M C 5

MC5 logo 2


Looking At YouBack In The USA
Kick Out The Jams (orginal version)The Very Best Of ...
Future / NowHigh Time
Shakin' StreetBack In The USA
The American RuseBack In The USA
The Human Being LawnmowerBack In The USA
Rocket Reducer No.62
(Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)
Kick Out The Jams
One Of The GuysThe Anthology 1965-1971
Sister AnneHigh Time
Black To CommThe Anthology 1965-1971

Embed from Getty Images
MC5 (l to r): Fred “Sonic” Smith (guitar/vocals), Wayne Kramer (guitar/vocals), Rob Tyner (lead vocal), Dennis Thompson (drums), Michael Davis (bass) – (photo: Leni Sinclair 1969)


MC5 playlist


Contributor: Ann Sequinworld

MC5 (short for Motor City Five) formed in the city of Lincoln Park in Wayne County in the state of Michigan in 1964, the original members as pictured above.

Wayne and Frederick had played guitar in bands they’d formed – Bounty Hunters and Vibratones respectively. When Robert joined them in a new band on bass, he came up with the name MC5. Michael and Dennis joined MC5 the following year.

They got lots of gigs in the Detroit area, played virtually every night, and they played loud, very loud; a natural extension and amplification of their early days in garage bands. And soon, they had a large and loyal following. MC5 played Detroit’s Grande Ballroom many times. Their first album, the live Kick Out The Jams was recorded there over two nights in October 1968. MC5 were to influence generations of aspiring rock kids.

Of course, in the late 60s, revolution was in the air. The counterculture was on the move, anarchy was everywhere and the political establishment was on the back foot. The Vietnam conflict provided plenty of focus for channelling the MC5’s rage against the American war machine. “We may have been the point of the spear,” Wayne Kramer notes, “but really we were just part of an entire generation of young people that disagreed with the direction that the country was going in, and were very vocal about it. I mean, we just wanted somebody to listen to us, to hear what we were saying. And you know, they didn’t – until it was too late. Just like it is now.” (extracted from a 2004 interview with Wayne Kramer at Straight.com)

The MC5 were inextricably entwined with their manager. John Sinclair was a charismatic Michigan writer and activist, who ensured that MC5 were out front in support of the Black Panthers. Sinclair went on to co-found the anti-racist White Panther Party. It all came to an end for band and manager when Sinclair was convicted of possession of marijuana in 1969 and given 10 years.

A few years later, MC5 played a farewell show on New Year’s Eve 1972 at the Grande Ballroom. Only a handful of people turned up.

Today, MC5 are rightly regarded as one of the most important and influential bands of all time, heralding the arrival of punk rock.

The classic line-up recorded one of the most famous of all live albums, Kick Out The Jams, released by Elektra in 1969, and just two studio albums Back In The USA and High Time in the following two years. I’m concentrating on this period and picking ten tracks and five covers recorded between 1964 and 1972. Hope you enjoy my selection and go on to explore the rest of the MC5 back catalogue.


MC5 poster 1


Looking At You Back In The USA

“I’m not just music, I’m a human being and I’m talking to you, each and every one of you. I’m not just singing some abstractions, I’m talking to you – making personal contact. You have to, in order to tune your music to the people.” Rob Tyner to John Sinclair (1967)


Kick Out The Jamsoriginal 1968 uncensored version

Right now …
Right now, it’s time to …
Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!

“Tyner was really speaking to us, the rest of the band. Sometimes I was critical of him, and what he’s saying is: “let me be who I am”. Because who he was was fantastic. He was your dream lead singer, and he wrote lyrics that work so well, on so many levels. What do we mean when we say “kick out the jams”? If you’re going to do anything, do it in full measure, don’t equivocate, be all the way in.” Wayne Kramer


Future / NowHigh Time

“I brought down the MC5.” Michael Davis (the title of his memoir published posthumously in 2018)


Shakin’ StreetBack In The USA

Shakin’ street, it’s got that beat
Shakin’ street, where all the kids meet
Shakin’ street, it’s got that sound
Shakin’ street, say you gotta get down

“Fred struck me as the ultimate rebel …” Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson on Fred “Sonic” Smith


The American RuseBack In The USA

They told you in school about freedom
But when you try to be free they never let ya
They said “it’s easy, nothing to it”
And now the army’s out to get ya …

ˈ69 America in terminal stasis
The air’s so thick it’s like drowning in molasses
I’m sick and tired of paying these dues
And I’m sick to my guts of the American ruse …

“The extent of our relation to politics was the high-energy intensity of it .. and when we were 18 or 19, we wanted to take over the world. We wanted the world to be the way we saw it. We didn’t relate to convention.” Fred “Sonic” Smith


The Human Being LawnmowerBack In The USA

Make way for the killer race
They use the Bible
Millimeter by millimeter

Six times hot as the sun
Didn’t mean to hurt anyone
Sorry, sorry, yeah

“I was watching TV the other night, and they had these guys from Indonesia, and [the anthropologists] said ‘you guys have a lot of parties and stuff; stay up all night and chew drugs, and dance on logs, and walk in the fire, and do all this stuff, you know.’ And like, the guys said ‘Of course we have to have decent festivals! We do this so that our souls will be happy; so that our souls don’t get mad at us, fly away to the gods and we’ll die.” Rob Tyner


Rocket Reducer No.62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)Kick Out The Jams

After some good tokes and a six pack
We can sock ’em out for you till you’re flat on your back
You know, I got to keep it up ’cause I’m a natural man
I’m a born hell raiser and I don’t give a damn

