The signature song of the MC5, "Kick Out The Jams" was also their rallying cry and credo. The phrase was often taken to mean "overcome obstacles," but it wasn't written as a song of perseverance. In a Songfacts interview with guitarist Wayne Kramer
, he explained: "We were using the expression for a long time, because we would be critical of other bands that came to Detroit that the MC5 would open for. They'd come into town with this big reputation, and then they'd get up on stage and they weren't very good. So, we used to harass them. We'd yell at them, 'Kick out the jams or get off the stage, motherf--ker!' Finally, one day we said, 'I like that expression. We should use that as the title of a song.'"
This song is notorious for the line, "Kick out the jams, motherf--kers," shouted by lead singer Rob Tyner before the music kicks in. This line appears on the uncensored version of the album; a clean version where it is replaced with, "Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters," was used on the single and later made available on censored versions of the album.
Along with the rest of the album, this was recorded live at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit on October 30 and 31 (Mischief Night and Halloween), 1968. By this time, the MC5 had gained a fervent live following in the Detroit area, but had not released any material. By the time the album was issued a few months later in early 1969, they had stirred up lots of controversy for their revolutionary stunts and associations: they sometimes brought unloaded rifles on stage, and their manager, John Sinclair, founded the White Panther party, devoted to upending political and cultural norms. The song peaked on the Hot 100 on April 5, 1969; In July, Sinclair was given a 10-year prison sentence for possession of two marijuana cigarettes. He became a cause célèbre, as many rockers voiced support for him. In 1971, John Lennon lionized him in the song "John Sinclair
Elektra Records president Jac Holzman is listed as the co-producer on this track along with Bruce Botnick, as they handled the live recording. Botnick was the engineer for The Doors.
Many bands benefit from controversy, but the kerfuffle over this song did not go well for them, and when they pushed the provocation too far, it got them dropped from their label.
Many retailers refused to stock the album, including a local chain called Hudson's. The band took this as an affront and placed an ad in an underground newspaper called the Fifth Estate that read, "F--k Hudson's." Hudson's responded by threatening to pull all Elektra albums (Judy Collins and The Doors were among their artists), so on April 16, 1969, the label dropped the MC5, recalled the Kick Out The Jams albums still in stores, and replaced them with clean versions.
Atlantic quickly signed the band and teamed them with producer Jon Landau, but their two albums on the label flopped, and by 1973 what was just a few years earlier the most promising band in Detroit was out of action.
This was likely the first rock song on a major label to use the word f--k in the lyrics (it was also printed in the liner notes, written by John Sinclair). It proved very provocative, but also drew attention away from other storylines, like their furious live shows and role in defining the Detroit rock sound.
The entire band was credited as writers on this song, per custom on their first album. Lead singer Rob Tyner, who died of a heart attack in 1991 at age 46, did most of the work on this one. Wayne Kramer told Songfacts:
"We were going through a very creative period. The band had just moved in together for the very first time. There used to be a building in downtown Detroit that was a dentist's office on the second floor, and we all moved into different rooms in the dentist's office as our bedrooms. And then downstairs was a storefront. I covered the walls with egg crates and made it a rehearsal studio, so for the first time we could rehearse whenever we wanted to - all day, all night if we wanted to - and we all lived there.
So, it became possible to really develop some songs and some music. And Tyner and I developed a little habit of sitting down at the kitchen table with a couple of joints of reefer, a little amp, my electric guitar. He'd have a notepad, I would just play guitar riffs, and he would listen and say, 'Wait, wait... play that one again. No, change that a little bit. OK, play that again. Play that four times.' And then we would start to cobble the songs together. That was where 'Kick Out The Jams' was born."
"MC5" stands for Motor City Five (Detroit is the "motor city"). The name was derived from The Dave Clark Five
, otherwise known as the DC5. The group went through a few managers, including Bruce Burnish, before John Sinclair took them on.
Jeff Buckley was a huge fan of this song and often performed it at his live shows, injecting a burst of primal rock into graceful setlists.
Rage Against The Machine covered this on their 2000 album Renegades
. On August 27, 2008, Rage performed the song with MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer at the Denver Coliseum during the Democratic National Convention, which was being held nearby.
Bertrand - Paris, France
This was the first song played on XFM's launch as a Londonwide commercial station on September 1, 1997. 23 years later, it was the also the final track broadcast by XFM before its re-branding as Radio X on September 21, 2015.