Rock ‘N’ Revolution: MC5’s “High Time” 50 years

Author Olli Lehtonen - 6.7.2021

Founded in Lincoln Park, Michigan in 1964 MC5 (Motor City Five) is one of the most important rock bands of all time. Inspiring a generations of musicians they say that many groups such as Motörhead would not have seen the light of day with out MC5. The group is known for its high energy and vintage rock and rhythm blues influences preceding punk rock. During its relatively short existence MC5 left its mark in the history of rock.

The band was associated with left-wing political activism performing in anti-Vietnam War conventions especially in its early days. MC5 achieved national attention with its debut album “Kick Out the Jams” recorded live between 30-31 October 1968. The recording featured many proto-punk classics such as its title track which has been covered by groups such as Monster Magnet and Rage Against the Machine. The second album “Back in the USA” was a lot more polished than its predecessor and received mediocre sales.

The third album “High Time” reaches a respectable 50 years of age 6 July this year. The album is the most well received album although that it flopped bitterly. Personally, I find it one of the most influential albums of my younger days that blew my mind for its raw energy, groove and gritty sound.

“High Time” starts with an over seven-minute-hard-hitting-long rock ‘n’ roll anthem “Sister Anne”. The song has many little hooks like harmonica, ringing piano, and even a Salvation Army style brass band in its famous outro. The Spicy Motown flavored “Baby Won’t Ya” features one of Rob Tyner’s best vocal performances of which electrifying interpretation shows that he is not fooling around. You can hear two guitar slingers, Fred “Sonic” Smith and Wayne Kramer, battling with lead guitars in the background. A soulful piano ballad “Miss X” introduces a softer side of the group, and Tyner’s prowess as a vocalist capable of singing heart breaking ballads, too.

The musicians keep the strings on their fingers with the same frenzy throughout the whole 40 minutes and plus. The latter part of the record contains such memorable tracks as “Poison” and “Over and Over” that kick the jams out of you. There is also a hint of psychedelia in the latter part of the politically charged “Future/Now” featuring only a lingering guitar and tremolo spiced serene vocals. Sadly, the section takes about three minutes of 6:2, and thus, almost breaking the flow. This is redeemed again by great twin guitar work by Smith and Kramer. Starting with a wild drum solo by Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson “Skunk (Sonically Speaking)” puts an end to the album with a bang. The frantic soundscape is enriched by jazzy brass section putting some R&B feeling into it.

“High Time” is a true rock classic and nearly illustrating the late ’60s and ’70s proto-punk sound. Despite its poor sales back in the day the album has gotten more appreciation throughout the years. Unfortunately, the original group split up due to heavy drugs soon after the album in 1972. Smith played later in bands like Ascession and Sonic Rendevouz Band which received a cult status later on. Kramer and bassist Michael Davis were incarcerated in the mid-1970s. Tyner continued with music until his death in 1991. The band was first put together in the mid-90s by its surviving members Kramer, Davis and Thompson, and the second time in 2005 remaining together until the passing of Davis in 2006. Even though many of the original MC5 members are in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven their legacy lives on.