Right on the heels of the revolution. Right after the smoke cleared from Grande Ballroom in Detroit where its native sons, the MC5, set forth a sound that was unheard of in terms of how high amplification could be turned. In this era, the MC5 were are the forefront of the proto punk scene, making their mark with the name inspired by their hometown, the Motor City 5 and on Back in the USA, they would show not only are they one of the great live bands of the day, but that they are not limited to being away from the studio and that they can rock out there too, crafting one of the first great 70's rock albums.
How would this effort differ from their previous. Basic observations state there will be a change in quality due to this being recorded as opposed to live; and while the noise and insanity of the MC5 is not fully present here on the surface, but the volume is certainly still turned up. All the major players were back for this puppy, the soul of the band which is their guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Hayes are slightly down a notch from their bombastic set on Kick Out the Jams but as mentioned, they are still the heart of the group.
Alright. The MC5 were prime rockers and in 1970 were definitely not past their prime. Why then has this not been reviewed yet? Well that was the life of the beginning punk bands then, their records reached a wide network of underground fans, but it remained just that, underground (with the single exception of making a Rolling Stone cover. While many artists enjoy the appeal of playing and making albums for a limited audience, it holds back the potential widespread influence that could have been spread to the mainstream. Many groups were victim to this, and indeed the MC5 were. Despite not having widespread acclaim, the band rumbles on without White Panthers leader and manager John Sinclair to make a great piece of pure rock, and make another staple in the early punk years.
Without venturing too far into the future, the band dips into the past a tad, and that venture is what kicks off this album. "WOP BOP A LOO BOP A LOP BOM BOM!" screams front man Rob Tyner and the unheard and unused instrument of the band, piano, comes in to escort this high tempo Little Richard cover which serves to establish the boys not only as old time rock and rollers, but to preview the sexy feel of the work, the subtly risque element of the lyrics with a quick percussion core and slick guitar riffs throughout. The song is not theirs but it might as well be, it perfectly previews the album as well as providing a connection between Little Richard, an early black pianist, and the MC5, who embodied Motown soul and a rebellious attitude. The other featured cover from an earlier black artist is Chuck Berry's Back In the USA which by itself contradicts the rest of the album, proclaiming to be "Glad to be livin' in the USA" but in the context the song also glorifies not the police or the government, but hamburgers, jukeboxes, and drive ins.
What are the main topics selected for this stellar pure rock album? Why what else than what rock and roll is based on, sex and rebellion. That's how this album does so well, theres no need for poetic free form rambling artificial garbage or any sensitivity, the MC5 just rear back and give a balls out performance, this time its in a controlled setting. Want sexy? Look no further than the spot on titled "Teenage Lust". This song goes over how it feels bein' a teen and being hungry for more than burgers. Tyner recalls as "[He] chased them at the bars and [he] grabbed them at the dances/They'd huggy snuggle kissy but they'd never go all the way".
Right on the money this tune is, the band is rockin' with guitar/drum parts blazing throughout and backup vocalists firing, this is a standout thing to rock out and shake your hips to. Want rebellion? "American Ruse" goes just as the title sounds and is made just for you. The reality of their music is displayed here and real situations appear in which " If you complain they're gonna get vicious /Kick in the teeth and charge you with assault". How many times past and present has that been seen, as Hendrix did in the previous years, this song has a seemingly improv version of an old American song brought on by the provocation of "Rock em Back Sonic!". Sonic is indeed what this album is about, applying to not only the noise this makes in the ranks of the underground, but the continuation of the riffage and all out performance of guitarist Sonic Hayes.
What is missing from the album is not only the live chaotic feeling of Kick Out the Jams, but the wild guitar tangents that made that album the classic it is. Other people may find grievances in the slower songs, such as "Let Me Try". While this is in the taste of some, who cares if they play the slow jams occasionally, they're from Detroit for Chrissakes! They know how to rock, swivel, make noise and they do just that in this album. It seems all this would give them the chance to record a slower and still decent song, and they do just that.
Back in the USA, it was slick but rude, loud and crazy, and absolutely essential for any real rock fan to have been listened to by now. Its been 36 years since this baby was released, and somehow the immediate and widespread response to the brilliance of this album has yet to be fully received. That's a crime considering the work (and arrests) it took to make this. No more excuses, the word is out, get it.
by Zachary Powell
1. Tutti Frutti (Dorothy Lavostrie, Joe Lubin, Richard Penniman) – 1:30
2. Tonight – 2:29
3. Teenage Lust – 2:36
4. Let Me Try – 4:16
5. Looking At You – 3:03
6. High School – 2:42
7. Call Me Animal – 2:06
8. The American Ruse – 2:31
9. Shakin' Street – 2:21
10.The Human Being Lawnmower – 2:24
11.Back In The U.S.A." (Chuck Berry) – 2:26
All tracks composed by MC5 except where indicated
*Rob Tyner - Vocals, Harmonica
*Wayne Kramer - Guitar
*Fred "Sonic" Smith - Guitar, Vocals on "Shakin' Street"
*Michael Davis - Bass
*Dennis Thompson - Drums
*Danny Jordan - Keyboards
*Pete Kelly - Keyboards