Alternative Music Talk

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The UP Gets High

There’s a lot to say about rock and roll from Detroit. Generally, the line goes something like, that’s where proto-punk hails. No, that doesn’t seem off base. And considering that John Cale produced the Stooges disc and the MC5 were…well, the MC5 those that dispute the fact are gonna be fighting an up hill battle. And while all of that seems only vaguely important at this late date, there were a huge clutch of groups performing in and around Detroit  and Ann Arbor. SRC was kicking around, Frijid Pink and Bob Seger were on the scene, but the group that receives the shaken heads (most of the time) regarding its missed opportunity at fame is the UP.

At one time sharing a living space with the MC5, the UP were as much an arm of the White Panther Party as its more famous flat mates. And with the Five eventually heading off to greener pastures, the UP were tapped by John Sinclair to carry on that freeq banner.

Forming during ’67 or so, the UP wouldn’t actually release a single until 1970. The landscape of American music over that three year period under went a tremendous shift. There was still a buncha fey folksy stuff kicking around, but bands like Blue Cheer and Detroit’s the Stooges were either on the way out or just not at the height of their powers any longer.

So along come these politicos, wielding a guitar player - Bob Rasmussen - that clearly had the aggressive tone down,  just not the chops to always come up with the most enticing hooks. Arguably the group’s best known song, “Just Like an Aborigine,” sounds like nothing more than a buncha stoned, red book toting lefties raving up a few chords.

Those few chords, though, ended up being the right ones on other tracks collected on the band’s anthology Killer UP. “Together,” as one should expect is a political polemic that finds Frank Bach, the group’s singer, speaking on nothing but revolutionary tactics and how unity is indispensible. The mix isn’t all that flattering here with the guitar and drums taking up more space than the vocals ever could. But in that, there’s a bit of punk flair that isn’t present all over the rest of the disc.

The ‘60s punk and sludge of “I Don’t Need You” comes off similarly to “Together” apart from the fact that there’s a bit more Blue Cheer inherent on this track. It’s not all drum fills and guitar solos, but both are amply represented.

Patches of Killer UP deliver what Detroit exploito fans are looking for, but it’s pretty spotty overall. And considering the fact that there were more bands in the Detroit/Ann Arbor scene than one could readily recollect – not to mention all of the soul stuff from the same period – the UP’s anthology is only for folks that want or need to fully conceive of the scene that could be considered the jumping off point for punk. It’s an historical nugget, to be sure, just not one that everyone needs to search out.

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