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Episode Summary:

Some bands write songs that make you want to cry into your beer. Others write songs that make you want to punch a hole in the wall. Detroit garage rockers MC5 made the kind of music you want to hear while you’re high on acid and fucking in the streets as society collapses. Known for leftist politics and wild live performances, the group released its first studio album in 1970. Some of their early fans saw their move to produce a traditional record with a major label as selling out. But Back in the USA is so chock full of youthful exuberance, socially aware lyrics, and lust for life that it’s hard to not view this as a major watershed leading to the subversive wave of punk artists that would follow in their wake. The record’s indefatigable enthusiasm is what drew comedian Adam Ray as young man navigating the awkwardness of adolescence and again as he has had needed something to guide him through some recent personal darkness. Adam’s own playful zeal and boundless creativity have had their own impact too, leading him to appear in the film The Heat, perform on MadTV, produce his own podcast About Last Night, and release an album of comedy music, Songs for the People.

Show Notes:

00:30 – Intro
09:15 – Divorce comedy
11:30 – How to motivate a husky young athlete
14:45 – The people who make comedians laugh
20:45 – Stand-up lessons from Fozzie Bear
27:00 – The fears that never go away
30:30 – The driest of humping
36:30 – Drinking bull piss to win a t-shirt
38:45 – The power to catch a wine glass, midair
50:15 – Austrian street brawl
1:02:45 – Your mom’s vagina monologues
1:04:00 – The first thing you want to hear in the morning
1:06:00 – Outro

New Artist/Song influenced by this week’s album:

‘Burn It’ by The Fever 333

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Artist & Album history written by DJ Morty Coyle:

Released on January 17th of 1970 on Atlantic Records and produced by rock critic and future Bruce Springsteen manager and producer Jon Landau, this was the second album but debut studio album by the American, proto-punk, hard rock, band MC5. MC5 stood for “Motor City 5” which was a salute to the band’s Detroit roots.

Formed in Lincoln Park, Michigan in 1964 by Rob Tyner on vocals, Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith on guitars, bassist Michael Davis, and drummer Dennis Thompson, the MC5 were a Garage Rock band with militant, leftist, and fiercely anti-establishment leanings.

Musically they were in contrast with their era’s “peace and love”, Flower Power, Hippie, jam band ethos by not only paying homage to rock and roll’s earlier, raunchier, and more dangerous roots but also to the Free-Jazz movement by explorative artists like John Coltrane and Sun Ra.

In fact vocalist Rob Tyner who was born Robert Derminer changed his last name to honor the John Coltrane Quartet’s pianist McCoy Tyner.

By the way, Rob had the greatest white boy afro I’ve ever seen.

Starting in 1966 the still-teenaged group became the house band at Detroit’s historic Grande Ballroom, an old venue of the previous Big Band era that became the first psychedelic ballroom outside of San Francisco.

Also by 1966 the band was managed by John Sinclair, the Flint, Michigan, Jazz poet, writer, political activist, and reorganizer of Detroit’s premier, underground, alternative-viewpoint, newspaper, “Fifth Estate”, which still publishes today.

The band moved into a huge mansion at 1510 Hill Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan with Sinclair, his wife, and a bunch of Hippies who collectively became the Trans-Love Commune.

While under Sinclair’s guidance the band embraced the revolutionary politics of the Youth International Party, or Yippies, and the Trans-Love Commune morphed into the White Panthers, a militantly anti-racist, socialist, group of white people who supported the Black Panthers’ mission for protection and equality for black people.

Sinclair described the band’s goal and mantra at that time as, “a total assault on the culture by any means necessary including rock and roll, dope, guns, and fucking in the streets.”

During that time the MC5 were the only band to play at the anti-Vietnam war rally free concert outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago before the police called it a riot and violently broke it up on live television.

The band was so well known for their explosive live act that other bands would sometimes refuse to follow their sets.

And they had no time for other bands that didn’t come to put on a show.

“Kick out the jams or get off the stage” was their taunting, side stage, rallying, cry when an act didn’t live up to their expectations.

And the expectations for the MC5 were so high that before they even had a record out they were featured on the cover of the January 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.

After signing with Elektra Records in February of 1969 the band put out the live album, “Kick Out the Jams” which was recorded over two nights at the Grande in late October of 1968 in an attempt to capture the high energy and raw power of those live shows.

The chaotic and muddled album opened with the title song but right before that was the notorious spoken intro by singer Rob Tyner. (“Right now, right now it’s time to… kick out the jams, motherfuckers!”)

Unsurprisingly that didn’t go over really well with some family-oriented retail stores that sold more than records and they banned it.

One in particular, the Detroit-based Hudson’s Department Stores decided their whole chain of stores weren’t going to stock the album because of its obscene lyrical content.

Now, even though Elektra Records had edited a censored version of that intro…
(“Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters!”)

…the band decided that rather than play nice with the store to reach a compromise to get their record in stock, they purchased an ad in the “Fifth Estate” newspaper with the Elektra Records logo and a text that read: “KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKER! and kick in the door if the store won’t sell you the album on Elektra. FUCK HUDSON’S!”

Even less unsurprisingly after having all of their roster’s albums banned from Hudson’s Elektra dropped the MC5 from the label citing this and other headaches that they caused them.
Even as the notoriety and excitement of the band were converting fervent fans and pushing the record up the charts they were without a deal.

“Kick Out the Jams” had gone into the Top 30 and was influencing countless future bands.

As guitarist Wayne Kramer recalled, “People come up to me all the time and say, ‘Hey, “Kick Out The Jams” changed my life.’ I usually tell them: ‘I’m sorry, I can’t change it back.’’

At this point in 1969 John Sinclair was arrested, convicted, and harshly sentenced to ten years in prison for offering two joints to undercover cops which was widely protested.

Having been scooped up by Atlantic Records and finally free from the overt political puppet-strings of manager Sinclair, the MC5 took some of their record advance money and moved into their own big house together and away from the Trans-Love Commune and the White Panthers.

The band worked on their musicianship and then went into the studio with ex-Rolling Stone writer and first time producer Jon Landau who took over their management from John Sinclair.

Some hardcore fans thought they sold out because “Back in the USA” was a wholly accessible if perhaps too polished garage-pop record that flew by under half an hour.

And with a couple obvious ‘50s covers, a couple classic-MC5 political songs, and a few questionable moments the most subversive and threatening remnant of their first album was the ugly and sweaty black and white cover photo of the band.

Although it stalled on the charts at 137 and basically flopped at the time it’s gone on to be considered a worthy distillation of what made the MC5 so great.

“Back in the USA” would be the second of the band’s three albums before they split up in 1972 in a haze of drugs and acrimony after 1971’s “High Time.”

In 1975 both guitarist Wayne Kramer and bassist Michael Davis spent a few years in prison for independent drug-related arrests.

All the members of the band continued to make music with varying degrees of success.

Sadly vocalist Rob Tyner passed away in 1991 and guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith in 1994.

The surviving members formed DKT/MC5 and were active from 2003 until bassist Michael Davis died in 2012.

Last year Wayne Kramer celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first album with a tribute concert tour. He called the core band that featured members of Soundgarden, Fugazi, and King’s X, the MC50. They were joined by special guests throughout the tour and on some shows original drummer Dennis Thompson.

The legacy of MC5, both musically and through their politically-conscious spirit, is notable in bands like The Clash, Rage Against the Machine, Bad Brains, and The White Stripes, as well as damn near every other punk rock group that ever existed after them.

Join. The. Movement.

 

 

 

 

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