Michael Davis, the bassist for Detroit's seminal late-60s rock band, died of liver failure at the age of 68. He later co-founded the non-profit Music Is Revolution Foundation, dedicated to supporting music education programs in public schools and to indoctrinating kids into becoming huge MC5 fans. Considering how widely ignored the MC5 have been among mainstream channels that doesn't sound like such a bad idea.
To pay tribute to Davis and his legendary band, List of the Day brings you these fine ten MC5 tracks that serve as a deserving introduction to one of rock 'n' roll's most revolutionary bands. ("American Ruse," in case you were wondering, came in at #11, according to the highly complex algorithm used to compute this list.)
10) I Can Only Give You Everything: This garage rock classic, which had been a single for Van Morrison and Them and the MC5 in 1966, was a great mouth-watering debut that only hints at where the band would take things from here. Already louder than the competition, the MC5 would dirty the waters in a serious way. The AMA would not approve.
9) Ramblin' Rose: Wayne Kramer's falsetto vocal is pure hilarity and inspiration. That the MC5's debut album, Kick Out the Jams, would be a live album without sweetening is a statement of its own. Being recorded on Devil's Night and Halloween at Detroit's Grande Ballroom makes the mythology behind the album ever more spine-tingling.
8) Looking At You: Their second album, Back In the U.S.A., cleaned up their sound quite a bit. Recorded in an actual recording studio with a producer who had a vision for them, it's so compact and poppy that one can hear where the Ramones got a bit of their inspiration. At just three minutes, "Looking At You" manages a great guitar solo and aggressive rhythmic interplay between the bass and drums, despite a disappointing trebly mix. Go Michael!
7) Motor City Is Burning: Kick Out the Jams sounds like a band starting a riot. Take this blues that builds to pure catharsis. Just as a young guitarist finds the keys to the universe when stomping on a fuzzbox, one hears rock 'n' roll getting an overhaul into the second half of the 20th Century with this one. Don't look back -- because you can't.
6) Future / Now: The first three minutes or so of this tune are pure muscle. The second half sounds like somebody tripped over the electric cord and left the band to space out in the dark. I haven't been this confused about a work of art since I got to the 'Peace' part of War and Peace.
5) The Human Being Lawnmower: Despite their second album sounding trebly and a bit slight in spots -- courtesy of their producer -- "The Human Being Lawnmower" is a great John Deere-inspired piece of rock 'n' roll.
4) Black To Comm: A track that only existed in bootleg form for many years that was often known as the band's official room-clearer, "Black to Comm" takes the free jazz elements of the group to its logical conclusion. While it's often said that everyone who bought the Velvet Underground's records went out and formed a band, I'd say the MC5 did much the same and this obscure-but-well-known track is pure inspiration.
3) Shakin' Street: Now here's a pleasant ditty. It's the closest the band ever came to sounding like Arthur Lee and Love. Acoustic guitars and a sensitive vocal delivered in two-and-a-half minutes. They even mention New Jersey. Such sweetness from a band that loved the loud. Versatility? Why not?
2) Sister Anne: The lead-off cut from the band's third and final album, High Time, "Sister Anne" takes traditional rock 'n' roll, complete with tinkling piano and harmonica, and turns up the volume (a common motif for these gents). The Salvation Army Band coda is a nice touch and further proof of the group's eclectic weirdness that future hard rock bands often missed.
1) Kick Out The Jams: Having heard this song in many different situations -- the car, a bar, at parties and played by any number of primitive bands -- it never loses its flavor no matter how long it has sat out on the bedpost. The elemental riff is easy and accessible and hard as nails. The first time I heard it, I couldn't believe it existed. It sounded like chaos. Being just 10 years old at the time, it made me confused. I didn't understand how you got that sound. I still think some form of magic exists over the track. It isn't human. Unfortunately, the band members are. RIP, Michael.