Guitarist-vocalists Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith joined vocalist Rob Derminer, a.k.a. Rob Tyner (so renamed after jazz pianist McCoy Tyner), bassist Michael Davis, and drummer Dennis Thompson in the group. The Motor City Five might as well bear an instruction to PLAY IT LOUD. Both sides of the vinyl contain tracks that positively explode from the speakers, beginning with the MC5's pre-major label cover of Them's "I Can Only Give You Everything." Its searing sound set the stage for the music to come, much as it sets the tone for this collection.
The band's second single, the group-penned "Looking at You," emphasized wailing guitars and a lean, energetic, down and dirty sound - a studio approximation of the band's onstage attack. Kick Out the Jams, MC5's 1969 Elektra debut, wasn't recorded in the studio, however, but rather onstage at Detroit's Grande Ballroom on October 30-31, 1968. Four selections from this thunderous, epochal record round out the first side of The Motor City Five including a cover of Fred Burch and Marijohn Wilkin's "Ramblin' Rose," a song so flexible that it was surveyed by Jerry Lee Lewis and soul man Ted Taylor before the MC5 tore it apart and put it back together onstage in Detroit with Tyner's screaming falsetto lead and the dual, dueling guitars of Kramer and Smith.
"Kick out the jams, motherf---kers!" implores the MC5 in the uncensored version of the band's most famous song, presented here. The lusty lyrics of this combustible, almost three-minute-long explosion wasn't explicitly political, but its intention for a generation to break down barriers and restrictions in a buttoned-up society couldn't have been more crystal-clear. "Come Together" (make no mistake, most definitely not The Beatles' song!) builds to a charged frenzy that would surely have scared away any stray parents that might have been in the audience that evening in Detroit. "Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)" may have a subtitle straight out of Grease, but is a coarse mission statement for the band's high-octane hellraiser. When Tyner insists, "I'm the man for you, baby," he's taking blues-rock to the next, proto-punk level.
The MC5 would never top the spontaneous fire and fury of Kick Out the Jams, as vividly recorded by Elektra's Bruce Botnick; it would remain the band's only Elektra album. When the band placed an advertisement criticizing a local department store over the store's refusal to stock their album, using a certain, colorful four-letter word in the process, Elektra became incensed, and dropped the group. Atlantic picked them up, however, and in 1970, Back in the U.S.A. was released. Jon Landau, later to become Bruce Springsteen's manager, sat in the producer's chair for The MC5's full-length studio debut. The album introduced a cleaner, crisper sound as heard on its four selections here. The rebellious joy of "High School," "Shakin' Street," and the rather autobiographical "Teenage Lust" underscored the album's look back at the roots of rock-and-roll, and somewhat more gently poked fun at the generation gap. (Though not included here, the album also featured covers of Little Richard and Chuck Berry, and even boasted a ballad.) In its crunchy riffs and fast tempos, Back in the U.S.A. further set the groundwork for the punk revolution, but its melodic inclinations also paved the way for power pop. "The American Ruse" showed that the band's adoption of a more melodic style under Landau's tutelage hadn't dulled their political conscience.
Two tracks from 1971's High Time, led by Atlantic's staff producer Geoffrey Haslam, continued in an accessible direction but toned down the politics; its songs were also less thematically-linked than its predecessor. Two Fred "Sonic" Smith-written tracks appear here: the driving pair of "Baby Won't Ya" and "Sister Anne." Haslam's production was bigger than Landau's more rhythmic approach, employing horns and pianos to fatten the hard rock sound.
Bassist Michael Davis left the MC5 in early 1972, and by the time the year was out, Tyner and Thompson had followed him. Kramer and Smith attempted to carry the band name on, but by the end of 1972, the original group had disbanded. They would never reunite. Run Out Groove's collection vividly captures the group's short-lived but potent and inspired major-label career. Compilation producer Matt Block and designer Steve Stanley have come up with a first-class package. An insert has liner notes and credits on one side, and images of the master tape boxes of Kick Out the Jams and Back in the U.S.A. on the other. The inclusion of liner notes alone sets this title apart from many of today's vinyl releases. (Only discographical annotation is unfortunately missing from the credits.) The sturdy, reflective jacket itself is attractive, and the LP (housed within a lined, protective black sleeve) cleverly has a period Elektra label on Side One and an Atlantic label on Side Two.
Today, the group is recognized as one of the most influential hard rock acts of their era, and an antidote for many young would-be musicians to flower power psychedelia. The Motor City Five is an ideal introduction for new and old vinyl collectors alike, and an auspicious debut for Run Out Groove.
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