Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fossils: MC5's Back In The USA (1970)

The MC5's Back In The USA
[click to embiggen]
Detroit’s favorite sonic terrorists, the infamous MC5, were an oddity even in the late 1960s. The band’s first album, 1969’s Kick Out The Jams, was recorded live at Russ Gibbs’ legendary Grande Ballroom venue, capturing the dynamic band onstage and raging against the machine. As such, Back In The USA, the band’s sophomore effort, was actually their studio debut. Even in those days, a band usually had a couple of studio records under their belt before shooting for a live disc.

But MC5 were no ordinary band, and their deep repertoire of original material and inspired covers of deep blues, soul, and jazz sides allowed them to introduce themselves with a high-octane live collection that would hit #30 on the charts on the strength of its incendiary title track. Back In The USA was a different kind of beast, however – produced by rock critic Jon Landau (who would later become Bruce Springsteen’s manager), the album masterfully blended punkish intensity with a raucous, melodic power-pop sound that would yield some of the band’s best original songs in “Teenage Lust,” “High School,” and “Shakin’ Street,” songs that would in turn influence bands like the Dictators, the Flamin’ Groovies, and the New York Dolls, among others.

Atlantic’s ad campaign for Back In The USA was simple – a black and white photo of the band, clad in leather jackets with a collective sneer on their faces, looking like a gang of ruffians (an image later appropriated to good use by the Ramones). Beneath the dominant band photo is a list of the album’s songs, and a shot of the cover. Although Back In The USA found nowhere near the success of its predecessor, rising only as high as #137 on the charts, its influence would cross the decades. It has since become considered a high water mark for the legendary band, and you can hear strains of MC5 in the music of the White Stripes, the Clash, the Dead Kennedys, Radio Birdman, and other bands across the spectrum of the rock, punk, and metal genres.

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