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Thursday, April 07, 2005
Genre Playlist: Detroit Rock
When Detroit is brought up in the context of music, the first thought that springs to mind of many people is the Motown sound; the soul of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and the Supremes.
The second thing that comes to mind (and the first for many hard rock fans) is the sound of Detroit rock, a largely aggressive and energetic heartland style of rock that had influence over the mainstream in the late 60's to mid 70's. It also gave rise to a fertile punk movement.
At its heart, Detroit rock was basic, hard rocking, working class, and sweaty. It could be gritty and dirty, or piledriving and boogieing.
It was the music that also accompanied the rapid and painful decline of Detroit as a sophisticated middle class city, 4th largest in the nation in 1960, to a hollowed out shell of its former self, its population nearly halved. It extended to the industrial city of Flint (profiled by Michael Moore in Roger and Me) and Ann Arbor, a campus with a thriving rock scene supported by students of the University of Michigan. In Detroit, the most famed venue was The Grande Ballroom.
The Grande Ballroom today
Detroit rock literally bubbled up from garages, as befits the Motor City; the mid 60's saw a sizeable number of rough punky garage bands crop up in the region. The Amboy Dukes (featuring Ted Nugent) and ? and the Mysterians scored national hits in the mid to late 60's with psychedelic garage classics. Other 60's Detroit bands borrowed some soul from Motown, including Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and the Rationals who incorporated it into tough, 50's influenced hard rock. Bob Seger came to represent the blue collar Detroit everyman; a midwestern Bruce Springsteen in many ways. Working his way up from a garage band in the 60's to stardom in the 70's, he represented a glimmer of hope to a generation who no longer had the employment options their parents did.
In fact, as Detroit the city approached crisis in the early to mid 70's, the rock scene reached its zenith. Names from the era, besides Seger, included the solo Ted Nugent, the radical MC5, the massively influential Stooges, the massively successful Grand Funk Railroad, the theatrical Alice Cooper, the hard rock Brownsville Station; all are names that still enjoy currency.
The most influential of all were MC5 and The Stooges, whose sloppy, aggressive playing blazed the trail for punk; Iggy Pop a proto-punk frontman, and MC5 an intensely rough rocking group with provocative (now vintage) left-wing lyrics.
The city is a sad shadow of its former self, as its vacant lots and empty houses and closed factories will attest. Yet it has never stopped producing serious music scenes, contributing greatly to rap music and techno/house music in the 80's and 90's. For Detroit hometowners who suffered the hard times, the music of Detroit remains a badge of serious civic pride, and rightfully so.
Freeway Jam salutes Detroit, with these Detroit rock playlist picks:
1. MC5: Kick Out The Jams
MC5's debut Kick Out The Jams (1969) was recorded live at Detroit's Grande Ballroom in an effort to capture the manic, almost dangerous energy of this band. The original pressing of this album contained the exhortation "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!" which promptly got the album banned. Later pressings replaced the phrase with "brothers and sisters!". What kicks off next is high octane rabble rousing rock 'n' roll. Guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith (who later married Patti Smith) are the real heroes here with their frenetic deuling.
2. The Stooges: I Wanna Be Your Dog
Iggy Pop and fellow mutants the Stooges are in the running for sleaziest, seamiest, insanest, and most dangerous band of all time. Iggy was known for his onstage acrobatics which also involved self mutilation with broken glass, audience diving, and other destructive antics, while the band churned out barrages of unprecedentedly primitive two-chord rock. "I Wanna Be Your Dog" is a signature tune from their 1969 debut; arguably the very first punk rock record ever. "1969" from the same album is another great example of proto-punk.
3. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band: Feel Like A Number
Bob Seger has been playing since 1961, as a member of the Detroit trio The Decibels. His first solo single was released in 1966. In the late 60's and early 70's he was a hard rocker; by the late 70's Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band were spinning platinum with a somewhat softer, heartland rock. "Feel Like A Number" is from 1978, his peak commercial period, and became an anthem among young, futureless factory workers. It's also one of his best late 70's hard rockers.
4. ? and the Mysterians: 96 Tears
? wasn't the best-kept secret in the world, although he was mysterious enough; his name was Rudy Martinez, and he sang with a snotty, snarly, Mick Jagger-influenced growl that bears a resemblance to Sky Saxon of the Seeds. The Mysterians are among the top names of garage band legend, mainly for this one hit, which features the instantly recognizable circular Farfisa organ sound. It reached #1 in 1966.
5. Ted Nugent: Cat Scratch Fever
Legendary for his hunting, right-wing politics, and gonzo image, Nugent is a good representation of rural Michigan. Featuring vocalist Derek St. Holmes, "Cat Scratch Fever" is Nugent's biggest hit, and an enduring classic rock staple. Nugent's riffing was meaty and loud; his charisma was a plus, and the album was his big breakthrough, reaching #17 on the charts. Nugent got his start in the Amboy Dukes; he continued to regularly place albums on the charts through the mid-1990's.
6. The Rationals: Respect
Known mainly to collectors now, The Rationals, led by Scott Morgan, specialized in a soulful garage sound, not dissimilar to Mitch Ryder. "Respect", from 1966, is the same song Aretha Franklin would have a massive #1 hit with a year later. The Rationals took it only as far as #92 nationally, although it and the previous single, "Gave My Love" were big local hits. The band disbanded in 1970, but Morgan is still active. In the 90's, he worked with ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer.
7. Alice Cooper: School's Out
"School's Out" probably needs no introduction for former high schoolers of a certain age; it was the hit that catapulted Alice Cooper to the very top for a brief time, and stands as one of the most enduringly defiant anti-school rockers. Glen Buxton supplies the classic riff, while Cooper (Vincent Furnier) delivers a great heavy metal style vocal. The song was Cooper's first of two top-10 hits, reaching #7 in 1972. After slipping into obscurity after 1980, Cooper had a brief career renaissance from 1989-1991.
8. The Amboy Dukes: Journey To The Center Of Your Mind
Well-known psychedelic classic featuring a fuzzy-fluid guitar from Ted Nugent. The single reached #16 on the charts in 1968, the only charting single of the band's four year recording career. Rhythm guitarist Steve Farmer wrote the druggy lyrics while the famously non-drug-using Nugent wrote the music. The band also has an excellent version of Them's "Baby Please Don't Go"
9. Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels: Devil With A Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly
Ryder, who also recorded as Billy Lee and the Rivieras, specialized in a hard rocking, 50's R&B tinged, soulful sound. "Devil With A Blue Dress" was a top-5 smash in 1967. Ryder would leave the band shortly after, and has surfaced periodically ever since. While Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels have receded from public memory to a large degree, their impact on the local music scene was large; fans of mid-60's blue eyed soul may want to investigate them further.
10. Grand Funk Railroad: We're An American Band
Critically reviled, but mega-sellers for awhile, Grand Funk Railroad became something of an underground favorite for their no-frills working class hard rock that skirted the fringe of heavy metal. The band had 19 chart singles from 1969 until their 1976 breakup; in 1973, the Todd Rundgren-produced, gritty and greasy hard rock party tune "We're An American Band" became their first of two #1 hits (A 1974 cover of "The Locomotion" was the other) The band reunited briefly in the early 1980's, releasing two more albums.