MC5 are an act that didn't always get their due in their brief career. But their influence on punk rock warrants their inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Coming out of Detroit during the politically charged late ‘60s and early '70s, the quintet would do everything punk would later lay claim. First, they were hugely anti-establishment, aligning themselves with counter-culture White Panther Party. Then, there were the blistering guitars and sometimes chaotic approach to their songs. They had the look down, too, with singer Rob Tyner and guitarist Wayne Kramer sporting Afros which reached to the ceiling.
The look, the sound and the political views were all very punk rock and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame first took notice by nominating MC5 for induction in 2003. Obviously they didn’t get in, but they were shortlisted again in 2016, so we thought we'd make a case for their induction, citing five reasons why they deserve to be honored. Read below.
It’s a classic opening line, one that defines the MC5's purpose: “Kick out the jams motherf---ers!” The sonic wallop that follows the introduction of the song on their debut album laid the very foundation for which punk rock was built. The energetic burst inspired a call to arms for social justice revolutionaries, and has been covered by acts as varied as Rage Against the Machine, Jeff Buckley and Primal Scream.
Instead of trying to capture their essence onstage in the studio, MC5 had the sheer audacity to release a live album, Kick Out the Jams, as their debut. Very few live albums are great to begin with, let alone build a career on. Yet what on paper looked like a setup for failure was an exercise in brilliance, leading many to want to witness what they heard on record – recorded at the legendary Detroit venue Grande Ballroom – in person.
Don't Forget the Motor City
Motown put Detroit on the musical map and, beginning with the Stooges and the MC5, many bands followed in its wake. It began with artists like Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and Grand Funk Railroad and continued through to the White Stripes and beyond, proudly waving their roots in the Motor City.
Rather than dismiss bands of the past as nothing more than relics in order to position themselves as the future of music, MC5 was adamant about giving credit to the artists who inspired and helped them evolve as musicians. Never was this more apparent than on their sophomore release, Back in the USA, which was named after the Chuck Berry song the MC5 covered to close the record. And how did they open it? With a cover of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.”
The vastly underrated MC5 guitarist brought the defining element to the group and not just as bandleader but instrumentally. He could knock the proto-punk sound out of the park or drop some psychedelic lines that effortlessly ventured out of the lines while rhythm guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith held down the fort. Take one listen to his leads on “Motor City Burning” or on the insistent bluesy sway of “Miss X” for further evidence.