Tuesday, December 15, 2009

451. Back in the USA- Episode two of Rocks’ strangest story.

Album: Back in the USA

Artist: MC5

Year: 1970

Genre: Rock.


  1. Tutti Frutti
  2. Tonight
  3. Teenage Lust
  4. Let Me Try
  5. Looking at You
  6. High School
  7. Call Me Animal
  8. The American Ruse
  9. Shakin' Street
  10. The Human Being Lawnmower
  11. Back in the U.S.A.

It’s often said that if you remember the sixties you weren’t really there. I don’t know what recollection the members of MC5 have of those heady years but it’s possible they can recall every detail which would back my theory that they weren’t present at all. While they’re allegedly a product of that great decade, MC5 don’t sound or behave like any sixties band I’m aware of. It’s not just that their name makes them sound like a hip-hop outfit it’s that their music makes them sound more like sixties throwbacks than a sixties band.

Even those who have never heard a song by MC5 know about their most famous minute in the son when they decided to open their debut album with the phrase “Kick out the jams mutherfuckers”. Today you’d be hard pressed to find a hip-hop album that didn’t contain a "motherfucker" on it somewhere. In some parts of the music community it’s basically a term of affection and there are rap stars who probably use it as a pet name for their own maternal parent. But back in 1969 it wasn’t done, but then neither was releasing a live album before you’d put out a studio album and MC5 did that too.

MC5 can really rock. The fast numbers on Back in the USA are all sensational and will have any self-respecting rock fan nodding their head in approval. If you don’t feel the need to air-guitar to an of the three lead breaks in Looking at you then you should have your fictional instrument confiscated. But if you want real proof that MC5 know how to boogie skip straight to the final track in which the band try to acquit themselves in the ultimate rock examination- a Chuck Berry cover. If you can pull off a cover by the guy who invented Riff-based rock then you can hold your head up high as a rock act. It’s harder than it sounds but MC5 give an outstanding rendition of Back in the USA which would have Chuck nodding in approval if he wasn’t busy being a creepy, antisocial, coprophiliac oddball.

The choice of Berry cover and the album title becomes more interesting when you contrast it with the self-penned American Ruse that occurs earlier in the album. Back in the USA is Chuck’s love song to his home country, it’s full of references to American places and how fabulous they are. American Ruse on the other hand gives us these lines:

“They told you in school about freedom

But when you try to be free they never let ya

They said "it's easy , nothing to it"

And now the army's out to get ya”

MC5 were known in their home city of Detroit as a politically active band with left leaning lyrics. I’ve never read any interviews with the band but I would believe the inclusion of Back in the USA isn’t ironic as much as it’s a genuine expression of the band’s feelings. I don’t hold with the idea that those who see fault in their home country are less patriotic than those who don’t. It’s possible to love your home nation while hating what other people are doing to it. MC5 strike me as political in the best sense- they know something is wrong and they’re prepared to sing about it but not preach or rub anyone’s nose in anything. And they’re also ready to have a good time.

Highlight: American Ruse.

Lowlight: Let me try. No, don’t try a ballad.

Influenced: Lots of punks apparently. This is often called proto-punk which is a term I don’t fully understand.

Influenced by: Little Richard, Chuck Berry, an influential and highly politicized manager and a producer who wished they were Bruce Springsteen.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: Kick Out The Jams and Starship are great albums. I love MC5, but this record is truely terrible. It sounds like watered down American Bandstand. I replayed it twice thinking, "this can't be the same group???" The only time that this album should be played is to end hostage situations.

-I wonder if somewhere someone has kept a list of albums that people have claimed would be good to end hostage negotiations. I'm guessing not because it would be a pretty big list if they had.

So are you glad to be Back in the USA or would you rather be anywhere else? Let me know below.

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