Tuesday, November 23, 2010

MC5 discography madness!

After reading the annotated MC5 discography from Arthur mag's MC5 ish, I was reminded of this one that I did for a French MC5 fan site a couple of years earlier. The Five's discography remains, as JH would say, "a frustrating mess." If I had to pick ten to recommend today, these'd be they:

1) Kick Out the Jams -- Twenty of the most exciting minutes ever waxed (the first side) coupled with a second side that just doesn't seem to cohere, for some reason. The first copy I ever owned was so warped that only the first side was playable and in some ways, it was all I ever needed to know. And of course, you've gotta hear this on vinyl.

2) High Time -- I think it's their best album. It's also their most political, lyrical content-wise. I think the second side is perfect, although a lot of folks will tell you the first (which leads off with "Sister Anne," an epic foray into Berry-ismo) is better. We play "Future Now" (lead cut from side 2) for Cadillac Fraf in the li'l Stoogeband because he always wanted to have an MC5 cover band called the Panther City Five. And Fred "Sonic" Smith's guitar solo on "Over and Over" will break your heart.

3) The Big Bang: The Best of the MC5 -- If you don't own any, this is the obvious place to start, but it ain't perfect. You get the first side of KOTJ in sequence, _almost_ all of the pre-Elektra singles (but not the original "Borderline" or my fave early Five song, "One of the Guys"), way too much of "revolooshun-as-bubblegum" second album Back in the U.S.A., and not enough of High Time (I'd have subbed "Future Now" for the meh soul ballad "Miss X"). Plus "Thunder Express," the last original song they ever recorded, live in a French TV studio in 1972.

4) Thunder Express -- Originally released on Skydog (1994), available since 1997 on Jungle, this thing is worth owning because it contains the entire '72 French TV session, with versions of "KOTJ," the Stones' "Empty Heart," "Ramblin' Rose," "Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa," and "Motor City Is Burning," plus 80% (in the Jungle version) of the pre-Elektra single tracks. The four KOTJ tracks are different enough from their iconic '68 Grande Ballroom incarnations to make the case that musically, at least, the Five were still a vital force even on their last legs. (All those '72 German TV performances you can now see on Youtube prove the same point.)

5) Purity Accuracy -- A must for the insane completist, this hefty six-CD box on Brit label Easy Action compiles _all_ of the "quasi-official" recordings -- a hefty 74 tracks -- in an intelligently curated format. There are separate discs for "rehearsals" (the High Time/Back In the U.S.A.-related material), 1965-1968 (including the September "Dialogue '68" material), the New Year's Day 1970 Saginaw Civic Center show, '68 Grande Ballroom (including KOTJ outtakes), the June '68 Sturgis Armory show, plus a four-track "single" with four tracks from the 2003 London reunion. Currently out of stock at the label, it may be Amazon-available. Easy Action paid the bandmembers or their survivors for this release; I don't know if the same is true of the vinyl releases on Italian Get Back that use Easy Action's sequencing. For those not flush with cash, there's a single-disc version of Purity Accuracy, compiled by Yukiko Akagawa from the MC5 Japan website, that does a nice job of summarizing the high spots.

6) Babes In Arms -- Originally out on cassette-only label ROIR, this was the fustest with the mostest of archival MC5 recordings. Since superseded, it's recently been reished on vinyl, and includes an acoustic version of Fred's Back In the U.S.A. highlight "Shakin' Street" that you still can't get anywhere else (although the only other "exclusive" track here, "Train Music" from the Gold soundtrack, is now also available on the Purity Accuracy box and album).

7) Power Trip -- Boy, this sure hit like the atom bomb when it was released back in the mid-'90s. Having recently been pulled back into the Dee-troit ramalama by Thunder Express, Wayne Kramer's solo debut The Hard Stuff, and his collaboration with Ann Arborites Scott Morgan and Deniz Tek Dodge Main, I was primed and ready to be blown away when this compilation arrived, heavy on High Time session studio jams and my first exposure to the "Dialogue '68" sessions, anchored by a 19-minute live-at-the-Grande extended extemporization called "I'm Mad Like Eldridge Cleaver," replete with skronking sax courtesy of manager-mentor John Sinclair (who curated this release as well as all the ones that followed on Alive/Total Energy).

8) Human Being Lawnmower: The Baddest and the Maddest of the MC5 -- If you don't own any other Five bootlegs, this is arguably the one to get, if only because it includes all of the known KOTJ outtakes, although it reprises the aforementioned "I'm Mad Like Eldridge Cleaver," which also appeared on yet another Sinclair-curated release, Ice Pick Slim, and started me thinking that maybe the ex-White Panther honcho was milking it just a little bit by the time this appeared in 2002.

9) Teen Age Lust -- The complete New Year's Day 1970 Saginaw Civic Center show in good fidelity. It captures the band just as Back In the U.S.A. was about to drop, playing with energy and abandon (more so than on the record, even). There are cool versions of JB's "It's A Man's Man's Man's World" and Jody Reynolds' "Fire of Love," as well as a showbizzy medley of "Starship," "KOTJ," and "Black To Comm" (best version available of the latter toon, IMO, so good that Sinclair also included it on Power Trip). Sure, the stage banter is kinda corny and silly, but the only real non-snazz aspect is the inaudibility of Fred's vocal on "Shakin' Street."

10) '66 Breakout -- The Five as they sounded in their teen club/VFW hall days, before they encountered Sinclair and got politicized. Three single tracks (their cover of Them's "I Can Only Give You Everything" was released twice, once in '67 and once with a different B-side to capitalize on KOTJ's '69 release) and a bunch of rehearsals and live stuff that prove that while they weren't yet the fire-breathers of KOTJ (hell, they weren't even that on the June '68 Sturgis Armory date, although they were getting there by the "Dialogue '68" shows a couple of months later), they were worthy exponents of Nuggets-era garage punk, recycling R&B through the prism of Brit interpreters.


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