Michigan Rocks LP
By STEVE SEYMOUR
Back in the day, southeastern Michigan spawned a thriving music scene, separate from the Motown sound which permeated the country.
While Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, The Supremes and their contemporaries were entertaining young America, Detroit also spawned a regional hard rock arena
which escaped the notice of many observers, and certainly those who compiled music sales charts.
"Sound" evidence is contained in a compilation long player called "Michigan Rocks" documenting ten tracks which, while huge regionally, didn't fire the national imagination. Still, these home grown bands left a legacy which provides a common back ground for many baby boomers.
Suitably, the record album starts with the incendiary "Kick Out the Jams," by the MC5, recorded at the Grande Ballroom on Halloween Night, 1968. Singer Rob Tyner takes the band through a dynamic version, but when released as a single, the song reached a disappointing number 82. Despite the lack of airplay, or perhaps because of it, the song became a counterculture anthem.
The LP's momentum continues with another cut licensed from Elektra Records, "1969" by The Stooges. Creem Magazine record reviewer Air Wreck Genheimer paid tribute to the group in his liner notes. "Before we can justifiably leave the subject of madness indicative of the music from this area, we must pay homage to that most bizarre grand pappy of all, James Osterburg, better known these days as Iggy Pop, who crawled out from under the rocks on his parents' trailer park lawn in Ypsilanti to successfully share with us the very depths of his own tormented nightmares, even illuminating a few of own own, despite his self proclaimed philosophical determination to fail at anything and everything he attempts to do." Whew!
Next up on this vintage vinyl is Bob Seger, now regarded as an American musical treasure. But at the time, his "Heavy Music" didn't cause a ripple outside Michigan.
Fellow rocker Mitch Ryder, with his new band Detroit couldn't turn "Rock & Roll," written by Lou Reed, into a national radio staple, either. Since the song defines the genre in name, spirit and performance, all the more's the shame.
Dick Wagner's Frost recorded his similarly titled "Rock & Roll Music," at Detroit's Grande Ballroom, but to no avail. It's a great song with a great performance which suffered a great lack of success.
The second side of "Michigan Rocks" kicks off with "Journey to the Center of the Mind" by Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes. Nugent's powerful guitar-playing and a little luck led this song to a number 16 spot on the national charts in the summer of 1968. Nugent, while disavowing any drug imagery in the song, has seen his fame and influence grow over the years.
One of Detroit's earliest rockers, Mitch Ryder, is given a second slot on the LP, following Nugent with "Long Hard Road." Despite the dynamite vocal you would expect, radio deejays beyond Michigan ignored the track.
The same holds true for the next two songs on this compilation. "Persecution," written by Drew Abbott, a pal of Bob Seger, and performed by Third Power, as well as Skip James' "I'm So Glad," recorded by SRC, made no waves, despite being impressive tunes.
The last track on side two is "Respect" by The Rationals. When released in 1966, this cover of the Otis Redding tune reached just number 92 on the pop charts, but it did impress Aretha Franklin, who recorded a smash version a year later. It became her signature song and biggest hit.
Appearing on Seeds & Stems Records, "Michigan Rocks," was conceived and produced by Tom Conner. Released in 1977, the record's gatefold features a collage of black & white photographs of the featured bands. The disc was followed by "Michigan Rocks II," which included tracks from such stalwarts as Grand Funk Railroad, Frijid Pink, The Woolies, Brownsville Station, Rare Earth, Stix and Stones and Teegarden & Van Winkle.
At this late date, whether or not these recordings were national hits is beside the point. They have shown a lasting impact on a generation which recognizes their status.
Fully five of the tracks on "Michigan Rocks" were included among the "100 Greatest Detroit Songs Ever," as published in November by Metrotimes, a southeastern Michigan weekly.
Air Wreck Genheimer summed it up best. "In a way, this album is a present from ourselves to ourselves to enjoy or more approximately to stomp, scream and drool over."
I'll second that.