This is a CD issue of the only known recording of the MC5 on British soil, at something called the Phun City Festival, Worthing in 1970. (And no, I can't quite get over the concept of the founding fathers of punk playing Worthing either!) The back cover candidly admits that "although this ranks in quality above the other MC5 live recordings you should check out "Kick Out The Jams" before purchasing this! The performance here is stunning, the sound quality is good, but not "Kick Out The Jams" good!" I think the use of the word good here should be qualified by the phrase 'for a bootleg', because "Phun City, UK" is more no-fi than lo-fi, even by punk standards.
What you do get from this CD, though, is a sense of the power the MC5 exhibited at their peak. It does all sound a bit vague and distant, but not poor enough to prevent the obvious excellence of songs such as "Miss X" fighting its way through the murk, or obscure Rob Tyner's rather cheesy "Clap your hands/Stomp your feet" exhortations during "Ramalama (Fa Fa Fa)". The booklet contains some terrific scene-setting photos as well which I'd dearly love to believe were taken during the Worthing gig, all flying hair and guitars necks. What it comes down to is if "Phun City" sounds better than your memories of the real thing if you were fortunate enough to be there it has served its purpose, and for those of us without such memories it's the next best thing.
MC5 Kick Out The Jams (Sundazed)
The Motor City Five were propelled from humble garage band beginnings towards notoriety by their manager, John Sinclair. A local radio DJ, jazz reviewer and political activist, he turned the band on to the free-form improvisation of Pharaoh Sanders, Archie Shepp, and, especially, Sun Ra, whilst installing them as The White Panther Party's house band. The MC5 became a heady musical Molotov cocktail, and their explosive live performances are captured on their debut album, "Kick Out The Jams", recorded in Detroit's Grande Ballroom on the Zenta New Year (whatever that may be), October 30/31, 1968.
A generation later, there's plenty here to point and snigger at. The revolutionary politics have dated as badly as the free jazz experimentation, and Sinclair's haranguing sleeve note survives only as a quaint period piece. The band's repertoire is stretched beyond breaking point to fill a 40-minute album, despite the inclusion of an incendiary cover of the Nat 'King' Cole standard "Ramblin' Rose" and a lengthy introductory oratory by Brother J C Crawford, 'religious leader and spiritual adviser', meaning that several of the group's own compositions sound painfully underwritten.
But, as with The White Stripes, what really matters about The MC5 is the sound and the fury, the raw primitivism of their music, and it's that which has led to tributes on vinyl or in print by artists as diverse as The KLF, Jeff Buckley, Primal Scream and Boom Boom Satellites. When they're hot - i.e. not sapped by indifferent material or travelling the spaceways on some kind of jazz odyssey - The MC5 scorch like no other could did during the late 1960s, save for The Stooges, The Velvets with John Cale and The Beatles during "Helter Skelter". The title track - here restored to its full, uncensored glory - should be enough to convince: should it fail to do so, skip to the sprawling urban political blues of "Motor City Is Burning", or the lascivious, swampy rumble "I Want You Right Now". This is greatness, in its own way.
Naturally, The MC5 were too incendiary to last, at least in the form documented by "Kick Out The Jams". Record stores refused to stock the album on the grounds of its content, and when the band took out newspaper ads vociferously criticising Detroit's largest for doing so Elektra dropped the band, and their catalogue was swiftly deleted. Brought back to vinyl by the good folks at Sundazed, "Kick Out The Jams" now wears smart red and white labels, the large 'S' mimicking the large 'E' of original pressings, and is fashioned from 180 gram vinyl. It sounds at least as good as a pristine 1977 reissue that has passed through my hands before now, as well as being usefully cheaper and a great deal easier to track down.
MC5 The Big Bang! Best Of The MC5 (Rhino)
Apparently the first ever MC5 compilation, this single disc Rhinofication is a comprehensive introduction to the Detroit bands mixture of nascent punk rock and revolutionary politics. The Big Bang! explodes into life with a selection of early singles. I Can Only Give You Anything and Looking At You sound as if they were recorded - and possibly played, as well using biscuit tins and string; its the psychedelic sound of The 13th Floor Elevators with flick-knives hidden in their electric jugs. By guitarist Wayne Kramers own admission the sound of a bunch of hoodlums from Detroit, the informative booklet notes that these sides have been out of print since the Johnson administration!
Perhaps forgivably light in documenting the bands tendency towards Sun Ra-aping freakouts, this compilation instead offers the entire mind-melting first side of Kick Out The Jams, resplendent in all its uncensored, establishment-baiting glory. The feral, falsetto power of Ramblin Rose is simultaneously primitive and alien, surely as far from Nat King Coles interpretation as its possible for a song to travel.
If Kick Out The Jams forged punks attitude, the bands second album Back In The USA provided its sound, all recycled (and first-hand, in the case of the titular cover) Chuck Berry riffs and stinging, treble-saturated production, designed to slice mercilessly through crowded AM airwaves. Amidst these 150 second parcels of purest tinnitus Shakin Street is an astonishing precognition of the power pop later plied by Big Star and Tom Petty and even the title track is every bit as subversive as The Beatles Back In The U.S.S.R..
On their third and final album, High Time, the bands sound underwent yet another abrupt reconfiguration. Blessed with a chunky, elaborate production, Sister Anne rolls with a piledriving intensity at least until derailed by a Salvation Army band at the songs close, Baby Wont Ya builds to a long, mantric outro and Skunk (Sonicly Speaking) heroically bridges tribal percussion and free jazz with Detroit punk.
Just about as crammed as a single disc can be, blessed with a booklet filled with essays and photos and casting light on the original albums without sucking them dry of interest, the thirty year wait for an MC5 compilation has not been in vain.