“Fred was the most creative person in the band musically, he always came out with the coolest guitar parts, while Kramer was something like the icing on the cake” Dennis Thompson


One Of The GuysAMG Records AMG-1001 B-side (1967)

You tell me ’bout your good times
fistfights and stuff like that
Screamin’ tires, throwin’ beer cans
you tell me that’s where it’s at
You goin’ down to the Drive-in boy
just to start trouble there
Your diggin’ Stones and the Beatles too
but you put down long hair

“I was put out of the car on the highway so that I had to find my way back home and start things over for myself.” Michael Davis


Sister Anne High Time

Sister Anne don’t give a damn about evolution
She’s a liberated woman, she’s got her solution
Like a dinosaur, she’s going off the wall
She’s gonna make it her own crusade

(written by Fred Smith)

“We were commune-ists. We had this all-for-one, one-for-all … I hesitate to call it a business structure. We just saw ourselves as one unit, but it was Rob Tyner and I that wrote Kick Out The Jams in the kitchen, smoking a joint.” Wayne Kramer


Black To CommThe Anthology 1965-1971

“You know what ‘Black To Comm’ means? Okay. ‘Black To Comm’ was when we were playing the Grande Ballroom, we used to let bands – a lot of bands would use our equipment, and we would say ‘Fuck you if you break it, we told ya … ‘black to comm’’ Quite simply, on the PA amp ‘comm’ is commonly referred to as the negative ground and the ‘black’ was the wire … clear from the power source, right? And that’s exactly what it was, it’s like, ‘Okay, just be sure you put the black wire into the comm connection here, you know what I mean? If we trip over it and knock it out again, because there was all these wires strewn across the stage.” Dennis Thompson to the writer, Ken Shimamoto

“It took three seconds to write ‘Black To Comm’. We were experimenting with this sound, and Fred found a way to play this chord in this big amp – it was just thunderous.” Wayne Kramer

“The room clearer.” Rob Tyner


MC5 poster 1


1972 wasn’t the end of the MC5 although it was the end of the glory years. There were reunions in the 90s and Kramer, Davis and Thompson played a number of gigs in 2003/4 and continued together until the death of Michael Davis in 2012. Wayne Kramer announced that MC50 would tour the world in 2018 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kick Out the Jams.


Bubbling Under … just 5 MC5 covers!


Ramblin’ Rose – written by Fred Burch and Marijohn Wilkin and first recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis and His Pumping Piano in 1961 for Sun Records.

Motor City Is Burning – written by Albert Smith (of the Al Smith Orchestra) and recorded by John Lee Hooker in 1967.

I Want You Right Now – The Troggs originally released I Want You (renamed in the MC5 version on Kick Out The Jams) written by Larry Page and Colin Frechter and released as the B-side of With A Girl Like You in 1966.

Baby, Please Don’t Go – popularised by Big Joe Williams and his Washboard Blues Singers in 1935, and recorded by Muddy Waters in 1953, the MC5 version is much closer to the 1965 UK hit by Them. Also, I Can Only Give You Everything, the A-side of MC5’s first single (the one with One Of The Guys on the flip) was written by Phil Coulter & Tommy Scott and first recorded by Them on Them Again (1966).

Back In The USA – “In a time of terrible manufactured music, Back In The USA was rock ‘n’ roll, untreated … I used to sit and listen to that album for hours: listen to it through, then put it straight back on again. It was the kind of album you could do that with … My favourite track off that MC5 album would have to be Chuck Berry‘s Back In The USA.” Lemmy, Motörhead


MC5 poster 2



MC5 poster 3


The original line-up
Dennis Thompson (1948-2024)
Wayne Kramer (1948–2024)
Michael Davis (1943–2012)
Fred “Sonic” Smith (1948–1994)
Rob Tyner (1944-1991)


Sonic Revolution: A Celebration of the MC5 (2003)
– a short documentary with current band members filmed in London


MC5 poster 1


MC5 Gateway – comprehensive website
(several of the quotes in this post are sourced from this fabulous site)

MC5 Discography

Books on MC5 and related (from the MC5 Gateway site)

MC5 web guide

Wayne Kramer Discography

“The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, The MC5, And My Life Of Impossibilities” by Wayne Kramer (Hachette 2018)

John Sinclair (Wikipedia)

“Guitar Army: Rock And Revolution With The MC5 And The White Panther Party” by John Sinclair (first published in 1972)

“MC5: A True Testimonial” – feature-length documentary film (2002)

“MC5: A True Testimonial” twitter timeline (a great resource)

MC5 biography (AllMusic)

Ann loves the psychedelic music of the 80s/90s (and MC5). In between gigs, she runs her own business, Sequin World and Bead Monster. You can follow her on twitter @ann_sequinworld and other social media sites.

These are Ann’s other posts on this site: Loop, The Heads, Thee Hypnotics, Mudhoney, Wooden Shjips, The Lucid Dream, The BellRays, Moon Duo, The Telescopes.

TopperPost #903


  1. David Lewis
    Sep 16, 2020

    Detroit is as varied as Nashville in its music scheme, and like Nashville is dominated by one scene. As great as Motown is, the rock and punk that comes out of Detroit is just superb. And as this terrific topper demonstrates, none rocked as hard or as mightily as the M C 5. Kick out the jams is pure art.

  2. Keith Shackleton
    Sep 18, 2020

    Splendid stuff. I’d have to include Skunk (Sonicly Speaking) from my favourite MC5 album, and maybe Thunder Express, but who knows what to exclude? Did you see them on the 2003 tour as DKT? It was certainly a great night in Brighton UK, with Nicke Andersson from the Hellacopters and Mark Arm doing fine duty.

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