#349: Kick Out The Jams, MC5
How ballsy do you have to be to have your debut album be a live album? Not only that, but one so explosive and profane that it got you banned from a department store and dropped from your label, based on the wanton F-bomb in title track “Kick Out the Jams” alone?
Kick Out the Jams was recorded on Devil’s Night and Halloween in 1969. MC5 had already earned their punk street cred by being the only band to show up for the 1968 Yippie protest. Also check out the album credits for some more literal street cred. John Sinclair, who was a leader of the anti-racist White Panther party, wrote the incendiary liner notes, and is credited as providing “guidance.” They also list one Brother J.C. Crawford as a “spiritual advisor” — Crawford actually kicks off the whole album with his explosive introduction to “Ramblin’ Rose.”
MC5 had the revolutionary resume, that’s for sure, but after looking up some of the lyrics to their songs, I ended up a bit amused and confused. Because for all their talk of revolution, these songs are mostly about sex. “Come Together,” “Borderline,” and “I Want You Right Now” are all graphic bangin’ tunes, and “Rocket Reducer №62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)” relies on the chorus I’m a man for you baby. (But ohoho, the solo at the end of that one.) The only real song about revolution on here is their cover of “Motor City Is Burning.” And to be fair, they take the already radical lyrics and radicalize them even more, particularly for 1969: It made the pig cops all jump and shout. Yikes!
Lead guitarist Wayne Kramer noted that the band was “inconsistent,” and claimed that every time he listens to the record, “I hear me making clumsy mistakes on the guitar; I hear Dennis all over on the tempos; I hear Rob not quite in the perfect voice he was capable of.” But that’s part of the fun — they have such little control over the chugging music they made that you can literally hear it get away from them. Their final song, “Starship,” is messy and psychedelic and meandering in all the best ways.
In any case, the moral of the story is that it’s much more important to walk the walk than it is to talk the talk. MC5 may have mostly written about boinking ladies, but their ruling philosophy was the revolution.
Fun Fact #1: Patti Smith was married to MC5’s rhythm guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith.
Fun Fact #2: Sonic Youth also lifted part of their name from Fred “Sonic” Smith!
Genuine Question: Was Fred “Sonic” Smith only ever referred to as Fred “Sonic” Smith? I’ve never heard him called Fred, or Sonic, or even Sonic Smith — only Fred “Sonic” Smith, even when I saw Patti Smith speak! Did she greet him every morning like, “Good morning, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, would you like some coffee?”