When most people think of the most influential rock bands from the 1960s, they think of the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. While both musical groups transformed the industry, one of the most influential bands of the time was MC5. MC5 was a band from Detroit that defied musical norms and paved the path for the punk rock movement. Similar to Bob Dylan and other folk rock artists of the time, MC5 had a strong political focus; however, unlike these other artists, MC5’s sound and protest music was much more hard-hitting, distorted, and energetic.
The group was wildly anti-establishment and aligned with the White Panther Party, a far left anti-racism white group similar to the Black Panther party.
They notoriously performed at the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests and riots in Chicago. MC5’s rebellious nature and gritty, fast paced instrumentals paved the way for the Punk Rock movement of the 1970s. Their first album “Kick Out The Jams” was recorded live at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom in 1968. It starts off with MC J.C. Crawford calling for the already rowdy audience to put their hands up and decide if they were going to be a part of the problem, or a part of the solution in “Ramblin’ Rose.” After Crawford’s introduction, the guitar on “Ramblin’ Rose” kicks in with heavy distortion and powerful chords. The lyrics are sung in a goofy falsetto, making clear that the members of the band are not musical purists, but rather passionate kids looking to have fun with their performance. This song is a perfect introduction to the album and to the band, not because of the lyrics, but because of the execution. “Ramblin’ Rose” is unrefined, gritty, and defiant as it challenged musical norms and rejected the mainstream music and culture of the 1960s. The title track is probably the band’s most well known song. “Kick Out The Jams” is filled with smashing drums and animated guitar that make you want to dance. “Come Together” maintains the set’s intensity as the crowd can be heard cheering, transporting the listener into that concert hall.
“Motor City Is Burning” is a cover by Blues musician John Lee Hooker, recorded in 1967 after race riots in Detroit. As an anti-racism band, it made sense that MC5 chose this song to be the only political song on the eight track album. Similar to “Ramblin’ Rose,” this song starts off with another sermon like speech validating the culture surrounding the band and rejecting the status quo of the time.
The distortion of the guitar remains the same, but the chords are dialed down in power.
The vocals are passionate and raspy as lead singer Rob Tyner sings about oppression and the abuse of power by law enforcement. Though MC5 was a short lived band, they were one of the first protopunk bands that enabled the genre to grow to the extent that it did. Punk rock was one of the defining genres of the 70s that influenced later movements like garage rock.
“Kick Out the Jams” is an album that should be respected and appreciated by all music lovers, and its significance in the greater evolution of modern music should never be forgotten.