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MC5: High Time - Album Of The Week Club review

High Time is the third and final album from Detroit firebrands and proto punks the MC5. Brothers and sisters, are you ready for some testimonials?

MC5 - High Time cover art
(Image: © Atlantic Records)
MC5 - High Time

MC5 - High Time cover art

(Image credit: Atlantic Fecords)

Sister Anne
Baby Won't Ya
Miss X
Gotta Keep Movin'
Future/Now
Poison
Over and Over
Skunk (Sonicly Speaking)

Through the course of three messy, uneven albums, the MC5 redefined rock’n’roll with such elegant ferocity that people are still trying to catch up with them. And while 1971’s High Time may well be the band's least influential release, it sounds the best of the three, proving that the group had plenty of gas still in the tank before drugs sank the whole affair. 

Sister Anne rattlers along with righteous fury, while the closing Skunk (Sonicly Speaking) ratchets the excitement levels up into the stratosphere. When reviewers use the word "incendiary" to describe music, it's the latter song that sets the bar. At last, the band were able to capture the explosive energy of their live shows on tape, and the double meaning in the album title was apt. 

On High Time the MC5 cut loose. From the aching heartache of Miss X to the garage rock frenzy of Gotta Keep Movin' and Future Now, the band gelled as never before, propelled forward by Dennis Thompson's clattering drums, while the lightning-fast guitar interplay between Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith was a wonder to behold. 

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in July 1971

  • At Fillmore East - The Allman Brothers Band
  • Maggot Brain - Funkadelic
  • Acquiring the Taste - Gentle Giant
  • Master of Reality - Black Sabbath
  • Every Good Boy Deserves Favour - The Moody Blues
  • The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions - Howlin' Wolf
  • Charity Ball - Fanny
  • Fireball - Deep Purple
  • Fool's Mate - Peter Hammill
  • From the Witchwood - Strawbs
  • Harmony Row - Jack Bruce
  • Lovejoy - Albert King
  • So Long, Bannatyne - The Guess Who
  • Sha Na Na - Sha Na Na

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What they said...

"Gotta Keep Movin' not only defines the MC5 in the way that all of us would have liked to remember them throughout the past dismal year, but also manages to pull in every trick that literally made them the most exciting band in America for a brief and glorious time. It’s all there the precise breaks, the madly screaming dual guitars, the fanatic drive and energy. Make no mistake, they shovel it out as good as it ever gets, and that’s pretty damn good indeed." (Lenny Kaye, Rolling Stone (opens in new tab))

"Most punk bands never had a rhythm section as tight or could offer up the guitar fire power as the MC5, and only the Ramones delivered the triple Marshall stack attack on punk crowds. Metal bands took the volume and powertrip spectacle but made things too rehearsed and downright silly. At the end of the day the MC5 were, to quote Duke Ellington, “beyond category.” If you have a stereo with a volume knob, High Time better be in your collection." (Best Music Review (opens in new tab))

"It's interesting to imagine what MC5's history might have been like if High Time had been their first or second album rather than their last; while less stridently political than their other work, musically it's as uncompromising as anything they ever put to wax and would have given them much greater opportunities to subvert America's youth if the kids had ever had the chance to hear it." (AllMusic (opens in new tab))

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What you said...

Michael McAleer: Fantastic album years ahead of its time... and Baby Won't Ya is one of the best flat out rockers ever recorded. Smith/Kramer were a seriously mean guitar duo.

Greg Schwepe: Slashing, angry proto-punk from DEE-troit! ‘Nuff said! Good stuff!

I was really only familiar with Kick Out The Jams before listening to High Time. Album passed the first test as I listened all the way through without bailing. First two tracks (Sister Anne, Baby Won’t Ya) clocked in at over 13 minutes total. Was totally surprised (but not bummed!) because I figured the standard MO for MC5 was high energy short diatribes.

The third track, Miss X, wandered a bit and almost led me to hit the next track arrow on my Spotify app, but I stuck it out. That’s the only song that didn’t stick with me. And then we got to Gotta Keep Movin’ and Future/Now which are probably the two best tracks on the album.

The band was definitely a product of the times (album released in 1971) as I heard the word 'Vietnam' more than once while listening. When reading about the band the one constant that comes up is the guitars of Fred “Sonic” Smith and Wayne Kramer. Loud, ratty, and gets the point across.

Overall, not a bad album, because I like loud, thrashy stuff. But not something I’d probably come back to and listen again. Will bet that most reviewers will get more mileage from the live Kick Out The Jams album.

Andrew Cumming: New one on me. I've only ever listened to Kick Out The Jams but I really enjoyed this. It's got the spirit and rawness of KOTJ but with a little more polish (polish might be overstating it..!). Very enjoyable, good fun, good recommendation.

Chris Watson: Great album – Poison by Wayne the best track.

Alex Hayes: In what is quickly developing into a pattern, I too was only previously familiar with the MC5 through the Kick Out The Jams album. A devotee of the band introduced it to me in the early 90s, and I've tended to go back to it once every couple of years or so. It's undoubtedly a cracker, but never resonated with me enough to warrant any more than that.

