The Big Bang
All of you phat-pants wearin’, Korn shuckin’ teen-somethings surely must get tired of us old folks yammering about the good old days, and dismissing your fave raves as second rate Alice Coopers (M. Manson) or saying we’ve heard it all before. Just so happens, we heard it all before — and it was better way back when. Take the MC5, for example. Five hairy guys from the Motor City — that’s Detroit, for all of you who don’t remember when we made cars in this country — played the loudest, fastest, and the coolest rock and roll during “the summer of love” and didn’t get even a wet kiss from the listeners of the day. Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith cranked out 110 db’s of pure punk fury with their twin guitars. Their greatest album, Kick Out the Jams , was recorded live, and sounds like hell unleashed. The title cut’s opening salvo, “kick out the jams, motherfuckers!,” got the band booted from display in a department store chain in their hometown, and set the stage for the MC5 vs. the world.
Without the band’s knowledge, “motherfuckers” became “brothers and sisters,” which, while in the same family ain’t the same, as we all know. They never really recovered. A less than exciting second album, Back in the USA (produced by future Boss-hack Jon Landau) sounded quiet and grasped for radio acceptance. It didn’t work. Finally, 1971’s High Time married the group’s primal guitar slam with the free-jazz passion (Coltrane, Sun Ra) that the group embraced. It was a masterwork, but between low sales, drug problems, and police crackdowns (manager John Sinclair got busted for two joints and got sent to the big house), the band faded away.
Recent years have brought a resurgence of interest in the group. Wayne Kramer has released several excellent solo records on Epitaph, and with the release of this collection of the 5’s greatest moments, this seminal punk/garage/jazz/rock band might get the props they’re due. The Big Bang goes from early, hard-to-find singles (that rock) to a smattering of cuts from the bands three albums. Anyone who hasn’t heard “Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)” or “Ramblin’ Rose” from the first album just hasn’t lived. “Sister Anne” and “Miss X” from High Time are incredible — Kramer and Smith play together as well, and as furiously, as any two guitarists ever have, and Rob Tyner’s vocals are a growling, shouting ode to life. A live “Thunder Express” finishes the set off, recorded in France near the end of the band’s tenure. They didn’t go out quietly.
The MC5, like city-mates Iggy and the Stooges, probably will never be in the rock and roll hall of fame. Thank god. Reserve space in that hallowed hall of shame for hacks like the Eagles or Limp Korn. True rock and roll needs no validation — it’s in the grooves. Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!
Rhino Records, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025; http://www.rhino.com