From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
MC5 (short for Motor City Five) was a hard rock band formed in Lincoln Park, Michigan, U.S. in 1964 and active until 1972. The band consisted of Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith (guitars) Michael Davis (bass), Rob Tyner (vocals), and Dennis Thompson (drums).
They had a promising beginning, known especially for their energetic live performances, which earned them a cover appearance on Rolling Stone magazine in 1968 even before their debut album was recorded. The MC5's career was ultimately short-lived due to personal and political tensions, and they were largely forgotten when they broke up. Within just a few years of their dissolution, however, the MC5 were often cited as one of the most important American hard rock groups of their era: their three albums are regarded as classics, and they exerted an influence on metal and especially punk rock. The widely-covered "Kick Out the Jams" is their best-known song.
Kick out the Jams
The MC5 earned national attention with their first album, Kick Out the Jams, recorded live on October 30 and 31, 1968 at Detroit's Grande Ballroom. A live debut was all but unheard of in 1968 (and is still rare today), but Elektra executives Jac Holzman and Bruce Botnick recognized that the MC5 were at their best when playing for a receptive audience. The first song, a version of the R&B standard "Ramblin' Rose," featured a ragged falsetto lead vocal from Kramer before Tyner joined the group onstage. Containing such songs as the proto-punk classics "Kick Out the Jams" and "Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa", the spaced-out "Starship" (co-credited to Sun Ra because the lyrics were partly cribbed from one of Ra's poems), and an extended cover of John Lee Hooker's "Motor City is Burning" wherein Tyner praises the role of Black Panther snipers during the Detroit Insurrection of 1967. The album is generally regarded as one of the best live rock and roll records: critic Mark Deming writes that the gleefully lusty Kick "is one of the most powerfully energetic live albums ever made ... this is an album that refuses to be played quietly."
The album caused some controversy due to the title track's rallying cry of "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!" (according to Kramer, the band recorded this as "Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters!" for the single released for radio play; Tyner claimed this was done without group consensus (Thompson, 2000) ) and Sinclair's inflammatory liner notes. The edited version also appeared in some LP copies, which also withdrew Sinclair's excitable comments. The album was released in January, 1969; reviews were mixed, but the album was successful, quickly selling over 100,000 copies, and appearing for several weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.
Back in the USA
Their second album, Back in the USA, produced by future Bruce Springsteen mentor Jon Landau, virtually provided a prototype for punk rock with its short, fast, hard-edged angry guitar rock. The band sounded radically different from Kick, and McLeese writes that except for Tyner's vocals, they were "barely recognizable as the same band." (McLeese, 96) The second album also featured very different production from the first — the MC5 now sounded compressed and somewhat limited in their sonic palate compared to their earlier era — band members later said that Landau was overbearing and heavy-handed in production, trying to shape the group to his own liking.
Reviews were again mixed, sales were mediocre (It peaked at 137 in March 1970) and the MC5's tours were not as well-received as before. Exhaustion was partly to blame, from the band's heavy touring schedule and increasingly heavy drug use.
They had fallen out with Sinclair, as well, and were conspicuous by their absence at the December, 1971 "Free John Sinclair" rally to protest his incarceration on marijuana possession.
Their third album, High Time would also prove influential on 1970s hard rock bands.Template:Fact The album was poorly promoted, and sales were worse than ever, but High Time was the best-reviewed of the band's original records upon its initial release. The group had much more creative control, and were very satisfied with the results. This release saw the band stretch out with longer, more experimental pieces like Future/Now and the Sun Ra-influenced Skunk (Sonically Speaking).