Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Grand Funk Railroad - On Time

Grand Funk Railroad
On Time

Released 1969 on Capitol
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 17/04/2003ce

The debut LP by Grand Funk Railroad is not all that auspicious, but clearly these guys were onto something because they moved a few tons of vinyl at the dawn of the 1970's. The pleasingly economical prole-metal they developed on subsequent LP's is not all together yet, Mark Farner tending to do a lot more guitar overdubbage to fill in the nooks with jangly chords and bluesy licks that are here more stylisticly "psychedelic" than on latter platters. Don Brewer's drumming is competent, loud, and fast, though Mel Schacher's bass could have been mixed louder. Their sound got better on the next 2 LP's -- "Grand Funk" (also 1969?) where the bass sounds huge and the guitars are tinny (yeah baby!) and "Closer To Home" (1970) by which time they were working in fancier studios and getting a more "professional" mix. The real lowpoint on this LP however is Mark's screechy high-register "soul" vocals with overdone vibrato -- he sounds like a hick American Ozzy who can't always stay in key, often made more unpleasant by just-as-bad overdubbed backup vocals (either Mark doubling himself or Don pitching in.)

The leadoff track is "Are You Ready?" which is also the leadoff track on the double live monstrosity "Grand Funk Live Album" (1971) -- this studio version features more guitar jangle but is otherwise virtually identical to the live version. It's a sorta fist-pumping 3 minute nugget, with zen dumbass lyrics such as: "Are you ready? / Well then let me hear you say / that you're ready! / and the world will know it's right! / Yes, you're ready! / and I know it's outta site!" (PS: I am convinced that Royal Trux' "I'm Ready" (1999) is a direct answer to this song -- listen to them back to back and see for yourself!)

Next track "Anybody's Answer" is some moralistic hippy nonsense -- "No! You can't kill your brother / cuz you love each other," and then the second verse is about not committing suicide! Musically it alternates vaguely psychedelic guitar noodlin' breaks with a monotonous 2-chord power riff that doesn't get good until Mark unleashes the Rat Gut Distortomatic pedal towards the end.

Track 3 "Time Machine" was their first single, and kind of a hit at the time I guess, though I don't see why. It begins with a cool guitar riff that makes you suspect ROCKING is about to commence, then it slides into a totally predictable I-IV-I-V-IV-I blues shuffle! Mark even plays a damn white-boy-blues harmonica solo! The only saving grace is some hilariously dated lyrics: "Say hey now baby do you wanna make the scene? / . . . step into my Time Machine"

Track 4 "High On A Horse" is a derivative little 2:35 3-chord rocker with more trite lyrics (first line: "Ain't no doctor can help the way I feel!") But it is saved by some nice off-tempo fakejazz turnaround sections and some hot squallin' geetar licks. Like many songs on the early Grand Funk LP's, this one ends with one of those BIIIG FINISHES! later perfected by White Snake and Spinal Tap where the guys in the band point there axes at the audience like phallic machine guns and mow everyone down with a flurry of strumming while the drummer bashes away at everything and kicks his kit off the riser. Fadeouts are for squares, man!

Final track on side A is "T.N.U.C." the crypto-naughty tune (read title backwards) that is Grand Funk's entry into the drum-solo-song category along with such tunes as "Toad", "Moby Dick" and "Rat Salad." In other words, it's a funky fakejazz wankfest with perfunctory "Heyyy Womaaaan!!" lyrics and a 5 minute drum solo. And what a solo! Don's right foot pedals away on that bass drum like, not just "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida on 45rpm" but all the way up to 78rpm! Almost as good as Tommy Aldridge's drum solo on Black Oak Arkansas' "Raunch & Roll Live" LP (1973)! A concert staple that was a "highlight" of "Grand Funk Live Album" (and also subsequent live albums after that), the original studio version here is a lot crisper (and shorter) -- and drum solo aside, it is in fact one of the musical highlights of this LP.

The second side of the LP begins with "Into The Sun", the album's best track. From reading the title you'd think this song is about space travel or something, but check out the chorus: "All my life I have been waiting / Then you turned me on / Now they'll be no hesitating / I'm getting INTO THE SUN!" Duuuuuude, sun worship! So is the usually barechested Mark Farner working on his tan? Making the case for solar energy? Musically, this one is the standout example of "Grand Funk" on this album -- after a pastoral intro that sounds like the Grateful Dead might if they took whatever drugs Black Sabbath was on, they kick into an aggro-boogie driven by Mark's first use of his trademark "chukka-chukka" rhythmic noise riffing, phatt phuzz bass runzz by Mel, and some seriously stomping drums that sound like a cross between Sab's Bill Ward and the afforementioned T. Aldridge of BOA (who was also later in Ozzy's solo band.) The only downside is Mark's annoying whiteboy-whining-the-blues singing style. Ech!

Next is "Heartbreaker" which was one of the songs taken from this LP for the first GFR cash-in retrospective (1971's "Mark Don & Mel" double-album set) though I don't know why. The first line is "Once I had a little girl . . . " so right away you know you're in trouble. It actually reminds me quite a lot of "Come Away Melinda" as performed on Uriah Heep's first album (though the Heep singer is a heap better than M. Farner) or as UFO also played said song on an early album of theirs. Which is to say, melodramatic bluesrock crapola. There are lots of nice fakejazz turnarounds, pastoral bridge sections, hot gitar licks, fuzz bass, false endings, etc. to break up (or should I say fill out) a song that is basically endless repetitions of a boring chorus sung pretty badly. Thus in the Psychaedelic Age, a so-so 2:30 song idea could become a 6:30 epic production.

Track 3, side 2 is "Call Yourself A Man" which begins with an interesting noodling-around guitar riff, then some stop-and-start rhythm changes ("On TIME") and into a chooglin' (grandfunk) railroad-rock riff that for some reason really conjures for me the iconography of the album cover and the band name. Defiantly cryptic lyrics too, the chorus "Go ahead reject me! Call yourself a man!" All wrapped up in a nice little 3:00 package too.

Next is "Can't Be Too Long" which is another overblown major-key soulbluesrock epic like "heartbreaker" -- endless repetitions of a functional chorus made listenable by an infinite variety of kewl "bridge sections." The lyrics start out with some blue color economics: stuff about workin, gettin paid, buyin stuff for yer old lady, then somewhere in the second verse the singer goes to prison and is put on Death Row! And now "the rest of my life can't be too long." Not too bad as far as this kind of crap goes.

Last track is the somewhat anticlimactic "Ups and Downs" which starts out as yet another major-key soulbluesrocker about heavyissues, but then just when you've tuned out you get to the middle section and they start singing "ROW ROW ROW YOUR BOAT" as a round! Now what the fugginshyte does that have to do with ANYTHING? This is followed by some surfing drums and mudslide power chordage, yeah! Then back to the corn-rock snooze before they wrap it up with some old fashioned Woodstock Nation "High Energy" Boogie, right on!

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