Kick Out The Jams

Released 1969 on Elektra
The Seth Man, September 2011ce

Even though the most raucous live album of the sixties, “Kick Out The Jams” is more than just a live album in the same way that the Pacific Ocean is more than just a lot of water. It was a sonic parallelogram heading heedlessly headfirst into the future as it strained at the leash hungry for life, change (which, ‘ccording to John Wyndham, is life anyway and he was right) and ultimately: freedom. Reacting against persecution by the law and straight culture for most of their lives and stoked by the 1967 Detroit riots, The MC5 were finally afforded a platform for the expression of their discontents as well as possible solutions by Elektra Records with a multi-record contract and the recording of their first album, “Kick Out The Jams.” And once they let it all loose, anything and everything erupted all at once from their collective, white-hot volcanic cone of frustration, urgency, and energy. What helped to unlock it was the influence of their manager, John Sinclair, that nothing less than an assault on the Motherculture by any means necessary was the only way forward. As a result, this album kicked up a revolutionary firestorm and a celebration of life as they knew and envisioned it and as result became THE album that put Detroit Rock City on the map with a massive burn hole as a force to be reckoned with. It was R&R pumped up with a fight-not-flight line drawn in the sand as a call for political change with an indelible amount of energy fuelled by commitment and passion as much as rage and frustration from The MC5’s quintupled-bonded togetherness as musicians, brothers, dreamers, hedonists and lunatics.

“Kick Out The Jams” deals with the NOW: the now of 1968 as well as the eternally present NOW while The MC5’s following albums, “Back In The USA” and “High Time,” dealt respectively with the past and the future/now. But as far as “Kick Out The Jams” is concerned, the time is/was/and always will be...NOW.

“Kick Out The Jams” was an eight song distillation of their ever-evolving set list that excised the extraneous Chuck Berry, Dylan and Hendrix covers as well as their own, lengthy “Black To Comm” improvisation. But the landslide of cover versions would remain then reshuffle and ultimately inform their repertoire forevermore alongside greasy American Rock’n’Roll and British beat A-sides while absorbing much from the four major Black American music idioms of the time -- blues, soul, R&B, and jazz -- as they filtered them sideways into something more than just cover versions. Big and furious life was pumped into them by these uncontested Battle of The Band winners whose flawless track record stayed that way only because they treated every gig as if it were Armageddon...Or at very least, an all-out gang war of them-versus-everyone-else proportions.

Many such gigs occurred at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit where The MC5’s repertoire and approach had been incubating since that venue’s opening night of October 7, 1966. In fact, The MC5 not only performed that very night as the Grande’s first headlining act but would spend the next two years there as practically the house band so that by the time of the recording of “Kick Out The Jams” on October 30th and 31st, 1968, the group had over 75 Grande gigs under their belt. With a strong local following, their reputation sealed and their chemistry galvanised, The MC5’s live performances now more than ever placed emphasis on locking into grooves, kicking ass and spontaneous combustions that oftentimes just set off into raging contortions that tore thru and licked up the edges of the fabric of reality to make it either worth living in, worth living for or to shoot it all up in flames...NOW.

The songs don’t end so much as upend back into the chaos from whence they came -- only to then restart inflammatorily all over again while the accompanying lyric grammar was rendered equally as barbaric. Not only its infamous single obscenity, but with all lyrics held in the imperative case! For the entire time! Even the stage announcements! With exclamation points!! Motherfucker!!! Which, sonicly [no sic, sir] speaking, was tailor-made and rough’n’ready all down the line with Fred “Sonic” Smith providing the boom and Brother Wayne Kramer the bang and both colliding into a boom-bang boomerang cosmic glam bang yin yang yo-yo that kept everything spinning in a deluxe noise rotation on the axis of the freefalling bass of Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson’s totally on-it and completely nailed down drumming as Rob Tyner soared above it all like a weighty, Afro’d cherub whose bombastically charged vocal delivery of strength, purity and accuracy was nothing less than robust at all times.

As The MC5’s Spiritual Advisor, Brother J.C. Crawford opens the evening with a fiery address to the assembled multitude of Midwestern youth with a stentorian wake-up call that immediately creates a sense of event as well as a ritualised set-up for the ensuing bombardment. Brother J.C.’s bellicose fire plus brimstone minus Biblical exhortations are greater than or equal to Bobby Byrd’s incitations. These are then echoed by the band, who also pepper the spaces in between songs with hasty soul expressions like “And right now!”, “Have mercy!” and “Get down!” J.C. then finally proclaims: “I give you a testimonial -- The MC5!”

