On October 30 and 31, 1968, The MC5 recorded their debut album Kick Out the Jams, an LP which defined the concept of proto-punk and helped create the sonic template for a much harder musical future.
Not a lot of bands have the balls to deliver a live album as their first full-length release, but for whatever you might be able to say about The MC5, you sure as hell can’t say that they didn’t have balls to spare. Recorded live at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom on Devil’s Night and Halloween of 1968, Kick Out the Jams was an album that was always destined to court controversy thanks to its title track, which famously begins with the following utterance:
"And right now...Right now...Right now it's time to...KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!"
Oh, yeah, you can probably guess how well that went over.
Actually, you don’t have to guess: it’s well documented that the Detroit-based chain Hudson’s Department Stores infuriated the band when they decided that they weren’t going to stock The MC5’s album because of its obscene lyrical content.
Granted, this isn’t an entirely unreasonable position for them to take - it’s not exactly the sort of term that a family department store chain wants to have associated with them, y’know? - but The MC5 were so pissed that they didn’t even bother trying to negotiate with the store. Instead, they opted simply to approach a local magazine called Fifth Estate and purchase an ad which read, "KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKER! and kick in the door if the store won’t sell you the album on Elektra. FUCK HUDSON’S!"
Oh, yes, and they also prominently featured the Elektra logo...suffice it to say that Elektra was not amused.
Regarding their use of the F-bomb, Wayne Kramer later admitted that he never had any hesitation about dropping it. “My sense was that this was language of everyday usage in America,” Kramer said. “Everybody used that language, and it was a normal, everyday word. It was colorful and provocative and fit the criteria of a great rock ‘n’ roll song. You know, Elektra Records said that they agreed with us, that the Constitution was on our side, that this was free speech to use this language in an art form. But in the end, they decided against backing our play. They fired us!”
In the end, though, the promotional blitz that Elektra put behind the album paid off: Kick Out the Jams climbed all the way to No. 30 on the Billboard 200, which is remarkable when you consider how downright grungy the music is.
That’s right: it’s proto-grunge, too. Kick Out the Jams was way, way ahead of its time. Give it a listen and marvel that it was recorded more than 50 years ago. It’s downright staggering.