Sunday, April 12, 2015

THE RE-TOOLED MC5 BACK IN THE USA: DENNIS THOMPSON


We had just completed the recording of our first album in the recording studio. Jon Landau produced this album “Back In The USA”, our second record. Jon ran a very tight ship. He virtually changed our lifestyle. We had moved again, this time from Ann Arbor to a small, mainly German farming town by the name of Hamburg, MI.

Quiet and most rural, we gave ourselves some room from the party crowd and all the traffic in general. We needed the change of scenery. Jon was a music writer for Rolling Stone and we were his second recording project ever. He had us running laps around the house and eating a low fat, high protein diet.


He also tried his best to run a no drinking and drugging regimen as well. We rehearsed like men possessed and that was a good thing. I have to say now in perfect 20-20 hindsight, that what Jon did for us was actually quite beneficial in many ways.

I was not into this guy at all. I used to call him a Fascist and an amateur. I wanted a professional producer with a proven track record, but once again the powers that be overruled me again. I felt he was anal retentive and was driven to total perfection partly because of his lack of experience, so he overcompensated.

The tunes were too tinny sounding and lacked punch. The music lacked that fullness that we were known for. There was no improvising. We may have overdone that on the first album. I felt very strongly about this. Jon’s heart was 100% in the right place. He wanted a hit single from this band and he knew we needed to change to accomplish this. We confused our fan base.

The songs were also all 3 minutes long or shorter, and this flew in the face of our first album, KOTJ, where the songs were on average 4-7 minutes long. In retrospect, we did need to clean up the timing and the tightness of the tracks. I will be the first to admit this.



I played to a metronome and we layered the tracks as opposed to playing as a group. This felt alien to me. I adapted to this format in a short time, but I still did not like it. Now, years later, many of our fans think it was our best album out of the three. (Not me)

We could have done a hell of a lot better with a pro, but would we have been as tight? I doubt it. All in all, as a result, what you see and hear on the tapes of the Tartar Field performance is a direct result of that conditioning.

Now I think everything is as it should’ve been, because that is the way life comes at you. So here you have it, the first time we played the new tunes off “Back in the USA” or what many people call “The White Album”.

We did this in front of a large audience at Tartar Field, Wayne State University, mine and Michael Davis’ alma mater. Remember that this band was always evolving, we never stood still, and this chapter is just as different as the one before it, and the one that followed it (the High Time Period). “Gotta Keep Movin”, my, oh my…MGT

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great piece. Metronome bugged you more than the jogging and clean living? I'd love to hear that album with some grunt.
Regards
Earl

christopher ryan said...

It's time for a remastered version

Randy America said...

I love reading this stuff. Thanks for putting it out there!

David O. Jones said...

Great piece. I'll always love the pure energy, excitement and power of Kick Out the Jams. It's one of the heaviest, most radical rock n roll albums of all time, if not THE heaviest. It's the sound of youthful rebellion and as a teenage punk rocker it blew my mind. I came around to Back in the USA way later in life. I didn't get the cleaned up sound, the lack of low end, and the overall studio approach which seemed to tame down the band's edge. I've never been a fan of Landau's production (I don't like Born to Run for example). But taken for its own value Back in the USA is still a stunning album. It's like a different group in a way with the same roots (Chuck Berry, Surf, Garage, Motown) showing through more distinctly than on KOTJ. I can see how so many of the punk bands like the Damned were influenced by this album with its tight arrangements and short, punchy songs. It's brilliant. I still prefer the earlier single version of Looking at You, but there are pure gems on this album such as Call Me Animal, Teenage Lust, The American Ruse and my favorite, the Human Being Lawnmower, one of the most unique songs I've ever heard. It's a killer. Thanks for this remembrance Dennis Mgt Thompson!!

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