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The RBP Flashback: The MC5 Record “Kick Out The Jams” 40 Years Ago

It's exactly four decades since Detroit's incendiary Motor City Five recorded the frenzied call-to-arms that was their live debut album. This was how Mike Jahn reported its release in the New York Times. -- Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages

NEW YORK (PSS) — MC5, the Detroit rock band, has released its first album, Kick Out The Jams. Headquartered in Ann Arbor, near Detroit, MC5 has received nationwide attention over the past few months as being the first "guerilla" rock group.

They were the only band to play in Chicago during the demonstrations in opposition to the Democratic National Disaster. All other prominent rock groups that had planned to attend didn't show up. MC5 played despite the fact that the group had no money to waste on equipment which stood a good chance of getting wrecked.

The group has a huge following in the Detroit area. Kick Out The Jams was recorded live, Halloween weekend, 1968, in Detroit's Grande Ballroom, where the MC5 tries regularly to bring down the walls. John Sinclair, their manager and a leader of the White Panthers, a militant political group, wrote in the album's liner notes:


"The MC5 will make you feel it, or leave the room. The MC5 will drive you crazy out of your head and into your body. The MC5 is rock and roll. Rock and roll is the music of our bodies, of our whole lives... We are free men, and we demand a free music, a free high energy source that will drive us wild into the streets of America yelling and screaming and tearing down everything that would keep people slaves."

Their music is loud; "high-energy," they call it. At first, it sounds like one big roar, with individual parts barely discernible. As a matter of fact, you might as well forget it if you are over 19 or 20. I am 25 and supposedly a specialist at this music, and I am having trouble. The MC5 audience is young, 14 or 15, and politically radical. Very few Rascals fans are in their crowds.


If you are not ready for hard, heavy and sensual rock, don't even try listening, particularly live. To the average adult, their sound is the epitome of the complaints parents always have (and always will have) about rock: "It's too loud. It doesn't make any sense."

Now we are back into the original rock context. When it began, its purpose was as a secret code and psychic masseuse for the young, not decipherable by adults.

But for the past few years rock has been getting less loud and more literary, head music for the intellect, not the body.


MC5 says that rock should be body music, as it was in the beginning. To understand it you have to dance and sweat and scream at a rock concert and, to do this, you pretty much have to be young. Try it. It will tell you more about youth politics in the 1970s than all the analysts in Washington.

The Doors did similar things two years ago, before Jim Morrison began singing like Andy Williams and talking like Max Frost the hero in Wild In The Streets.

Now, Miami police are reported to be searching for Morrison for inciting to riot (and a few other things) at a concert last week, and record stores all over are banning or censoring the MC5 album. This is because of the use of a certain 12-letter word alluding to incest on the record and in the liner notes. The record has since been expurgated and one record store-owner was seen removing the word from the jacket with a Magic Marker.

One price of democracy is police and record store owners, and MC5 will be glad to discuss this with you, I'm sure.

Read dozens more MC5 interviews and reviews at Over 13,000 articles by the greatest writers from the finest rock publications of the last 40 years.

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