The 10 best Detroit rock songs

By Sergio Ariza

Detroit is one of the most musical cities in the world. From its mean streets came the Motown of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations and the Supremes, Bill Haley and his Rock around the clock, Sixto 'Sugar Man' Rodriguez and the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna, as well as techno in the 80s. It was also these streets, at a time when the city was going into bankruptcy and misery, that gave birth to the most famous white rapper of all time, Eminem. But if there is a style related to the motor city, it is rock & roll. It is said that punk was born in the mid 70s in New York, but the people of Detroit would have a thing or two to say about it, and bands from there like the MC5 or Iggy Pop's Stooges can be considered clear precedents. From the R&B howls of Mitch Ryder to the garage rock of the White Stripes, there are plenty of things to lose your head over in the rock city that is Detroit, as Kiss would say in Detroit Rock City.So join us for our selection of 10 great Detroit rock songs. 


Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels - Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly (1966)

We can't start anywhere else. In the mid 60's, shortly after the appearance of the great British Invasion bands, Detroit was buzzing with teenage garage rock bands, groups like the Lords (with a young Ted Nugent), the Pleasure Seekers (with a young Suzy Quatro),
Fred 'Sonic' Smith's Vibratones and Wayne Kramer's Bounty Hunters; but among them all stood out Mitch Ryder and his Detroit Wheels, a band that featured one of the city's first guitar heroes, Jim McCarty (who would end up forming Cactus some time later). The band had their first national hit with Jenny Take A Ride, a medley in which they mixed CC Rider with Little Richard's Jenny Jenny. The following year they repeated the move, with more success, with their fast-paced mix of Devil With A Blue Dress On and Good Golly Miss Molly, in which Ryder's R&B voice showed why they called him the white James Brown and gave an important demonstration of how the city of Motown knew how to mix rock & roll with soul and rhythm & blues to perfection.

The Amboy Dukes - Journey To The Centre Of The Mind (1967)

Let's say it clearly, Ted Nugent is a real asshole, it's obvious that the guy doesn't have a good head, but this is not a page about thinkers but about guitar players and Ted Nugent, even if he is an asshole, is a great guitar player - just listen to this great song in which psychedelia and garage rock are mixed to perfection to prove it. Journey To The Center Of The Mind is a psychedelic anthem about drug use with lyrics by Steve Farmer and music by Nugent, despite the fact that the latter is one of the most fierce representatives of the hard line against alcohol and drug use. It seems Ted wasn't quite clear what Farmer was talking about, but what does seem clear is that he was capable of drawing fire from his Gibson Byrdland (a box guitar like the ones McCarty played in the Detroit Wheels) connected to a Fender Bassman and Silvertone speakers.


Bob Seger System - Ramblin' Gamblin' Man (1968)

Before he became Michigan's Springsteen, Bob Seger was a garage-rock beast fronting the Bob Seger System, another seminal Detroit rock band. His only national hit was this powerful classic in which he leaves his beloved Firebird to one side to build a great song over a Hammond riff played by Seger himself, in which his incredible voice stands out once again, with a lot of soul. And if there was one thing the whole Detroit scene agreed on, it was his love of black music. By the way, on this song he is accompanied on backing vocals by another Detroit boy who would end up becoming a star, Glen Frey, who if he didn't join Seger's band it was because his mother caught him smoking a joint while he was with the singer...  

MC5 - Kick Out The Jams (1969)

But if there was one band the city was proud of, it was the MC5 of Wayne Kramer, Fred 'Sonic' Smith and Rob Tyner. Their performances at the city's Grande Ballroom were the stuff of legend, and whenever one of the great rock bands of the day appeared, like
Clapton's Cream or Janis Joplin's Big Brother, the MC5 were there to honour local pride. So much so, that in the end they were labelled 'the next big thing' and signed to Elektra. Their first album was recorded live, in the Grande Ballroom (as could not be otherwise), and there was their most legendary song, the one that was titled like the phrase they shouted at concerts to stop the bands from beating around the bush: "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!" Although the company removed the last epithet, it was clear that these Detroit guys were a riot in their own right. Propelled by the guitars of Kramer and Smith (a Mosrite, if the cover is anything to go by, a few years ahead of Johnny Ramone) Kick Out The Jams was an adrenaline rush that predated the energy and rawness of punk. Based on a short but brutal riff, possibly by Smith, the solos that made the audience lose their minds, dirty and gritty, were played by Kramer and his Stratocaster painted in the colours of the US flag.  


