Kick Out The Jams
39:52 min • Elektra • February, 1969
This is it; this is the loudest, rawest rock ‘n’ roll live album ever cut. This is the sound of the Revolution, this is the sound of a riot going on in the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, MI. This is the debut album of the MC5, Kick Out the Jams.
Starting off with a bout of fiery rhetoric from Brother JC Crawford, asking the audience “Are you ready to testify?”, and then launching into the frenzy, bluesy sounds of the MC5, getting the audience’s blood up with ‘Ramblin’ Rose’, with the loud, fast guitars, machine gun drums and Rob Tyner’s high-pitched squealing vocals. This is how a Revolution starts.
The next track, ‘Kick Out the Jams’, is the one that’s the most infamous. It raised many eyebrows for Tyner’s incendiary introduction of “Right now, it’s time to kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” That was pretty taboo for 1969, and some might say it’s still taboo today. But Tyner said it and made rock ‘n’ roll history.
The track itself is three minutes of the craziest most violent rock ‘n’ roll ever laid to tape. This makes any punk band, any hardcore band, any band out today sound flat-out tame. The lyrics themselves may not be political in and of themselves, but music speaks louder than words and no music spoke louder than the amped-up, burning rubber guitars of these motor city bad boys.
Coming off a musical high like that, the band doesn’t slow down, ripping through the smash-the-system high-speed blues of ‘Come Together’. This isn’t the Beatles, let’s come together for peace and love, this is coming together to dig in and kick some ass. The noise of solidarity, it’s a strangely beautiful thing.
‘Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)’ throws a bit of a psychedelic noise and a bit stronger of a blues kick into the mix. The song is still fast and chaotic, but the groove is much more solid, giving the listener a bit of a chance to breathe, albeit not much of one.
The track that follows, ‘Borderline’ is a straight-up burner. Another violent, chaotic jaunt for the band to keep the audience on their feet; from the lyrics, it sounds almost like a blues love song, but through Tyner’s angry voice, it doesn’t sound like love that’s missed.
The band finally shows some serious politics in their lyrics with the slow blues number ‘Motor City is Burning’, a savage indictment against the oppressive authority that sparked the 1967 Detroit Riot. Their hometown burned, but the band doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. Through the squealing bluesy riffs, they make their position pretty clear, this is the necessary release of the oppressed against the oppressors.
‘I Want You Right Now’ is a slower number as well, although not even a lick less powerful. This is a wall of slower, crushing guitar riffs on amps turned up to bake and burning everything left standing.
The eight and a half minute ‘Starship’ closes out the album and it shows the band at their most experimental as they wrench strange noises from their instruments, mixed in with their trademark amped-up blues. It’s not exactly a breather, more like a final journey through sonic madness.
The MC5 certainly weren’t the only band out there spouting radical politics, there were others such as Buffalo Springfield with their anthem ‘For What It’s Worth’, Bob Dylan was still in his first big peak of success as a counterculture folk hero, and there was Jefferson Airplane who released their own landmark album Volunteers in 1969. Radical politics was in the air and bands were using their lyrics to express political dissent against the system in ways unheard of before.
But what sets the MC5 and this album apart from the rest is in the sound. Other bands spoke of power in the people and sang about revolution, but their sound for the most part was folky and peaceful. They wanted the revolution to be built on peace and love.
The MC5 played the hardest, loudest revolutionary rock n roll heard at that time. Instead of peacefully leading demonstrators hand-in-hand against the forces of “the Man”, Rob Tyner and the boys turned the amps up as far as they would go and blasted the establishment right in the heart with the sounds of dirty, loud, amped-up revolutionary blues. They didn’t want peace and love; they wanted to throw Molotov cocktails at police and burn the whole damn system to the ground.
Kick Out the Jams stands above the rest for its overdriven violent sound, it’s a testimony to the times in which it was recorded. The youth of America was angry; peace and love were dead. Violence in the streets would mark the death of the peaceful dream of the hippies and the end of the ’60s.
The album’s raw sound sets it well apart from its contemporaries. It’s not just a historical record, but a testimony to the power of one determined band to turn everything up full blast and burn all competitors in the sonic fury of loud guitars.