What do you say?!

What COULD you say even if anyone could hear it? “A tree falling in the forest of my mind?” Nope: nothing. Because the band have already hit the ground running at top speed -- Where it remains for the duration of the LP except for a couple short yet volatile patches on side 2, with a blistering cover version of Ted Taylor’s 1965 soul testifier, “(Love Is Like A) Ramblin’ Rose” that sounds like proto-metal excerpts of “Day Tripper” hastily flung together and set against Brother Wayne Kramer’s larynx-scraping, faux-femme taunt delivery. It’s tight, it’s tough and taut but it’s not really 100% total MC5 until vocalist Rob Tyner gets up on the stand and announces with a tone of ever-building anticipation:

“And right now!
And right now!
And right now!
And right now it’s time toooo...!”


Oh, no: Although two and a half minutes in length, “Kick Out The Jams” is about 2,000 decibels wide and just as deep while thrusting forward in as pummeling a tangible force as can be mustered and sustained at nothing less than 100% velocity at all times. After a feedback lacerated and cracking snare attack, the double lead/rhythm guitars of Kramer going slow and wild on the left channel and “Sonic” steady and redoubtably buzzsawing on the right combine into a seemingly solitary guitar line blaring out as Dennis Thompson’s drumming remains persistently solid. Kramer breaks off into a crazy flash pot of a guitar solo and no amount of detours can stop it. After Tyner’s clarion call of “Let me be who I am!!!/And let me kick out the jams!!!” he asserts “I done kicked ‘em out!” right before the last blast. It’s ridiculous even to try to describe this song, even more ridiculous because I’ve been trying to unsuccessfully for years and even more ridiculously: because different levels reveal themselves every time I hear it. It’s also ridiculous but true to state that it’s one of the highest moments of an album comprised only of high moments.

“Sonic” then immediately hoists an introductory, windmilling riff refashioned from the Bolero-ised one Townshend used on “I Can See For Miles” above the fire, feedback and froth as “Come Together” materialises. Originally ‘written live onstage at the Grande’ before growing ‘into a Mad/Filthy/Orgy-Ritual Song of the Salty Flesh’ as ‘an extension of our fucking in the streets program’ (as noted by John Sinclair in the program of a May, 1968 Grande performance) it’s another unyielding group composition and a repeat head-on collision about “the dance from which all dances come.” With Kramer on one side feedbacking into oblivion, Sonic on the other with slashing rhythm guitar they stoke up the fire and down stroke with sparks. The music itself is furiously rolling, poised on the edge of virgin on hymen to be busted again and again only to explode again and again in an ever-blossoming re-awakening that gets punitively hammered home. The abandonment of Tyner’s rhythmic running on of “Yes...Yes...Yes...Yes...Yes...Yes...Yes, Yes, Yes...” is about as demonstratively affirmative as Molly Bloom’s run-on soliloquy that ended “Ulysses” -- Which ain’t a surprise as they’re both about the same damn thing. With the core belief of MC5-ness, Tyner is now punctuating the din with cries of “NOW!...NOW!...NOW!...” as piercing feedback and ever-slowing rhythm guitar slashes combine with cymbal smashes until crashing to a jarring halt...Or maybe it’s just the silence that’s so jarring after so consistent a wall of noise.

