Hitting Australia with Alice Cooper this week is a unique, all-star celebration of Detroit rock’n’roll revolutionaries the MC5. MC50, as the new band are called, is led by the 5’s founding lead guitarist Wayne Kramer and features Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil and Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty amongst others. They are here to kick out the jams, and they will start each night off with a massive bang.
Inspired in equal parts by the likes of the Who and James Brown, the MC5 started off on the Detroit club scene in the mid-60s. Soon they adopted radical politics and a free jazz attitude that put them at the forefront of the counter-culture and made them stars at home in the Mid-West. After a couple of incendiary local singles the band was picked up by Elektra, who released their live debut album Kick Out The Jams in 1969. The album was the aural equivalent of a Molotov cocktail and earned the band the attention of the CIA as well as the ire of the record industry; they moved to Atlantic and toned things down somewhat for their next album Back In The USA before cutting loose again on their final album, the underrated High Time. Although they crashed and burned – hitless - after releasing three albums in three years they left an enormous legacy that has only grown over time.
Their first impact was an immediate one; they were featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine before they even had an album out – and they inspired other local rockers including The Stooges, a young and fearless Bob Seger and an even younger and more fearless Suzi Quatro whose first band The Pleasure Seekers played shows with the MC5. They also inspired a wild bunch of miscreants from Arizona via LA – the original Alice Cooper group – who moved to Detroit because they wanted some of whatever the MC5 were having. That move, and the energy and focus they picked up once there, resulted in “I’m Eighteen” and kicked started Alice Cooper’s success.
Their contemporary influence spread to the UK and Europe, where fellow street freaks the Pink Fairies and Hawkwind picked up on the energy. Hawkwind’s bass player was a guy named Lemmy who a few years later formed a new band that he’s repeatedly said was styled on the MC5. That band was Motorhead.
Other hard rockers were clearly influenced – Kiss (especially “Detroit Rock City”, but the influence is there in all their high energy stuff), the Blue Oyster Cult and more - and producer Jon Landau, who cut his teeth on Back In The USA, soon found another artist equally in love with rock’n’roll – Bruce Springsteen. And then came punk. The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned – they were all hugely influenced by the MC5. Patti Smith even married the other MC5 guitarist Fred Smith! Here in Australia, Radio Birdman worshipped them (members of Birdman, along with Ron Asheton from the Stooges and MC5 drummer Dennis Thompson teamed up as New Race in 1981), as did many who followed in their wake.
American hardcore also owed a huge debt – Henry Rollins wrote liner notes for Wayne Kramer’s first solo album The Hard Stuff, released on Epitaph in 1996 – as did grunge – Mudhoney, Nirvana, Pearl Jam etc. And so it continued, through the likes of Primal Scream, Silverchair, Green Day and Rage Against The Machine, onto the White Stripes and the Hives in the new century.
The MC5’s name is now synonymous with free-mindedness and blisteringly hot high energy rock’n’roll. Check out some of our favourite original footage below, along with a brief set from MC50 from 2018.
If you’re heading to see Alice Cooper, make sure you get there early! Tour dates and ticket info, here.
Listen to MC5 on Spotify
Listen to MC5 on Apple Music