" -- that is, he pans half, "okays" one-quarter, and praises what's left (which is not too much). O.K., Lenny, I agree that the album is not perfect, but you lose me when you take a superb song like "Skunk (Sonicly Speaking)" and say it "dies a tragicomic death with the addition of some out-of-place horns" at the end. Lenny, the horns are the fucking "high" point of the song -- not some out-of-place denouement thought up by Fred while under the influence of take your pick of x substances. They flow smoothly along with Fred and Wayne's brilliant guitar work and mesh together perfectly. This song is really quite sophisticated in its use of the horns in a rock setting (better by far than "Blood, Sweat, and Tears") and makes me wonder what the 5 would have been capable of doing had they not broken up.

İAaron Duchan 2002

MC5's Recordings - reviews & overviews