Albums that burnt my soul - by guest writer Doug E Dogg
"IT TAKES 5 SECONDS OF DECISION......"
This is an album that is, to me, a constant source of pleasure no matter how many times I listen to it or handle and look at the sleeve. I bought an original 1969 UK release on the orange Elektra label in the late 70's from a second hand record shop in Ealing, West London for the princely sum of £3. The record was far from mint with quite a lot of surface marks making it crackle most satisfyingly when played, but the wonderful gatefold sleeve was in really nice condition. I bought this mainly out of curiosity as I had seen MC5's name appear in various punk related articles and also being frequently name dropped when the new wave of artistes were asked about their influences. I was familiar with the title track but hadn't heard anything else nor did I know anything about the band itself. I think I was a bit shell shocked after the first listen.......I'd not heard anything like it before and was astonished at how "punk" it was.....I wanted to know more....however these were pre Internet days and the local library wasn't exactly jam packed with info on the MC5 !!! There were of course sporadic articles in the music papers of the day (MM, NME and Sounds) and you would occasionally get a bit of in depth info in magazines like ZiGZag. The best article I found was in Record Collector which gave a potted history and of course a complete discography. It explained about the censored version of KOTJ , both the song and the album cover. My gatefold album opens out to reveal a long "revolutionary" rallying call by John Sinclair (their manager of sorts) ending with the words ".....Kick Out The Jams Motherfucker !...and stay alive with the MC5 !" all over a black and white photo of the bare chested 5 looking particularly surly. Sinclair's original message was not reproduced on the re-issued sleeve. The uncensored version of the KOTJ track only appeared for a limited time on the original 1969 US release until Elektra realised what they had released (didn't anyone bother to check ??!!) and withdrew it asap. It was soon back on the shelves with the offending lyric "Motherfuckers" being replaced by the words "Brothers and Sisters"...you can clearly hear the drop in volume and change in vocal style. Only the censored version was released in the UK. In the 80's RIOR Records released a great compilation of rare outtakes and versions of MC5 songs which included the uncensored version of KOTJ ....what a joy it was to hear it for the first time as it was originally intended........anyway ...I digress.......The gloriously colourful front and back covers are intriguing and somehow convey a feeling of movement ,excitement and add to the mystique of the band.
The songs are simply superb......they have grown on me over the last 30 odd years to the extent that I always have a copy to play in the car and indeed do so probably once every 6 or 7 weeks !! I never tire of joining in out loud with the wonderful band introduction by Brother J C Crawford at The Grande Ballroom Detroit before we are aurally assaulted by these angry men !! I should say at this point that the overall sound makes this about the best "live" album you will ever hear....the whole performance and mix is superb......the guitar sound, especially considering this was recorded in 1968, is astonishing....a wall of noise and distortion from start to finish (They weren't the first band to use such heavy distortion on a record release...that honour probably goes to The Sonics but the Boys from Detroit took it all several giant steps forward). Ramblin' Rose begins proceedings.....and sets the tone for the rest of the trip to the final wind off groove.....it is a savage way to start even if Wayne's vocals make you wonder if he had had some sort of nasty accident with the zipper on his trousers !! KOTJ is next.....an anthem for anyone with a bone to pick for whatever reason....one of the great riffs....it is just so so so powerful..... Come Together carries on the slow destruction of your sound system before the final track on side one....the wonderfully named Rocket Reducer No 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa) which is simply brutal. It almost comes as a mild relief if you are listening to this on vinyl that you can take a break from it for a minute or so as you turn it over for the other side....no such respite when its on tape or cd in the car !!
Side 2....and first up is Borderline.....the guitar intro to this track defies working out !!....any of you budding guitar heroes out there give it a go and see if can get anywhere close !! The uniqueness of this intro is further highlighted by a list of released cover versions of their songs on the Official website.....there are multiple entries for most of their songs but only one brave band has ever attempted a version for release of Borderline.....perhaps getting into the same state as Wayne was in when he did this would be the solution but probably not good for your health !! The rest of the song is another excursion into unrelenting guitar distortion..........there follows a slow blues number entitled Motor City's Burning.......tremendous guitar licks throughout and features some of my favourite vocals from Rob Tyner whose performance throughout the whole album is faultless.....his pronunciation of the word "siren" is a wonder to behold !!
I Want You Right Now is probably my favourite track of all....if ever there was a precursor to Heavy/Stoner Rock then this is it. Massive slabs of guitar.....desperate vocals....and the solid rumbling growling rhythm section make this a song to slowly nod your head off to !!
The final track on the album also shows their more experimental side....the first half of Starship is on the lines of what has gone before until it takes on an almost mystical quality....this is probably the hardest track to listen to on this album but repeat playings soon make it an old friend to be savoured along with the rest. If you get the chance to listen to any of the unofficially realised live stuff that's out there then you will come across some of their freeform stuff that makes the end of Starship sound like a Pop tune !!
There we have it......my words cannot really do this album justice...for that to happen you need to listen to it again and again and it will always reward you. It never ever fails to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step.
I hope that like myself you will be intrigued by this band and decide to find out more and discover the rest of their catalogue and rare live footage that has fortunately survived for us to marvel at and enjoy. A word of caution.....their 2nd album "Back In The USA", whilst full of great songs, may come as a bit of a shock after listening to their debut offering as the production on this is of the same gutless quality that spoils the first Clash album !!
Their 3rd and final "proper" album "High Time" is absolutely brilliant and features some tremendous songs that are well produced.
The live stuff I spoke of is rather hit and miss....more miss actually...not from a playing or content point of view but simply due to the poor quality of most of the recordings. This is of course understandable given the equipment that was available and the likely state of anyone who may have been trying to record it !! The best is probably their gig at the Sturgis Armoury on 27th June 1968.....about 7/10 on sound quality but well worth a listen. An interesting cd covering their very earliest performances is '66 Breakout released by Total Energy....try putting yourself in the position of a member of the audience hearing Black To Comm in all its glory for the first time in the mid-60's !!
My final recommendation is a brilliant little book called "Kick Out The Jams" by Don McLeese ...one of the 33 1/3 series of books on albums published by Continuim....highly informative and interesting to read , this gives a good history of the band and the political and social climates of the time.....and of course an in depth look at their debut album.
There you have it.....if you've never heard the album I urge you to do so without delay....if you are already a convert then ....go and listen to it again...right now !!
Thanks Doug, this was a fucking amazing post!
Thanks Doug, this was a fucking amazing post!