When Tom said “bring something loud” I thought about some kind of clever definition of loud, and bringing a record of over-compressed ballads or mushed-up AOR or something, but only for a second. My second thought was to bring XTRMNTR by Primal Scream, but upon revisiting it revealed itself to be 24 seconds longer than our allowed album length of 60 minutes – given that I’ve broken the rules so often I thought I’d adhere to them for once, and look elsewhere. The raucous guitars and screaming, noise-descending chaos of XTRMNTR made me think of an older record, though, so I bypassed Fugazi and the recently-reformed At The Drive-In and went to the source – The MC5, and their legendary debut album, recorded live over two nights of Halloween weekend 1968 and Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, notorious for its guitars, energy, sermonising, and the profane introduction to the title track that got them dropped by Elektra.
I first bought Kick Out The Jams when I was about 17 or 18, and we played it for the first time at my friend Ben’s house. His dad had a big stereo, and we were astonished by the guitar sound, which was nothing like we’d heard from other 60s music before; it felt like the motherlode of alternative rock, grunge, punk, metal, anyone and everyone who’d tried to squeeze an amplified, distorted, excited squall of riffs out of a guitar. It was great.
Factor in the crazed sermonising (I’d not listened to Kick Out The Jams in years, but could still quote along with every word – “I wanna see a sea of hands!”; “Are you ready to testify? I give you a testimonial; The MC5!”; the infamous use of the word “m*th*r*ck*r”, etc etc), the crowd noise, the energy of the rhythm section, Rob Tyner’s squealing vocals to “Ramblin’ Rose” – at astonishing odds with his voice (assuming it’s him) giving introductory testimonial – and you’ve got a hell of a record. It’s mad to think that most of the band were only a couple of years older when they recorded it than I was when I first heard it (guitarist Wayne Kramer was only 20).
If I’m honest, it wanes a little bit after the first four songs, the tempos slow, the energy dips, and by the time Starship’s 8 minutes of Sun Ra-inspired explorations roll around I’m losing interest; Lester Bangs’ review of it for Rolling Stone was apparently unfavourable, describing it as “ridiculous, overbearing [and] pretentious”, and you can certainly see where he’s coming from during the dirgy “Borderline” and “Motor City is Burning”.
But those first four songs are still immense; the twin-guitar chaos of “Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)”, the irresistible momentum and chaos of “Come Together”, the shock of “Ramblin’ Rose” and the fact that the title track somehow seems to embody the platonic essence of every piece of energised, loud guitar music ever made before or since…
Rob listened: The sound of religious fervour fired through with pure adrenalin. The first half of ‘Kick Out The Jams’ could serve as a one-shot tester for anyone who’s never heard rock and roll before. If you don’t get it after those first four tracks, you never will. Back to chamber music with you. If, however, the wave catches you, dive in. The waters are choppy, the currents dangerous, but there’s a hell of a time to be had. [File under both ‘mixed’ and ‘painfully over-extended’ metaphors].
Tom Listened: In contrast to Big Black, I fully expected to fall for Kick Out The Jams (and have almost bought it on many occasions in the past), but I just couldn’t get into it. Obviously close relatives to Iggy and The Stooges both geographically and sonically, on closer inspection I found little in common between our two offerings other than the fact they are both, indeed, LOUD. But whereas I love The Stooges pounding bass lines and grooviness I found KotJ to be too screechy for my taste and, whilst I’m sure that once you dig a bit there is treasure to be unearthed, I think the fact that Graham’s reaction was positive upon also hearing this for the first time on the night suggests that, for me, this may be one of those records best left on the shelf.
Graham Listened: Whatever the secret recipe of rock might be, energy and madness must surely feature in the ingredients. Perhaps unfairly compared to Funhouse, I found far more of both in KotJ and it kept my attention longer. Maybe I could access this easier as buried in the madness there is some guitar work and grooves I could relate to Jimmy Page on early Led Zep stuff. All in all, wonderfully, “out-there man”!