Kick Out The Jams, the debut call-to-arms by Detroit’s MC5, made the case for revolution 50 years ago this month
Ridiculous. Overbearing. Pretentious.
These were the words used by legendary music critic Lester Bangs in his inaugural review of the punk/garage-rock group MC5’s debut album, Kick Out the Jams. In many ways, he might be right. The only difference? Fifty years later, those words would be written with more enthusiasm than disgust.
Kick Out the Jams is ridiculous, overbearing and pretentious. It begins with lead singer Rob Tyner preaching his hostile gospel as the band launches into a riotous performance before an electrified crowd. “And right now…right now…right now it’s time to kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” he shouts before the opening riffs of the title track. Over the next forty minutes, MC5 — known for their energetic, controversial performances and their dedication to loud, crashing, back-to-basics rock ’n roll — take listeners on a volatile ride. There’s nothing smooth or easy about listening to this band as they fuse punk, blues, and garage rock into something vicious and toxic…and utterly addictive: “Rambling Rose” comes to a crashing halt, slamming into “Kick Out the Jams” on an all-out sonic assault that doesn’t end until the band launches their final attack, ending with the eight-minute epic, “Starship.”
MC5 was an infamously acerbic group, polarizing and uncaring when it came to offending the conservatively-minded, and the antithesis to the peace-and-love hippie movement of the late sixties. When playing to a receptive audience, MC5 was incomparable; the energy and overwhelming soundscape of destruction was unmatched. Their influence in the underground and counterculture communities was unlike any band that came before, or, arguably, after them; when banned from Hudson’s, a Detroit-based department store, due to obscenity, MC5 retaliated with an advertisement in Fifth Estate, a local underground magazine. “Stick Alive with MC5, and Fuck Hudson’s!” the full-page advertisement read, prominently displaying the logo MC5’s label, Elektra Records. The result? Not only were MC5 banned from Hudson’s, but so was every other Elektra Records release.
Incidentally, MC5 was dropped from the label, but if anything, all the controversy did was throw gasoline on an already raging flame. Even so, no later releases could compare with Kick Out the Jams in grit, rage, or volume. MC5 — and their debut record — became the prototype for punk bands that followed, showcasing fast, hard, furious rock ’n roll behind vocals that were screamed or spat in disgust.
Kick Out the Jams refuses to be listened to casually or played quietly; it takes its place with a short list of records that must be listened to at full attention and volume. In the years that followed, the group faced disappointing releases, mediocre sales, poorly received tours, disbandment, and the loss of two founding members to heart attacks. But there’s no denying the lasting impact they made with Kick Out the Jams, fifty years after the five founding members — Rob Tyner, Wayne Kramer, Fred “Sonic” Smith, Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson — lined up in front of a crazed crowd on Halloween night, 1968.