10 Songs From Detroit's Punk Scene

Motown With A Mohawk

Motown's music is much more than just Motown Music. Since Detroit's punk beginnings with the Stooges and MC5 at the Grande Ballroom, up to and including the constant popularity of Detroit garage rock and the high weirdness of bands like the Amino Acids, Detroit's punk scene has been a rich one that has been a part of the worldwide punk scene all along. Check out this sample of the punk sounds of Detroit.

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MC5 - "Kick Out The Jams" (1969)

From the get go, the MC5 were known for their live performances with an explosive sound and politically-charged themes. Playing nearly every night in clubs in and around Detroit, the band's reputation earned them a spot on the cover of Rolling Stone before they'd even released an album. They were hippies who played hard rock, creating a scene along with The Stooges. Both bands signed to Elektra Records in 1968.

The title track from the band's 1969 debut, Kick Out The Jams, was recorded live, which was unheard of for a debut album, but considered appropriate because the band's live performances were when they truly "kicked out the jams." It's also innovative for its raw energy, something that would influence countless punk bands.

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The Stooges - "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (1969)

From early on, The Stooges were more well-known for their live performance antics than they were for their music. Iggy Pop was well-known for his high energy and unpredictable nature, which included cutting himself, flashing the audience, playing items like vacuum cleaners as instruments and stage-diving (some say he invented this maneuver).

While the band really found their stride on 1973's Raw Power, "I Wanna Be Your Dog" shows up on their self-titled 1969 debut, and it really expresses the band's raw power. Composed of just three chords, the song is basic, grinding and intense, and has been covered by countless bands, without achieving the edge The Stooges put on it.

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The Meatmen - "I've Got A Problem" (1982)

Starting in 1980, The Meatmen, fronted by Tesco Vee (also of Blythe), emerged upon the scene and refused to take anything seriously. They were a hardcore band making fun of hardcore punk and just about anything else. Their lyrics were crude, childish and offensive, but if you could get past that, they were also a lot of fun.

Taken from 1982's We're The Meatmen And You Suck!, "I've Got A Problem" is a good gateway song for the band. It captures their snot-nosed punk attitude very well, while remaining the least offensive song from the album. Try this one out, and if it scares you off, you can't handle the rest.

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Negative Approach - "Tied Down" (1983)

Like Minor Threat and Black Flag, Negative Approach was innovative in creating the hardcore scene and sound of the '80s. Unlike those bands, the band never got the notice it deserved.

Fronted by John Brannon (later of the Laughing Hyenas and Easy Action) the band displays raw, in-your-face hardcore, and hearing Brannon belt out his vocals is like listening to lungs made of leather blasting air out a throat made of sandpaper. One musician I know said he made his throat bleed trying to imitate Brannon onstage, and immediately knew Brannon was untouchable.

Simply listen to the title track from1983's Tied Down. You'll understand.

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Murder City Wrecks - "You Can't Take It" (1998)

While they're actually a product of the '90s, the Murder City Wrecks play pure late '70s punk. They draw heavily from their forefathers The Stooges, cleaning up the stripped down sound just a bit, adding a higher production value without losing any power.

"You Can't Take It" is pure Detroit punk, showing that, even 30 years after the sound was born, bands were still drawing from it, helping create continuity for the Detroit punk sound.

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Suicide Machines - "Break the Glass" (1996)

Originally started in 1991 as Jack Kevorkian and the Suicide Machines, the band that would later shorten their name by dropping the reference to the infamous doctor was a staple to the Detroit punk scene for many years and through many sounds, blending hardcore, punk and ska.

Taken from their debut album Destruction By Definition, "Break The Glass" is a solid display of the band's ska skills, the sound that made their live shows so much fun. (Useless fact: I broke my glasses in the pit at a Suicide Machines show while this song was playing, and I seriously just now caught the irony of it.)

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The Gories - "Charm Bag" (1989)

Along with the raw '60s-influenced bands in the Detroit scene, the city has also become synonymous with garage punk, the most infamous and influential being The Gories.

Starting in the mid-'80s, The Gories were creating dirty, bluesy garage punk with an incredibly full sound, despite the fact they had no bass player. "Charm Bag" is off the band's second album and really fully captures the power of Detroit garage.

Sidenote: Without The Gories, there would be no White Stripes, and I'll leave it to you to decide if that's a good thing or not.

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The Almighty Lumberjacks of Death - "Drink Beer" (1988)

A long-running staple of the Detroit scene, the Almighty Lumberjacks of Death were another band with a significant local following that never garnered national attention. While hardcore was booming, ALD reached for more of an Oi! sound, speaking to blue-collar fans who turned up to see them night after night, where they could always be counted on to be opening for some of the biggest punk bands as they toured through Detroit.

Taken from 1988's Always Out Of Control, But Never Out Of Beer, "Drink Beer" is classic ALD, with a slow, driving beat and lyrics intent on rallying the crowd to singing along. Although they often drew flack for their right-wing views, the band more often than not simply wanted to make the people in the crowd party.

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Trash Brats - "You Threw Me Away" (1996)

Another Detroit band that never got the props they deserved, the Trash Brats were glam punk at its best and worst. Strutting around in drag with big, multi-colored hair, they were like the New York Dolls taking it a bit too far, if that was at all possible (and after seeing the Brats, you'd concur that it was).

On a musical level, the Brats had a hard time fitting in as well. Drawing equally from the Ramones, Cheap Trick and Van Halen, their music is pure power pop glam chaos. It's unashamed of what it is, and that makes for the purest party rock around. Case in point: 1996's "You Threw Me Away."

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The Amino Acids - "Bowling In Roswell" (2005)

Any listing of the current Detroit punk scene would be remiss without mention of the Amino Acids. The Amino Acids are a complicated concoction; based on released information, the band is composed of extraterrestrial parasites that crashed on Earth at some point in the '60s, obtaining human hosts in the '90s, and making the obvious choice of starting an instrumental surf-core band instead.

The members of the Amino Acids do not communicate verbally with anyone, ever, and their live shows are pure chaos, where the band takes the stage masked, hammers through a frenzied set, and then vacates the premises. Their live shows are where they excel, but for recordings, "Bowling In Roswell" does a great job capturing the Amino Acids' intensity.