Initially, I knew it as a lyric from a David Bowie song called ‘Cygnet Committee’ – an epic saga of a song that lives at the end of side one of the album Space Oddity. Now I realise it’s kind of a reply to ‘Kick Out The Jams’ – painting a bleak image of the kind of cult that follows an out-of-control messianic figure advocating slogans such as:
Kick Out The Jams
Kick Out Your Mother
Cut Up Your Friend
Screw Up Your Brother or He'll Get You In the End.
And even though I didn’t recognise the reference to MC5, there were other references and influences close to Bowie’s own heart. For example, when
the love machine lumbers through desolation rows
it's easy to assume it's lumbering through streets not unlike the one Dylan speaks of in his own epic song, ‘Desolation Row’, that closes his 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited. That Bowie was a big Dylan fan is evident in his tribute ‘Song for Bob Dylan’ on the album Hunky Dory:
Oh, hear this Robert Zimmerman
I wrote a song for you
About a strange young man
With a voice like sand and glue.
Of course, Bowie went on to record Dylan’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’ at the end of the ’80s with Tin Machine. (The Dylan song, from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home, had massive ironic overtones in England during the ’80s while Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister.)
Love is all we need
offers an obvious Beatles reference. Turns out Bowie was one of the many acts that Apple Records failed to sign in the late-’60s, despite his auditioning more than once. Bowie’s interaction with the Beatles continue throughout his career. There’s a cute story of Paul McCartney running into him in the street around about the same time as his pitch to Apple, Bowie carrying a life-size cut-out of McCartney as he appeared in the animated Yellow Submarine. Bowie of course covered ‘Across The Universe’ on the album Young Americans in the mid-’70s, the same album that contained his collaborative effort with John Lennon, the song ‘Fame’. On Bowie’s last official original release, Reality, he covers a song George Harrison wrote called ‘Try Some, Buy Some’.
If ‘Cygnet Committee’ didn’t seem to be so obvious a reply to ‘Kick Out The Jams’, I would cite the reference as a nice little tribute also. I don’t know that Bowie was a particular fan of the MC5, but he was fond of other Detroit-based punks, like Iggy Pop and the Stooges.
But as I say, at the time I didn’t realise the line ‘Kick out the jams’ had any life beyond the Bowie song. Now I’m kind of surprised I didn’t see – or imagine – some sort of link between the line in the Bowie song, and a line in a Beatles song: the John Lennon-penned ‘Come Together’ refers to ‘toe jam football’. Toe jam is the gunk that accumulates between dirty toes; kicking a football may lead to jamming your toes; neither of them amounts to ‘kicking out the jams’. But ‘Come Together’ seems, like ‘Cygnet Committee’, to be another ‘answer’ song to ‘Kick Out The Jams’, albeit a much more peaceful one. Recall that although Lennon identified, to a degree, with revolutionaries, he was never quite sure if, when the time came to lay it on the line, he wanted to be counted ‘in’ or ‘out’. His ambivalence is outlined in the different versions of the song ‘Revolution’.
The most interesting version of ‘Kick Out The Jams’ I ever heard was so unexpected…
Back in 1995 the angelic-voiced Jeff Buckley appeared out of nowhere charming the world. He visited Australia on a promotional tour, and, serving at the time as the music reviewer for an independent newsweekly called The Sydney CityHub, I managed to blag my way into his gig at the Phoenician Club. That venue, originally situated on Broadway, is long gone, but I still remember that day well: the venue crammed well beyond capacity, me surrounded by a heck of a lot of chicks making out (who knew that was his demographic? Well, the chicks did, probably.)
Everyone was in thrall to Buckley’s softc*ck shtick as he woo’d them with those gorgeously wussy ballads like ‘Grace‘, ‘So Real‘ and ‘Hallelujah’. But he won me over when he returned for his encore, because he hit the stage with guns blazing as he led with his version of ‘Kick Out The Jams’. You can hear him do it on the expanded Legacy Edition of the album Grace, but here he is delivering it live at Sin-è:
When I got to write about Super Detox Foot Patches for my job at JigoCity Australia, ‘Kick Out The Jams’ was the obvious cool reference to drop. Since the product is about jettisoning the toxins and stuff that jam you up via the feet, you are more-or-less kicking ’em out – so it’s the perfect call-to-arms. Or, in this case, call-to-feet.
A buddy pointed out that she leaves detoxing to her liver – politely telling me that, as far as she’s concerned, this product appears a bit dodgy. I’m not interested in engaging on that level – but when I do have a liver cleansing product to write copy about, I know that my starting point will be ‘Liver Let Die’.
Although, judging by the product image, it looks more like a case of ‘Kick Out The Teabags’!