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The MC5’s Kick Out the Jams is that most unusual of albums - a live debut record. The only other I can recall is Badger’s ‘One Live Badger.’ There must be others, but it is a rare thing. And boy did they ever arrive with a bang.
The inside sleeve photo of them shows a band that looks like any band might look today.
Released in February 1969, through Elektra Records. It was recorded live at Detroit's legendary Grande Ballroom over two nights, October 30–31, 1968. Everyone went through the Grande Ballroom, it seems. It was built in the 1920s and renovated in 1966 and for the next 6 years was a regular stop off for the likes of Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Jeff Beck, Procol Harum, Cream and The Who. The MC5 were pretty much the house band.
Sadly it closed in 1972 and has barely been used since, though it is still standing (just) There was a documentary made about it in 2012. LOUDER THAN LOVE - The Grande Ballroom Story. I'm going to watch that now.
Kick Out The Jams peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard 200 chart, with the title track peaking at No. 82 in the Hot 100 singles listings, though I think they edited out the swearing!
Elektra Records executives were offended by the ‘muthaf*ckers line and wanted it removed, well how very corporate. This is rock n roll, man. John Sinclair, the band’s manager, soon to be in jail, wasn’t pleased.
The original release also had "kick out the jams, Motherf*ckers!" printed on the inside album cover, but it was soon pulled from stores. Two versions were then released, both with censored album covers, with the uncensored audio version sold behind record counters, like it was a dirty magazine. Did you have to go to the counter and say “Can I have the muthaf*cker MC5 album please”?!
Hudson's department stores refused to carry the album. Tensions between the band and the Hudson's chain escalated to the point that the department stores refused to carry any album from the Elektra label after MC5 took out a full-page ad that, according to Danny Fields, "was just a picture of Rob Tyner, and all it said was 'F*ck Hudson's.' And it had the Elektra logo". Ha ha. That is magnificent. To end the conflict and to avoid further financial loss, Elektra dropped MC5 from their record label. Boo. What a cop out.
Later the same year, Jefferson Airplane recorded "We Can Be Together" for their Volunteers album, and there’s a line in that which says "up against the wall, motherf*cker". Unlike Elektra, RCA Records released the album uncensored. Given Elektra was the hip label and RCA the old school big cheese, that’s disappointing.
The days when raw rock n roll records caused such a fuss seem, sadly, a thing of the distant past now, don't they?