On this day in 1969, a beef between two institutions of old-school Detroit were immortalized in an infamous Detroit magazine ad.
In February of that year, the proto-punk pioneers in the MC5 released Kick Out The Jams, the band's debut album on Elektra Records. The album was recorded live over two nights at Detroit's Grande Ballroom to capture the band's energy during their shows — something that just couldn't be bottled up into a studio recording.
While many Detroiters were on board with the band's brand of high-energy garage rock and radical politics, some opposed the MC5's obscene lyrical content. Listen to the title track and you'll hear frontman Rob Tyner's immortal call to a the raucous crowd: "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!"
Enter Hudson's, a department store giant in metro Detroit. Its main store on Woodward Avenue was the tallest department store in the world in 1961 and one of the largest in the world by square footage.
A rendering of the Hudson's Department Store location in downtown Detroit.
Hudson's refused to stock the new MC5 album, taking offense to the band's lyrics. These were the days before the Parent Music Resource Center — Tipper Gore's censorship squad — or warning labels on albums. Hudson's took matters into their own hands.
Rather than making a deal or offering a censored version of "Kick Out The Jams" to get their record on the store's shelves, the MC5 took to a local anarchist paper and doubled down on their profanity. The band published a full page ad in Fifth Estate to voice their feelings towards Hudson's.
The ad contains a photo of the band performing live and is captioned, "KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKER! and kick in the door if the store won't sell the album on Elektra. FUCK HUDSON'S!"
While Elektra had no part in placing the ad, Hudson's still chose to remove all Elektra product from their stores. This caused the label to drop the MC5 on April 16, 1969, just months after releasing their debut album.
The MC5 weathered the storm, signing with Atlantic Records soon after where they released two more albums, High Time and Back in the USA. The band has gone on to be revered in Detroit and beyond as rock 'n' roll visionaries and innovators of punk rock which would come in the following decade. The recent announcement of a 50th Anniversary Tour shows the spirit of early Detroit garage rock is still alive.
Time wasn't so kind to Hudson's. The company fell into decline shortly after and considered closing their flagship downtown store as early as 1971. The store finally closed in January of 1983, and the building was demolished in October of 1998. Last year, it was announced that Dan Gilbert plans to develop the site of the old Hudson's building into the tallest skyscraper in Detroit — a $909 million development to be completed in 2022.
The MC5 and its legacy has stood the test of time. Hudson's has not. Nearly fifty years ago, these two titans of Detroit squared off. Rock 'n' roll prevailed.
Anthony Spak is an editorial intern with the Metro Times and a recent graduate of Oakland University’s journalism program.
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