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Kick Out the Jams

Kick Out the Jams is the first album by Detroit protopunkers MC5, released in 1969. It was recorded live at Detroit's Grande Ballroom over two nights, Devil's Night and Halloween, 1968. (However, the original Rolling Stone review by Lester Bangs was unfavorable, calling it "ridiculous, overbearing, [and] pretentious".)

The album contains such songs as the proto-punk classics "Kick Out the Jams" and "Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa", the spaced-out "Starship" (co-credited to Sun Ra because the lyrics were partly cribbed from one of Ra's poems), and an extended cover of John Lee Hooker's "Motor City is Burning" wherin Tyner praises the role of Black Panther snipers during the Detroit Insurrection of 1967. The album is generally regarded as one of the best live rock and roll records: critic Mark Deming writes that it "is one of the most powerfully energetic live albums ever made...this is an album that refuses to be played quietly." The album has gained a considerable cult following in recent years.

The LP peaked at #30 on the Billboard album charts with the title track peaking at #82 in the Hot 100. The LP entered the charts on March 8, 1969.

Its title track has been covered by various bands, including The Presidents of the United States of America who completely reworked the lyrics to an upbeat form on their eponymous debut album in 1995, by hard rock band Blue Öyster Cult on their 1978 live album Some Enchanted Evening, Rage Against the Machine on their album Renegades (2000), Henry Rollins with Bad Brains for the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack, Africa Bambaataa, Monster Magnet, Japanese rockers Guitar Wolf on their debut album Run Wolf Run, Jeff Buckley (whose version was released on his posthumous "legacy edition" of Grace on the bonus CD of unreleased songs), Entombed on the EP Family Favourites, Silverchair, and Give Up the Ghost (formerly American Nightmare) on their Year One compilation. Primal Scream often plays the song live. Pearl Jam began performing it on the Vote For Change tour in 2004.

In March 2005, Q magazine placed the song "Kick Out the Jams" at number 39 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.

Controversy

While "Ramblin' Rose" and "Motor City is Burning" open with inflammatory rhetoric, it was the opening line to the title track that stirred up the most controversy. Vocalist Rob Tyner shouted, "And right now it's time to... KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!" before the opening riffs. Elektra Records executives were offended by the line and had preferred to edit it out of the album, however the band and manager John Sinclair adamantly opposed this. The original release had "KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!" printed on the inside album cover, but was soon pulled from stores. Then, two versions were released, both with censored album covers, with the uncensored audio version sold behind record counters.

Making matters worse, Hudson's department store refused to carry the album. Tensions between the band and the chain got to the point where the department stores refused to carry any album from the Elektra label after the MC5 took out a full-page ad that, according to Danny Fields, "was just a picture of Rob Tyner, and the only copy was 'Fuck Hudson's.' And it had the Elektra logo." To end the conflict, Elektra dropped the MC5 from their record label. Ironically, band members later alleged that Elektra official Jac Holzman encouraged the use of the epithet on the record itself.

In the end, the album is widely considered a vital step in the evolution towards punk and a variant upon what would later be referred to as garage band rock. The album, along with fellow Detroit band the Stooges' first two albums, until after the punk movement traced its lineage back to it. Now on CD, the remastered live version is kept in its original uncensored state.

Later the same year, Jefferson Airplane recorded the song "We Can Be Together" for their Volunteers album, a song containing the same objectionable word as the MC5 track. Unlike Elektra, however, RCA Records released the Airplane's album wholly uncensored, following pressure from the band.

Meaning of "Kick out the jams"

Kick Out the Jams has also been taken to be a slogan of the 1960s ethos of revolution and liberation, an incitement to "kick out" restrictions in various forms. This is myth and fiction, however; the truth is more prosaic. To quote MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer from his interview with Caroline Boucher in Disc & Music Echo, 8 August, 1970:

"People said 'oh wow, kick out the jams means break down restrictions' etc., and it made good copy, but when we wrote it we didn't have that in mind. We first used the phrase when we were the house band at a ballroom in Detroit, and we played there every week with another band from the area.

"We got in the habit, being the sort of punks we are, of screaming at them to get off the stage, to kick out the jams, meaning stop jamming. We were saying it all the time and it became a sort of esoteric phrase. Now, I think people can get what they like out of it; that's one of the good things about rock and roll.

The title has also (jokingly) been reinterpreted as an establishment message masquerading as a revolutionary anthem. David Bowie sings in the song "Cygnet Committee":

[We] stoned the poor on slogans such as
Wish You Could Hear
Love Is All We Need
Kick Out The Jams
Kick Out Your Mother

And in Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's classic counterculture novel Illuminatus! the title is said to have been created by the Illuminati as a jibe against a rival sect, the Justified Ancients of Mummu (or JAMs for short). The British band The KLF (also known as The JAMs), who take their name from the Wilson/Shea novel, use a sample of "Kick Out the Jams" in their songs "All You Need Is Love" and "What Time Is Love?".

Track listing

All tracks composed by MC5; except where indicated

  1. "Ramblin' Rose" (Fred Burch, Marijohn Wilkin) – 4:15
  2. "Kick Out the Jams" – 2:52
  3. "Come Together" – 4:29
  4. "Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)" – 5:41
  5. "Borderline" – 2:45
  6. "Motor City Is Burning" (Fred "Sonic" Smith) - 6:04
  7. "I Want You Right Now" – 5:31
  8. "Starship" (MC5, Sun Ra) – 8:15

Personnel

References

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