MC5 - Kick Out the Jams

by James Weiskittel Rating:10 Release Date:1969-02-01
MC5 - Kick Out the Jams
MC5 - Kick Out the Jams

From the iconic cover art to the unmistakable sound of a band performing at the peak of their abilities, the MC5’s debut release Kick Out The Jams, is widely regarded (and rightfully so) as one the bigger bricks in the foundation of all-things punk-rock.  And while the Detroit rockers exploded onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere, the band’s overnight success (thanks in no small part to a Rolling Stone cover appearance in January of 1969) was actually years in the making.

The earliest incarnations of the MC5 can be traced back to 1964 in Lincoln Park, Michigan, where visionary guitarist Wayne Kramer met local scenester Rob Tyner.  The musical partnership would prove fruitful as the eventual five piece (christened the MC5 - Motor City Five - by Tyner, in honor of their hometown roots) would soon begin to earn a reputation as one of Detroit’s most prominent live acts, eventually earning the band a contract (along with some other local band called the Stooges) with Elektra records in 1968.  

Recorded live over a two-day period at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom in late-October, 1968, Kick Out the Jams is a profoundly visceral sonic statement, one that is bursting at the seams with the same political unrest that would come to define the late 1960’s.  While history has largely been kind to this unrepentant debut, the sheer sonic audacity of this release is sometimes in danger of being overlooked when one removes it from the cultural context of its time.

A chorus of applause and an impromptu ‘sermon’ from Brother J.C. Crawford gives way to the breakneck opener “Ramblin’ Rose”, a collection of stop/start riffs and blistering lead work that is perhaps the perfect introduction for the band.  Meanwhile, the title track, which begins with Tyner’s infamous ‘Kick Out the Jams Motherfucker’, is clearly the touchstone song here; the kind of exalted gem that can easily be tossed into the worth-the-price-of-admission category.

While tracks like the classic four-on-the-floor barnburner “Come Together”, and the unrelenting “Borderline” are potent bursts of barely-contained sonic chaos, the band also manages to put their own twisted spin on some traditional blues with the anthemic “Motor City is Burning”, and the unapologetically raunchy “I Want You Right Now”.  

Kick Out The Jams ends about a million miles from where it starts, with an eight minute slice of tripped-out atonal bliss entitled “Starship”.  While the song is clearly a departure from the blueprint established by the record’s first seven tracks, it’s also an incredibly bold artistic move, and quite possibly the most ‘punk’ moment of the record.

Tyner is the consummate showman throughout, constantly goading and pleading with the crowd, all while never relinquishing their attention.  Meanwhile, Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith literally invent the twin-guitar attack while bassist Michael Davis and drummer Dennis Thompson pummel through each and every song like it’s an encore.

While many of the rock’s greatest debut records capture a would-be legendary band in their musical infancy, offering glimpses of a mastery that it is still somewhere off on the horizon, Kick Out the Jams is a rare exception.  The record’s lasting influence on generations to come notwithstanding, the MC5 managed to capture a singular, chaotic moment in time with Kick Out the Jams; one that is still captivating audiences nearly fifty years later.

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