The manic James Brownian ritual energy flash recommences with The Five’s own original explosive device, “Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa).” Named after a brand of airplane glue favoured by certain members of the band, this jumped-up Little Richard-scratching-an-itch-always-just-out-of-reach-of-his-Georgia-Peach number has all the sheer fuck balls of defiance as the Deathmobile from “Animal House” as well as the 5’s own habitual use of the stars and stripes draped vertically down over their amps irrespective of the union’s placement. (Augmented later on by flags of other such subversive, dead-ended hooligans as the U.S. Confederacy, Cuba and the pirates’ own Jolly Roger.) Anyway, “Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa” is a gigantic middle finger raising ever higher in defiance of all death culture and remaining in tune only with the rest of the universe -- Which was everybody except for them, the Trans-Love Energies collective, Danny Fields, their Athletic & Social Club and myself for the duration of this album and beyond, Motherfucker!!! Total annihilation is promised and delivered while those slick and greasy wheels just keep a rollin’ way past midnight with one supremely agitated momentum. Opening with Tyner’s introduction that he concludes after a pre-teen vocal bomb explosion and then “starts off with Brother Wayne Kramer! Brother Wayne Kramer!,” everything is a double guitar searing burn-up into further conflagrations of Kramer/Sonic on soaring feedback and rhythmic überstrum that drown out all the drums and most of the cymbals except for Thompson’s machine gunning snare that plows through the whole shebang. The parenthetical chorus of “Rama-Lama-Fa-Fa” was probably picked up out of the trash heap of British pop stuttering like The Who’s “My Generation” and “La-La-Lies”; The Small Faces’ “Sha-La-La-La-Lee” and “I Feel Much Better” or some such other instance of pre-’68 amphetamine stammering inadvertently doubling as a cut-rate, vox-as-horn section. (Either that or maybe it’s just because it’s a Little Richard rave up with insane, out of tune and hilariously O-Mind backing vocals that fall in and out of key at random BUT always on it AND there for it.) Twin guitar solos curlicue together crazily then split off into separate trails and land directly into a massive crescendo. As a hasty reprise of the intro riff slowly grinds to a halt, it then re-collapses into a conflagration of noise that jars to a halt and Tyner announces “Rama Lama!...Rama Lama Fa Fa!...Thank you!” in the surrounding silence as voices from the group in the background rapidly assert, “Get down!”, “Have mercy!” and “Thank you!”

Except for the ear ringing and heart beating, side one is over and then urgently picks up on side two where it left off. Holding the distinction of being the only MC5 track of the album with a pre-existing studio version, “Borderline” is a broadside played at such ramped-up and amped-up tempo that it’s nearly always ahead of the beat and runs a severe risk of spilling over into the next one. As Michael Davis compresses the most bass notes into the smallest timeframe possible, the now shirtless Dennis Thompson discharges multiple flailing, triple time snare rolls to collide with the guitars that combine into an unrestrained, going-for-broke/for-the-fuck-of-it, huge, roiling wall of sound roaring out of the abyss and heading straight back there after taking a quick detour through your mind forever...Unleashing a myriad of possibilities in its wake as it does so. The most immediate one being to turn up the volume so the zigzagging guitars can drive you further up and over the wall. It ends on a crescendo even larger than the crescendo that encompasses (and is) the entire song.

J.C. Crawford moves to the mic to mouth off again. Concluding “If you ask me, THIS is the high society!” to rapturous applause and cheering, it’s into the (very relative) calm of a song about one of the worst riots in American history, “Motor City Is Burning.” Originally recorded by John Lee Hooker several months after the Detroit riots first erupted in the early morning hours of July 23, 1967 and then raged on for nearly a week, it was one of the few times in American history that not only the local police, state police, but National Guard and finally, the U.S. Army were all called in to restore order. After days of widespread looting, arson, firebombing and sniper fire, many areas sustained such a severe degree of damage that entire blocks ceased to exist. Up to the present day, the scars of this event are present as empty grassy fields and lots punctuating neighbourhoods where the only houses that remain only did so because they were constructed from stone not wood. The MC5 are there for “Motor City Is Burning” as much as they were for the riot itself and inject a fury absent from the original version. The slow introduction highlights Tyner’s voicings which carry it all even though the whole band is carrying itself and unlike the countless electric blues bands of the time, there are no freeloaders here for they are all 100% present, more than accounted for and play as though drawing from the deepest of levels from the wells of their collective souls. Outside of Blue Cheer, there is no other over-electrified blues played with such muscular underpinnings as these that keep it so effortlessly stitched together, in the pocket and as far from the blues as possible. Full of righteous indignation, Kramer’s guitar has now switched to the right channel and Sonic’s to the left but their syncopated guitar bursts remain incendiary devices spraying truth on the fire of rage. The closing phase is vicious and totally goes for broke as Michael Davis’ bass growls with a series of bloody, hard-banged hits, cutting out with a chant of “They’re all burnin’! They’re all burnin’! They’re all burnin’! They’re all burnin’!” until the Barbarian fuck truth of “I Want You Right Now” erupts and cuts across the entire soundstage with a single, inflammatory guitar burst. Then another. And then twice more until it swerves directly into a massive, mid-tempo bump and grind, interpretation/re-invention/overhaul plod-paced take on The Troggs’ “I Want You” -- though it sounds more like “Wild Thing” only not as performed by those leering cave dwellers of Andover in matching pinstripes but by Blue Cheer at the Monterey Pop Festival in-stedda The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Unlike the Voodoo Chile’s landscape displacement techniques, here every downstroke is a bulldozing, bludgeoning and entirely re-arranging sweep against the edge of a continent. Sonic’s rhythm guitar is a near-solid state of consistency with the unyielding force of nature’s cumulative power until...