Iggy & The Stooges - Search & Destroy (1973)

When the MC5 signed to Elektra, they got Elektra to sign another hometown band, Iggy Pop's Stooges, Detroit's most primitive and wildest group. But after two excellent but unsold albums, the band went downhill until one of their biggest fans,
David Bowie, came to their rescue. Bowie had just made it big with Ziggy Stardust so he decided to take Iggy to England, and convinced  guitarist James Williamson, who had joined the band in its last moments, but had not recorded any of the albums, to go with him. Once there, the pair decided to call in the Asheton brothers as the rhythm section, and the Stooges were given a new opportunity. They didn't waste it (though the record still didn't sell) and delivered their most legendary song, Search & Destroy, a flare of distortion and electricity that put listeners' ears on edge, with Williamson's '69 Les Paul Custom amp cranked to 11 and Iggy belting out the most high-pitched, wildest voice of his life, giving the most accurate description of himself: "I'm a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm, I'm a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb".

Alice Cooper - No More Mr. Nice Guy (1973)

Alice Cooper
formed as a band in Phoenix, Arizona, and released their first album in California under the auspices of Frank Zappa, but they moved to Detroit, the city where their singer, Vincent Fournier (who would become known by the band's name), was originally from, and it was there that they found their sound and success, as well as the understanding of the city's rocking public, much closer to them than the Californian hippies of love and peace. If I have to choose one of their songs, I'd go for No More Mr. Nice Guy, included on their best album, Billion Dollar Babies, opening with a magnificent riff by their main composer, Michael Bruce on his SG, soon joined by the other SG of the group, that of lead guitarist Glen Buxton, a white SG with three humbuckers with a Bigsby B-5, (in one of his rare appearances on that record), achieving that double SG sound of the first records, to then give way to Furnier and the most glorious chorus of his career.


Suzy Quatro - Can The Can (1973)

We had left Suzy Quatro as the singer and bassist of the Pleasure Seekers, the band that her older sister Patti had formed, but they never achieved success outside the borders of the city. However in the early 70s, she was discovered by the famous English producer Mickey Most who took her to England in 1971, not knowing quite what to do with her. At first there was talk of turning her into the new Janis Joplin but Quatro didn't want to be the new anything, so in the end she was brought into the new UK sensation, Glam Rock, a genre in which she would release her best known songs, such as Can The Can and Devil Gate Drive, in which her powerful voice stood out.

The Romantics - What I Like About You (1979)

The Romantics
were formed in Detroit in 1977 and were the big Power Pop and New Wave band of the city. Of course, being from Detroit, their Power Pop was more vitaminised thanks to a diet of MC5, Stooges, Bob Seger System and Motown. Their most popular song was based on a tremendously recognisable riff (it is similar to the one used by Neil Diamond in Cherry, Cherry and Joe Jackson in I'm The Man) but absolutely irresistible. From the moment drummer Jimmy Marinos starts singing those "ah, ah, ahs" you know you're listening to a song that's going to stick in your brain forever. By the way, I can't but recommend the excellent work of another example of the best Power Pop, by another guy who was born in Detroit, Marshall Crenshaw.


The White Stripes - Seven Nation Army (2003)

It is impossible to talk about Detroit and not talk about the resurgence of the wildest garage rock at the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 21st century in a scene that had the White Stripes as its main banner. I could choose many songs by the glorious duo formed by Meg and
Jack White but I choose the well-known Seven Nation Army because few songs of this century have a riff as recognisable and hummable as their famous 20th century relatives, things like Smoke On The Water, Satisfaction or Whole Lotta Love. Although in the iconic video White appears with his red Airline "JB Hutto" Res-O-Glass, the solo was recorded, like most of his slide parts, with the 1950s Kay Archtop and the effects with one of his favourite pedals, the Digitech Whammy WH-4.

The Von Bondies - C'mon C'mon (2004)

White was in charge of producing the band's first album, but everything went up in smoke at the end of 2003 when the White Stripes sent the Von Bondies' leader, Jason Stollsteimer, to hospital after a fight. The following year, however, the Von Bondies got their revenge when they released their best, and most famous, song, C'mon C'mon, co-produced by former Talking Heads guitarist Jerry Harrison.