Charlie Says: MC5 ‘High Time’ Vinyl Review
Every discerning muso is well aware of the revolutionary rockers’ first and second LPs – the live ‘Kick Out The Jams’ and ‘Back In The USA’. But this, their third offering from ’71 is by far my favourite. In an era of widespread civil unrest, the Motor City Five were one of the earliest harbingers of politically aware rock & roll, getting involved with radical far-left organisations such as the White Panther Party through the guidance of their manager/mentor – the activist John Sinclair (later given a harsh ten year sentence for marijuana possession).
The MC5 were a punk band before the term had even been invented. Their firecracker brand of aggressive guitar, breakneck drumming, switched on lyrics and leather bad-boy image was a far cry from most other groups of the time who were still singing about putting flowers in their hair and getting-together-and-trying-to-love-one-another-right-now.
The MC5 realised that for a real revolution to take place, the hippie ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ philosophy had to be replaced with harder edged radical thinking. Mock executions, flag burnings and full scale rioting were commonplace at their gigs. Unfortunately, hard drugs and dwindling public support took their toll and they disbanded after an ill-attended farewell show at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom – the same venue they started their career in just five years earlier.
The engines are fired up with ‘Sister Anne’, barroom honky tonk and blues harp setting the scene, ‘Miss X’ is the closest the five come to a ballad on this LP and reminds me a lot of Big Star – another ill-fated group of a similar vintage. The schizophrenic ‘Future/Now’ follows, a straightforward rocker with the customary politically charged lyrics descending into a mournful, almost Floydian, doom-laden meditation on the future of the human race following the impending nuclear holocaust. You must remember that the threat of a full blown atomic apocalypse was very real at the time and crikey do the MC5 address this issue with real aplomb.
Thereafter the record revs up a gear into what has to be my fave rave on the album, ‘Poison’ – one of their most dynamic and hard-driving sleaze rockers. What a chuffing tune! The spluttering initial ignition of Wayne Kramer & Fred Sonic Smith’s dueling Fenders kicks the track into gear, The lyrics alluding to the youth uprising in Paris in ‘68 and similar other revolutionary antics. ‘Skunk (Sonically Speaking)’ ends the set – a simple 12 bar boogie flipped on its head with Dennis Thompson’s crazy drumming and a dissonant Sun-Ra influenced freaky brass part.
All in all a blinder of a record, shame it only made 137 in the charts at the time – planting the seeds of further discontent in the band and eventually leading to its destruction.
Best enjoyed loud on your 8-track whilst cruising the crumbling Detroit streets in your ’69 Chevy Camaro. High times indeed!