Detroit's MC5 are often mentioned as precursors to the Punk movement, but this is merely a superficial observation. They had a raw, thrashy sound to be sure, but this was also a band on a mission. They began like many groups of the era, playing music for listeners to dance to, but quickly established their own identity. Instead of "peace and love," the MC5, in conjunction with activist John Sinclair, embraced radical left-wing politics and were much more likely to espouse "Burn Baby Burn." This and other such inflammatory rhetoric directly reflected the turmoil they were living through in Detroit.
The initial spark for the band was between guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith. As rebellious teenagers, they embraced music with speed, volume, and plenty of attitude. They were both fans of R&B, blues, and guitar oriented rock & roll like Chuck Berry and The Ventures, but they were also compelled by the free jazz of John Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Archie Shepp. By the time MC5 recorded their first album on October 30th and 31st, 1968 at Detroit's Grande Ballroom, they had begun incorporating the squealing, abrasive sounds of free jazz. The left wing politics of the band's lyrics and these diverse musical elements combined to create the MC5's explosive sound and politically provocative performances. The MC5 quickly earned a reputation for their high-energy concerts and began drawing local audiences of 1,000 or more, proving they were clearly on to something.
Unlike the spiritually searching nature of so much of the music of 1968, the MC5 were more interested in the raw spontaneous release of energy, not to mention confrontation, using their music as a full frontal attack on the powers that be.