MC5

Tagged: Music

Detroit-based rock five-piece (the name is short for "Motor City 5"). Their raucous, energetic guitar-based sound anticipated, and directly influenced, the later emergence of punk rock, and is often read solely in those terms; but in fact their terms of cultural reference are all 1960s counterculture, anti-establishment, pro-Drugs, Sex and sf. Their debut album Kick Out The Jams (1969) possesses a splendid energy, not least in the title track, a barbaric yawp many listeners took to be a rallying-cry for revolution, although in fact the phrase records the band-members' concert-hall impatience with the prolonged musical improvisation – the "jamming" – of the bands that preceded them on stage. Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's trilogy of Illuminatus! novels make reference to this song, as, according to them, one of the ways the shadowy Illuminati attack a rival cult called the "JAMS" or "Justified Ancients of Mummu" (according to Wilson and Shea, the Illuminati control popular music as Secret Masters and manipulate it for their nefarious ends). Also of genre interest on the album is "Starship", with lyrics are lifted from Sun Ra (at nine minutes this song is four times as long as any self-respecting punk track) and the phallic blast-off "Rocket Reducer No 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)". Two studio albums followed: the more controlled and nostalgic 1950s rock of Back in the USA (1970), and High Time (1971), perhaps their best release, in which the group's extraordinary energy is modulated into a more coherent sound, rather reminiscent of The Who. The album includes "Future/Now" in which anti-establishment rebellion is troped as a battle against futuristic "interstellar diplomats". Too confrontational and politically radical ever to make a commercial success of things, the band broke up soon after this release; but their influence on subsequent music has been considerable. [AR]

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