MC5 was a hard rock band that came out of Detroit, USA in 1964, and was an important precursor of and influence on punk rock (see protopunk and List of forerunners of punk music). It featured Wayne Kramer (guitar), Michael Davis (bass), Rob Tyner (vocals), Dennis Thompson (drums) and Fred "Sonic" Smith (guitar). The MC5 described their music as New Music and cited the Yardbirds and The Who as the leaders of the New Sound.
Standing for "Motor City Five", MC5 established themselves with their first album, Kick Out the Jams, recorded live on October 30 and 31, 1968. The album caused some controversy due to the title track's rallying cry of "kick out the jams, motherfucker!," and manager John Sinclair's inflammatory liner notes. Sinclair was politically active with the White Panther Party and Fifth Estate." The album concluded with "Starship", a cover of a Sun Ra song. Critic Mark Deming notes that Kick "is one of the most powerfully energetic live albums ever made ... this is an album that refuses to be played quietly."
When Hudson's, a Detroit based department store, refused to stock the LP, MC5 responded with a full page advertisement in the Fifth Estate saying "**** Hudson's!", prominently including the logo of MC5's label, Elektra Records, in the ad. Hudson's pulled all records on Elektra, and Jac Holzman, the head of Elektra, dropped the band. The band then signed with Atlantic Records. The band also generated political controversy by performing before the outbreak of violent protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Their second album, Back in the USA, produced by future Bruce Springsteen mentor Jon Landau, virtually provided a prototype for punk rock with its short, fast, hard-edged angry guitar rock. Their third album, High Time would also prove influential on 1970s hard rock bands like Aerosmith and KISS. Both Back in the USA and High Time lost money for Atlantic Records, which dropped the band.
On February 13, 1972, Michael Davis left the band. The remaining members recorded three new songs - "Gold," "Train Music," and "Inside Out" - in London shortly afterwards for the soundtrack of a film called Gold. This would be the band's final recording session. The band broke up shortly afterwards amidst drug-related problems.
Singer Robin Tyner died in 1991, and guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith in 1994. Guitarist Wayne Kramer is still active, and has released several solo albums, although his career was interrupted by an incarceration for drug charges. While in prison, Kramer was unexpectedly reunited with MC5 bassist Michael Davis, also behind bars on a drug charge.
In 1999, on their album No.4, Stone Temple Pilots wrote a song entitled MC5 in honor of the band.
2003 saw the three surviving members of MC5—Kramer, bassist Michael Davis, and drummer Dennis Thompson—performing as MC5 at the 100 Club in London with Fred 'Sonic' Smith's place being taken by Nicke Andersson, vocal chores being filled by David Vanian of The Damned, Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, Ian Astbury of The Cult, and singer Kate O'Brien, as well as seeing Charles Moore and Buzzy Jones reprise their roles in the brass section from the High Time album.
On their 2000 album Renegades, Rage Against the Machine performed a cover of "Kick Out the Jams". The song was also covered by Jeff Buckley on the DVD Live in Chicago, as well as on the 1994 debut album by The Presidents of the United States of America, and by Blue Oyster Cult on their 1978 live album Some Enchanted Evening. A version of the song performed by Bad Brains with Henry Rollins also appeared on the soundtrack to the film, Pump Up the Volume. More recently, Monster Magnet contributed yet another version of KOtJ to the Varsity Blues soundtrack.
In 2004, the band set out on an extensive world tour using the name DKT-MC5. As with the 100 Club concert, a host of special guests joined them on tour such as Mark Arm of Mudhoney, Nicke Royale of The Hellacopters, Evan Dando of The Lemonheads, Marshall Crenshaw, and others.