It comes down.


Then even further down than THAT...

...and Tyner keeps on bringing it even further down than THAT while keeping to his own, unaccompanied rhythm. In this calm between twin storms, Tyner’s cohorts add slurping sounds of cunning linguistics against the whispering of amps and low, rhythmic bass plonks while various female members of the orifice, sorry, audience emit cries of supreme arousal in supplicating response of mad desire. Scant Tinkerbell wand waving FX against the guitar bridge tinkle with no drums and only a flat guitar plucking out a rudimentary rhythm, creating a rare patch of sedated calm which is then cut off madly by a sudden thrust back into the overwrought paces established at its onset as a single, unwavering, coursing power surge -- the same one that’s been ongoing for the past thirty minutes of this here LP -- as Tyner is now reduced to just screaming “WOOO!!” and “WAUGHHHH!!” repeatedly into the microphone. On his knees. In white moccasins. Motherfucker!!!

Some indefinite amount of time later, “I Want You” sheds its skin and “Starship” emerges. Over wailing, snake charming feedback, Tyner incants “A song called... ‘Starship’...!...A song called...‘Starship...!’” as if operating as a cue to signal to the rest of the band where they’re at and about to go because ever since this barrage first began when they hit the stage it has remained a raging and complete entity that just flows out and pours back into itself and as though keeping that energy channeled and on the right course, Tyner’s directives keep it on its greased, psychic wheels -- which it does soon enough with Thompson’s kick drum and snare forcefully redirecting the rhythm into tauter paces. Meanwhile, the guitars are careening in and out of the feedback zone and bleeding into a single, pummeling force field. Recollecting quickly with a “GET DOWN!,” Tyner leads a descending group countdown until an inherently sloppy “My Generation” bridge and then intones “Leaving the solar system...!” until degrading into a psychotic “LEAVING...!!!” seven times (and a further three plainly as “Ugggh!”) as waves of feedback come crashing in mighty undertows. Tyner then switches to interact vocally with skittering guitars and feedback while Sonic strikes his mighty white Mosrite into proto-everything noise crescendos. It’s here the group’s collective sense of space and sensitivity reaches far out into unmapped terrain with more lightning strikes and then all rises upward. They are letting a bigger idea happen as the blanketing silence is interrupted only by quick and random guitar squawking until tiptoeing down the stairsteps of silence comes Tyner’s invocation of the Sun Ra poem, “There” from the liner notes of the “Heliocentric Worlds Of Sun Ra Vol 2” album. Preceded by two lines of Tyner’s own ad-libbed visions, once it climaxes during the final verse, four shrieking crescendos of high energy blasts ensue to unleash a cosmic beast with two backs with the straining, pushing, crying, first-fuck-of-your-life-ness until for the last time, for all time and to end all time: half a dozen separate crescendos erupt with the final one sailing off into sweet, harmonising feedback that trails off with a final cymbal flourish and it is done...Tyner enters for the final time, hurriedly barking out “Starship!” along with a fistful of “Thank you!”s against a roaring ocean of audience approval that conclude one of the greatest Rock albums of all time. Period. Followed by three exclamation points, Motherfucker!!!

“Kick Out The Jams” represents the second and most intense of The MC5’s four distinct phases: Teen Beat to Garage Punk Evolution (1964-1966), Avant-Everything Revolution (1967-69), Keepin’ On Despite Atlantic’s Pollution (1969-1971), and Winding Down In Yurp Dissolution (1972). Signed to Elektra Records for a week shy of seven months, this second phase was yanked to an abrupt halt after a series of events as tumultuous as The MC5 itself led to an unceremonious parting of ways between the label and group.

The left saw them as sell-outs, the right saw them as a threat to national security and there was no middle if you were The MC5 because you were either the problem or the solution. The MC5 saw themselves as nothing but the latter and a solution to the American Ruse, a wake-up call to the American Dream and what they accomplished in that short flashpoint in time is something to reflect on long and hard. All The MC5 wished was for a world as free, loose and together as they were -- a tall order for 1968. But as a result, what they left behind an album that was not only one of the highest cultural water marks of the 20th Century but as an inspiration for the future and for...NOW.


- Dedicated to the memory of Rob Tyner and Fred “Sonic” Smith.