The MC5 were a band that had no precedent in Rock & Roll at the time of their inception-A politically-charged, high volume ball of energy that turned their amps up to 10 and played their 3 chords deep into the night. Other bands turned up the volume, sure, but the MC5 added the energy and expressed incoherence that turned rock & roll into Punk. As can be expected, record sales went nowhere, but the band was championed by Rock Critics, and later, by the punks of the 1970s. However they did it, they created the throne of "most important Punk Band" that has since been inhabited by the Stooges, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash, Black Flag, NOFX, Fugazi, and others.
This compilation is as close as a single cd can get to a "kitchen sink" compilation, but like most "throw 'em together and see if it hangs together" compilations, this one falls short somehow. One reason: the set is tracked very chronologically, meaning that the rare, but unfocused and lo-fi early recordings are front-loaded onto the cd, thus killing any enthusiasm the prospective non-fan buyer has for the band. It takes almost 10 minutes to reach what should have been the great opening track of the disc (and which was the great opening track of their first album), Ramblin' Rose, and almost 15 minutes to reach their first great song, Kick Out the Jams. The solution? Move the rarities to the end of the disc (Rhino, are you listening?). The great music of the '5 is transcendant, but the inferior sound quality of those early singles is bad enough to detract from both those songs and the rest of the set unless it is minimized, and here it is given center stage.
But, disc track programming aside, the songs themselves are as great as I can possibly remember. The 4 tracks (4-7) that comprise the first side of "Kick Out the Jams" are whiplash-inducing adrenaline in song form. Tracks 8 through 15 are the bulk of an uneven "Back in the USA" with only the true clunkers removed. Likewise, tracks 16 to 20 take the cream of "High Time". And the set ends with a "live in the studio" rendition of "Thunder Express" which proves to me that the '5 were best when they were live and recorded properly, of which there is too little on this album and too little in their recorded history, both official and otherwise.