Sunday, June 7, 2015

Track of the Week: MC5 "Sister Anne"

The MC5 were a legend to me before they were a band.  I read about their past exploits in music magazines as a teen, fascinated by their revolutionary politics and all of this talk about them having been one of the inspirations for the punk rock I enjoyed so much.  They were far enough under the radar, however, to not have any of their albums available at the local Musicland, the one record store in my hometown.  At age 17, on a trip to Omaha, I picked up a copy of their second album, Back In The USA, which had recently been reissued.  I really wanted Kick Out The Jams, which I'd heard was their most important.  (I knew the title song from a cover version on a Blue Oyster Cult live album a friend of mine had.)

Back in the USA wasn't bad, but it was not the earth-shattering experience I had been expecting.  On that same trip to that Omaha record store I picked up my first Velvet Underground album, which was indeed like having a spiritual ecstasy the first time I heard it.  Finally, when I was college, I got Kick Out The Jams, which was full of raw power and daring experiment, if a little hit and miss at times.  I chalked up the MC5 to being one of those groups who's really influential, but not necessarily that musically satisfying after you've heard all the bands who borrowed and improved on it.

Well, that's what I thought until many years later I finally heard "Sister Anne," off of the band's last record, High Time.  This was finally the legendary MC5 I'd heard so much about.  It's a seven minute song that feels about two minutes long, a time-bending feat accomplished through the persistent, killer riffs by Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith that just tear out of the speakers like wild tigers.  The song means business from the start with a fuzzy guitar figure that morphs into a gut-busting drum break with the bass guitar punching along in time, adding extra weight.

The subject matter is also fascinating.  It's a about a badass nun who "doesn't give a damn about revolution" and is "a liberated women who's got the solution."  Nuns aren't exactly the type of people you expect to think of as the subject of a rip-roaring Detroit rock bonfire.  Considering all the restrictions and crap that the Vatican has been throwing at nuns around the world who fight every day for social justice, they more than deserve such a dedication.

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