Formed in Lincoln Park, Michigan, in 1965, The MC5 (Motor City Five) rode to fame on a wave of revolutionary hysteria.
The band never failed to create a stir at concerts with its hard, fast sound and militantly anti-establishment ideals: habitually draping themselves in American flags and screaming profanity-laced revolutionary slogans.
After a performance during the turbulent 1968 Democratic party convention in Chicago, the band was signed to Elektra Records.
Their first album, Kick Out The Jams (1969), was an extremely powerful and totally uncompromising live recording which took them into the Top 30. It also embroiled the band and Elektra in a controversy over the title track’s rallying cry, “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!”.
Some stores refused to stock the album, and Elektra, wary of further trouble, dropped the band when they took out a full-page ad in the Ann Arbor Argus attacking a local record store called Hudson’s for refusing to stock the album. The ad – headlined “Fuck Hudson’s” – was signed by the MC5 and purported to be supported by Elektra, which it was not.
They were signed almost immediately by Atlantic, but follow-up albums, the critically acclaimed Back In The USA (1970) and High Time (1971), sold poorly, prompting Atlantic to drop the band also. The MC5 were soon back in the bars of Detroit.
Revolutionary both politically (their association with the White Panther party – which was led by the band’s manager, John Sinclair – meant their gigs were regularly filmed by the FBI) and musically, it’s not surprising that The MC5’s reputation has continued to snowball since their unlamented demise in 1972.
By 1970 the band were reportedly $80,000 in debt and had filed for bankruptcy, with a combination of poor promotion, bad press, internal conflicts and terrible drug habits sealing their penniless fate.
But not only did their furious guitar sound -along with The Stooges – pave the way for punk and the eventual Detroit garage-rock revival, but their flamboyant dress sense was a massive influence on Glam Rock.
The group lasted five years (1975 – 1980) but only released one single, Holy Grail. The group disbanded after Fred settled down with Patti Smith.
Vocalist Rob Tyner died from a heart attack on 17 September 1991 (aged 46). Three years later Smith also died of a heart attack, on 5 November 1994 (aged 45).
Bassist Michael Davis passed away on 17 February 2012 of liver failure. He was 68.
Fred “Sonic” Smith