Friday Five: A look at The UP, forgotten contemporaries of The Stooges and MC5
Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.
This week, we have a special edition focusing on The UP.
As Ann Arbor creeps towards its bicentennial in 2024, residents can be proud of a history rich in accomplishment, with achievements in medicine, politics, and sports that mark this city as a force for progress in human endeavor.
But who cares?
For millions of music fans around the globe, the only reason to discuss A2 is its role as an incubator for two bands whose uncompromising sounds proved an important step in the evolution of punk rock and heavy metal. The MC5 and The Stooges spent formative years here in the late 1960s, experimenting with volume and energy in our basements, living rooms, and public parks while perfecting distinct approaches to raw, aggressive rock 'n' roll.
September 23 is the 54th anniversary of the University of Michigan Union Ballroom gig that got both bands signed to a major label, and it's a cultural moment worth celebrating.
Elektra representative Danny Fields was in town to evaluate the MC5's viability, but after watching this show, he saw the future and offered both The Stooges and the MC5 record contracts the next morning.
The third act on that bill, The UP, did not get a big break that night—or any night, since no record label ever signed the band. But the Ann Arbor group's dedication to revolutionary rock 'n’ roll was just as savage as that of its peers.
Musically, The UP built its songs out of hard chords and rudimentary riffs, performing them with more enthusiasm than virtuosity. The band was actively involved in radical politics, which is reflected in The UP's lyrics. The group only released two independently produced singles during its career, and its fanbase didn't extend far beyond Detroit and Ann Arbor. Still, The UP was practically a blueprint for every noisy anarchist combo to follow, living the punk ethos before it even had a name.
The UP was formed in 1967 by vocalist Frank Bach and brothers Bob and Gary Rasmussen on guitar and bass, and by the time of the benefit at the Michigan Union Ballroom, the drummer was Scott Bailey. The group gigged often with the MC5 and was tight with the band's manager, John Sinclair, who also founded the White Panther Party. In fact, the two groups drove to Chicago just a month before the Michigan Union Ballroom show to play in Lincoln Park during that year’s Democratic Convention demonstrations, although the infamous police riot that resulted meant chaos on stage for the MC5 and a no-show for The UP.
Regardless of one’s measure of White Panther politics, there is no doubt about The UP’s dedication to the cause. Bach served as the party’s Minister of Culture with the rest of the band as integral members of the committee, and they all lived with other Panthers in the party’s Trans-Love commune on Hill Street, taking part in the direction and execution of political, social, and cultural activities. The UP wasn't made up of posers, and it was truly a People’s Band, doing what it did to generate energy and joy for community inspiration.
Aside from raw live tapes and a handful of studio sessions recorded locally, documentary evidence of The UP is scant. Original copies of The UP's two singles are rare and valuable now, and while a compilation of the band's best recordings, Killer Up!, was released on CD in 1995, it has long been out of print. British reissue label Easy Action, which adores all things Ann Arbor and Detroit rock 'n' roll, remedied the situation in 2010 with a collection called Rising, which has even more archival material, including a DVD of what is only described as “rare footage”—as if The UP were a band that had any other kind.
At its best, The UP’s immediacy and energy sweep the listener up in revolutionary fervor, even if some of the band's other ideas are half-baked and slightly beyond the musicians' skills.
The UP was a unique phenomenon and as local as Zingerman’s, so let’s look at five songs that define the band.
“Just Like An Aborigine”
The first single from The UP, “Just Like An Aborigine,” was released in 1970 on the band’s Sundance label. This knuckle-dragger of a song celebrates the wild, primitive ways of Australian Aboriginal society, imagining a pastoral Utopia of hippies romping stoned and naked through the forest. It’s a sentiment that might be seen as naive or even appropriative today, but as a snapshot of Aquarius Age attitudes and an early example of the heavy Dee-troit rock sound, you can’t do better—and the clumsy chorus is surprisingly catchy.
“Free John Now”
When John Sinclair was given prison time for cannabis possession, a massive benefit concert was organized featuring the likes of Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Phil Ochs, and, famously, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The UP not only appeared on the bill, but also pressed a protest record to pass out free to concert-goers: "Free John Now" is a smoking pile of riffs that pleads for Sinclair's release, with a poem by Allan Ginsberg on the B-side. Considering the circumstances, it's reasonable to believe that a copy ended up in John Lennon's record collection.
Maybe the band’s finest documented performance, this is a faithful version of Earl King’s “Come On (Part One),” most likely copped from Jimi Hendrix, who cut it on Electric Ladyland. The UP doesn’t reinvent this wheel, but the band makes the tune its own—and how.
“C’mon and Swim”
Then again, there’s also this incredible version of Bobby Freeman's 1964 dance-craze anthem, so maybe this is The UP's finest hour? Even revolutionaries gotta just put their guns down and dance like nobody’s watching once in a while.
Some of The UP’s original material is so of its time it can be hard to find a way in for the modern ear: riffs spin off psychedelically into short-attention-span tangents that betray their inspiration, and lyrics dive deep into esoteric interests like Persian assassins and Native American religious ceremonies. But this throbbing headbanger proves The UP is capable of full-bore bam-a-lam without abandoning its Rainbow People ideals. It might be hard to establish exactly what Frank Bach is telling us on "Together" with all the guitar fuzz and galloping drums, but we do know that he’s gonna be right by our side all the way.
The UP broke up in 1973, with members going on to play in such groups as Sonic's Rendezvous Band, Scott Morgan Group, and David Peel and the Apple Band.
While a footnote in rock history, The UP was a major cultural force in the city of Ann Arbor during its tenure.
Fred Beldin is a writer and musician living in Ann Arbor. His work can be found at www.thesearetheendtimes.com.
AADL's Old News hosts a large collection of the White Panther newspaper "The Ann Arbor Sun," so a deeper study on The UP can begin immediately:
➥ "Up the White Panthers" [Ann Arbor Sun, July 4, 1970]
➥ "Watch Out for Up" [Ann Arbor Sun, May 11, 1972]
➥ "Rock & Roll Dope" [Ann Arbor Sun, April 30, 1971]
➥ "Fuck UP" [Ann Arbor Sun, May 28, 1969]
➥ "Killer Up!" [Liner notes by John Sinclair for a compilation album, 1995]