One of those occasional catch-ups happened just earlier this year. I was hugely impressed with Alice Cooper's homage to his home city and its influential heavy rock scene on the Detroit Stories album (one of my favourite albums of 2021 and one that features Wayne Kramer quite prominently). So much so, it inspired me to reacquaint myself with some of the 'source material', so to speak. So, Kick Out The Jams got an airing, as did Raw Power and the Coop's very own Love It To Death (superb album that).

Detroit Stories also features a cover of the MC5's Sister Anne, which nice and conveniently leads me to the final MC5 album, High Time, where you can find the original. This might possibly constitute high treason, but I may just prefer the Alice version. Brevity is this song's ally.

They call this 'proto-punk', but parts of the album's second half, like the ambient, hypnotic outro section of Future/Now and the jazz freak-out in Skunk (Sonicly Speaking), belie that label a little. We're mainly dealing with loud, angry music here though, which is VERY evocative of the turbulent times it was created in. The MC5's music tends to conjure many of the same mental images as the Stones' phenomenal Let It Bleed.

It's a bit of a cliche, but the MC5 are truly one of those bands whose music only truly came to life in a live setting. It's why neither of the band's two studio albums enjoy anything close to the reputation and legacy of Kick Out The Jams. The latter is their defining statement for good reason. This was a decent album, but it was crying out for a live audience.

Uli Hassinger: I've never listened to them also and I have only known the band of the BÖC cover of Kick Out The Jams.

The band is pretty much like the dirty rotten bastard son of an affair between The Who and The Kinks. They are still based on the 60th beat music but on speed. It's more rowdy, punky and wild and great fun listening too.

Whereas the first two songs are good, the rest of the album is just great and kicks some ass. My favourites are Future/Now, Miss X and Over And Over. The breaks in the songs with changes from rough too mellow and even the jazzy parts make the songs very special. This is Garage Rock as its finest.

For being commercially successful they were too late for the show. With Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin shaking up the music scene one couldn't make a fortune with beat rock music. Three years earlier they would have blasted the charts.

The singer is not a good singer in technical terms but has power, verve and his own style. The drummer sticks out as well because he shapes the songs. (What amount of great drummers there were in the end of the 60s/beginning of the 70s!).

Overall a great new musical experience.

Mike Canoe: As far as landmark albums, Kick Out The Jams was such a letdown that I never really pursued them further. The whole thing *reeked* of hippiedom and sounded hopelessly dated to me. The Stooges or the Velvet Underground, they weren't.

High Time isn't necessarily a revelation, but it's a nice surprise. This is more like the teeth rattling, eyeball jelly quivering garage rock I expected when I first checked them out some 30 years ago. Not only are they fast, but they're surprisingly heavy.

Over And Over is my current favourite but the whole album continues to grow on me. Play it as loud as you can handle it. Then play it louder.

Uli Hassinger: I recognised that Bob Seger is mentioned as part of the rhythm section on the last song.

John Davidson: Not entirely what I was expecting, but a good album of late 60s heavy rock'n'roll (albeit released in the 70s).

It's not Earth shattering and compared to the likes of Sabbath, Purple and Zep, who were all at the prime in this period, it's not really at the races.

The closest band I can think of in the same general vintage is Creedence Clearwater Revival, who similarly struggled with the transition in to a 70s relevant sound. (And I'd argue CCR had a better songwriter.)

Their anti-establishment style and attitude would live on though, in the garage/punk/grunge that came after.

I'd give it a solid six and while Poison and Over And Over are the best tracks there's not a song on it that I plan to add to regular rotation.

Iain Macaulay: An unfortunate lesson in the law of diminishing returns. But when you start your career with such a kick ass live album that created such a storm, how are you ever going to replicate that in the studio? The answer is you can’t. And they didn’t. While the album isn’t bad – and it isn’t, it’s actually quite good, as is the preceding one – it’s just not as good as USA. There are great songs on High Times, great riffs from Smith and Kramer, and great playing from the band as a whole. 

Both albums, but especially this one, are let down by having a weak, almost sanitised production compared to what the band were really like. When you listen to Kick Out The Jams you hear that live is where they were at, and when you watch videos of them play you can see that. They had a ferocity and a drive to play hard and wild that no producer managed to capture on tape, which is a great shame. 

I like the MC5. I like that whole scene around them with the Stooges and the Doors. And the regurgitation of their ideas by the Damned and the Clash. The MC5 weren’t perfect, but how could be when they were so ahead of their time? Both musically, politically and in rhetoric. A lot of bands owe a debt of gratitude to the MC5 and many have acknowledged it, even if a lot of music fans don’t understand it.

Gary Claydon: Dirty, grease-stained electric blues with nods to The Stones, The Who, CCR, Chuck Berry & Jerry Lee Lewis but still unmistakably MC5. The polemic & revolutionary rhetoric are toned down a bit as are the lapses into free-form jamming that kinda detracted from Kick Out The Jams for me. Not perfect by any means but Sister Anne, Baby Won't Ya, Poison &, especially, Gotta Keep Movin' are all excellent. Not bad for a band who were falling apart at the seams.

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Final Score: 7.52 (67 votes cast, with a total score of 504)

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