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Sunday, 15 January 2017

Rewind: Back In The USA - MC5 (1970)

Back In The USA - MC5
Produced by Jon Landau
Released 15th January 1970
US Chart #137

    Rob Tyner – vocals
    Wayne Kramer – guitar, backing vocals, vocals on first and third chorus of "Back in the USA", guitar solos on "Tutti Frutti", "Teenage Lust" and "Looking at You"
    Fred "Sonic" Smith – guitar, backing vocals, guitar solo on "The American Ruse", lead vocals on "Shakin' Street" and second chorus of "Back in the USA"
    Michael Davis – bass
    Dennis Thompson – drums

Additional personnel
    Danny Jordan – keyboards
    Pete Kelly – keyboards

Side One

Side Two

Singles featured on Back In The USA


A-Square Records
Released March 1968
Did Not Chart

The version that appears on the album is different to the original 1968 version.

Was reissued in 1977 in France on the Skydog label as a Double A-Side

(French Picture Sleeve)

Released 15th October 1969

(German Picture Sleeve)

Released December 1969

 Shakin' Street / The American Ruse
13th March 1970

Released April 1970 Germany Only

I was a mere six years old when this was released and so it's fairly safe to say that I knew nothing of the MC5 back then.

Since its release in 1970 it has undergone a number of Reissues on different labels: 1977 (Reissued on Vinyl - Atlantic - UK, France and Australia), 1992 (Remastered and Resissued on CD - Rhino/Atlantic), 2002 (Reissued on Vinyl - Sundazed Music - USA), 2003 (Picture Disc - Atlantic/Warner Strategic Marketing - UK), and 2014 (180gram Vinyl - 4 Men With Beards  -USA).

I think the very first time I heard them would have been the 1977 Reissue and that was maybe because I'd read an interview with some punk band (whom I have forgotten at this particular moment in time) who were talking about their love for the band. These days when such information falls into your lap you just go online, punch the name of the group into You Tube and hey presto there are loads of videos featuring the music of the band. But back then such a thought was a sheer impossibility and it meant that the most important source would probably be the older hippy dude who worked at the local record shop who could probably tell you the inside leg measurements for Syd Barrett and the catalogue numbers for all three 1967 singles by The Chocolate Watchband (by the way incase you were wondering it's (Uptown 740, Uptown 749 and Tower 373! - Yep, I've become that old hippy dude! ๐Ÿ˜ )!

The only other thing that I knew about MC5 was that lead vocalist Rob Tyner had released a single backed by Eddie and the Hot Rods in 1977 called Till The Night is Gone backed with Flipside Rock. Both songs were written by Tyner and were recorded over the course of two days in September 1977.

So listening to Back In The USA for the first time in 1977, totally unaware of the the history or the politics of the band (this would all be discovered much later) was quite an interesting experience because it's very different to their live Debut Album Kick Out The Jams (which I don't think I heard until maybe 1978) in that it sounds a lot tamer in places and at first nothing out of the ordinary. 

With a couple of old Rock 'n' Roll classics bookending the album (Tutti Frutti made famous by Little Richard and Chuck Berry's Back In The USA) and nine tracks written by the band themselves it's an interesting mix of sound with almost a ballad with Let Me Try to political songs like The American Ruse and The Human Being Lawnmower which were attacks upon the US Government regarding Freedom and also their involvment in Vietnam.

Inbetween there were songs like Looking At You, which I thought at the time was a cracking song and was so pleased that The Damned took a shot at it on their Machine Gun Etiquette album in 1979. The White Stripes did a version for a Peel Session. The Back In The USA  version maybe doesn't have the intensity of the original 1968 single but it is still one of the standout tracks on the album in my book.

Shakin' Street was another one that I have heard a few cover versions of down through the years. Atlanta band The Weasels used to play it as part of their set.

The discovery in 1977 for me of this album alongside Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges (1975) was a good thing and gave me some interesting insight into the foundations of the American Punk/New Wave scene.

Some people might be put off by the politics of the band and their early associations with the Black/White Panthers but I think there's still a possibility to enjoy what is clearly one of The Classic Albums ever recorded in American music history without going into the pros and cons of left wing politics.
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