MC5 were an American rock band from Lincoln Park, Michigan, formed in 1964. The original band line-up consisted of vocalist Rob Tyner, guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith, bassist Michael Davis, and drummer Dennis Thompson. The MC5's leftist political ties and anti-establishment lyrics and music positioned them as emerging innovators of the punk movement in the United States. Their loud, energetic style of back-to-basics rock and roll included elements of garage rock, hard rock, blues rock, and psychedelic rock.
MC5 had a promising beginning which earned them a January 1969 cover appearance in Rolling Stone before their debut album was released. They developed a reputation for energetic and polemical live performances, one of which was recorded for their 1969 debut album “Kick Out The Jams”. Their initial run was short-lived, though. In 1972, just three years after their debut record, the band came to an end. MC5 was often cited as one of the most important American hard rock groups of their era.
(Read more at Wikipedia.)
Links to Peel
In 2005, two copies of the early MC5 single “Looking At You / Borderline” on local Michigan label A-Square were found among the treasured 45s in John Peel's Record Box.
Peel is known to have played the b-side of the single on 11 August 1968. He received a letter of thanks and mentioned it in his International Times column, twice using his favourite adjective of the time: "A nice letter from the MC5 (a group) or rather friends of theirs in Michigan sending love and news of a possible LP. A single, not well recorded, was played on 'Top Gear' - they sound nice, though." Returning to the record many years later, on 22 April 2004, he read out the letter, which turned out to be from the band's celebrated manager:
"I came across a letter by John Sinclair. Now he was the founder of the radical White Panther Party, who adopted the MC5 as the chosen leaders of his vision of a rock and roll army ... But amazing I found a letter from him. It's rather a historic document - 24 Sept. 1968: 'Thanks for your kind (???) of so long ago about the MC5 and thanks too for playing our record on your show'."
Although there are limited Peel show tracklistings from the period the band were active, it is known that the DJ played the title track from their live debut album for Elektra Records, "Kick Out The Jams", released as a single, in 1969. In early 1970 he three times kicked off Top Gear with tracks from their first studio LP, 'Back In The USA'. The band visited the UK around this time and played at a number of underground events including the Phun City festival. Their "high-energy" approach and revolutionary politics went down well with the more militant faction of the UK underground, including musician and International Times editor Mick Farren.
MC5 were a widely acknowledged influence on many artists played by Peel, particularly during the punk period. Fellow Detroit underground legends the Stooges signed their first recording deal with Elektra at the same time MC5 joined the label, at the instigation of Danny Fields, who later managed the Ramones.  Peel played covers of MC5 songs by both the Damned and White Stripes, while KLF sampled "Kick Out The Jams" on "What Time Is Love? (Live at Trancentral)".
He last played a track from "Back In the USA" on 28 September 2004, during his final month of Radio One shows. In 2012, five albums by MC5 were among the first 100 LPs by artists beginning with M when initial details of Peel's Record Collection were released online.
Festive Fifty Entries
- None. Although the band spent time in the UK, they presumably were considered ineligible for a Peel session due to Ministry of Labour work permit rules for musicians from countries whose radio stations didn't offer reciprocal bookings for British bands (see Sessions That Never Happened).
Other Shows Played
- 11 August 1968: (JP: "And all of you know of course about the Detroit "Motor City Sound" things (Motown). But there are other sounds going on in Detroit, made by a group among others called MC5 - the Motor City 5, you see. And it's not very well recorded, one of your underground recordings, but it is quite interesting anyway, although a bit derivative. And this is the MC5 and it's called 'Borderline'.")
- Borderline (US single - b-side of Looking At You) A-Square
- 05 January 1969: unknown (sourced from David Cavanagh's Good Night And good Riddance book)
- 02 February 1969: Kick Out The Jams (single) Elektra
- 07 March 1970: The Human Being Lawn Mower (LP - Back In The USA) Atlantic
- 21 March 1970: Teenage Lust (LP - Back In The USA) Atlantic
- 16 May 1970: The American Ruse (LP – Back In The USA) Atlantic
- 14 April 1975: unknown
- 22 April 2004: (JP: "I came across a letter by John Sinclair. Now he was the founder of the radical White Panther Party, who adopted the MC5 as the chosen leaders of his vision of a rock and roll army - I'm quoting now from something that Hermeet found actually, I have to give him credit for that ... But amazing I found a letter from him. It's rather a historic document - 24 Sept. 1968: 'Thanks for your kind (???) of so long ago about the MC5 and thanks too for playing our record on your show.' Specifically, this record...")
- Looking At You (7") A-Square
(JP: "Well, despite the slight scratch I like to think that's worth a few bob - not that that's the point really. Seven-inch single on A-Square from the MC5 before they even signed to Elektra Records. Looking At You is the title of it.")
- 28 September 2004: The American Ruse (LP - Back In The USA) Atlantic
(The list below was compiled only from the Cover Versions page of this site. Please add more information if known.)
Artist | Track | First Known Play
- Damned: Looking At You (session) 08 January 1979
- Forty-Fives: The American Ruse (session) 29 September 2004
- White Stripes: Looking At You 08 November 2001
- John Peel's Record Box
- Record Collection: M
- Record Collection: V&A LPs
- Cover Versions
- Patti Smith: Married MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith.
- ↑ Sinclair was later imprisoned for drugs offenses, leading to a support rally and concert in 1971, with performers including John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Stevie Wonder.
- ↑ Farren founded a British "chapter" of the White Panther Party, about which Peel was sceptical, telling Jonathon Green "There were only two White Panthers and Mick Farren was the leader" (quoted in Green's Days In The Life: Voices From The English Underground 1966-1971, p.328). Later, Farren recorded with MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer.