Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Grand Funk Railroad—
On Time


Released 1969 on Capitol
The Seth Man, July 2005ce
“Reborn like a phoenix from the ashes of The Pack came forth MARK: wielding Messenger guitar, mighty pipes and bare biceps; DON: 6 foot 4 of the rock solid big beat, tree trunk sticks topped off by a perfect Afro with attached sideburns; flanked by the killer precision Fender bass/West amplified fingered prowess of glowering, wraparound beard’n’Manchu-mustachioed MEL and coordinated by TERRY “Good” KNIGHT, they ventured forth from the corn and car infested heartland of Flint, Michigan with a message...A message FOR THE PEOPLE. IN THE STREETS (in the streets!) that verily, this majestic trio of MARK, DON, & MEL would be known forevermore as GRAND FUNK RAILROAD (but mostly, just plain ol’ GRAND FUNK what with brevity being the essence of wit as well as the PEOPLE IN THE STREETS don’t go for that unnecessary baggage of three extra syllables) and would stride manfully upon a multitude of Aquarian festival stages and sports arenas to stomp their simple message of brotherhood out over and over again in live performance and through monochromatic workaday sleeves of black, red (and sometimes a touch of moodest indigo, Jones) so that we can all see, feel, hear, touch that we ARE ALL brothers and sisters...And aim to raise a righteous shield against the machinations of the man every day, aided by the perfect soul discharges of these three Michiganian superdudes that will carry on the work of those worthies who came before and strode the rock’n’roll landscape like giants: THE CREAM, THE EXPERIENCE, J.C. CRAWFORD, THE LITTER, JR. WALKER, BLUE CHEER, MITCH RYDER, ARCHIE BELL, MAE WEST, PETER WHEAT & THE BREADMEN, THE BOB SEGER SYSTEM, THE NEW COLONY SIX...Their work shall not be in vain. Verily, I deem it time. ON TIME...” (Rejected 1969 CREEM magazine print ad for Grand Funk Railroad’s “On Time” album by Brother Terrance Knapp, Chairman, Flint University Corporation of Kool-aid)


The most undiluted (and undeluded) studio Grand Funk LP of them all, “On Time” is a remarkable showcase of insane quantities of torque applied to thunderously solid soul updates via West amplification, whipping out a stripped-down and tight set of electric showstoppers with no keyboards, no horns and no jive. The result is a punishing amount of crease-proof energy that courses through this long, 50 minute quaff from an ever-runneth-over cup filled to the brim with a sonic moronic tonic that always quenches, never drains and has no lingering side effects except for the slightest of tinnitus. A tightly-programmed set of five tracks per side with drum solo placed dead centre, the first and last tracks operating as predetermined acquaintance and farewell while its interior reaches delve into situations within an isolated world only to offer hope against all odds time and time again. And meanwhile, Grand Funk hit the nail of cliché square and flush to the rough hewn wood frame of their songs every time with an immediacy that steamrolls on and on with an unruly consistency. Everything is put right up front with a confidence as though they’d been playing festivals, stadiums and arenas all their lives.

“Are You Ready” is the Blue-Cheer-as-soul-revue opener they’d use live, and it sets the scene for the highly charged rudiments to follow. Which they do at once with the abrasive “Anybody’s Answer,” which could just as easily be the reply to the million dollar question about this album. Namely: ‘What are these inconclusive lyrics all about, anyway’? A full dynamic range from whisper to screaming tower of fuzz guitar is in full effect, and lashed on top of all this, excruciatingly slow stereo panning is applied to the guitar in time with the vocals during the middle bridge. And since the stereo separation of this album is so severe -- left channel: bass and drums/ right channel: vocals and guitar -- it’s disorienting as hell, on headphones doubly so and it’s the first of many highpoints of raging heaviosity of the album.

In the context of the surrounding heaviness that comprises the rest of the album, the bluesy and moderate paces of “Time Machine” are fine and OK and their first single and who knows what the lyrics are about, besides getting in on with some starry-eyed lady. It doesn’t matter, because it’s over even before you can start griping about Mark’s harmonica squall or what the lyrics mean. And besides, the subsequent track is “High On A Horse.” Uh-oh. This is probably the most over-the-top moment of an album based in being nothing but. This White Lady cautionary tale is heavy as hell and Mark’s over-recorded, over-amplified and overwrought guitar is leaking feedback, distortion and fuzz out from his Messenger guitar’s fuel line, and Don’s voice is equally at its stentorian apex here. And although the piano backing is totally unnecessary, it mercifully gets knocked into the corner for most of the time by the power-tripping lead guitar, which bleeds into the left drum channel with an abandon larger than its blues framework. “High On A Horse,” man: it’s so heavy it’s ridiculous.

“T.N.U.C.” is a catchy/heavy as hell opening soul riff with no parquet to tear up so it wound up inserted here: fore and aft the de rigueur drum solo section of the programme (instead of just keep grinding that power thrusting riff out over and over again into forever.) Drum solos. Ha. I don’t know why, either. Were they a vestigial remnant of battle-of-the-bands competency testing or a spillover from the distant muscular memory banks of Ginger “Peter” Baker’s jazzbo flash proficiencies? Wherever they sprouted from, they quickly wound up being a perfect set up for a donkey’s breakfast (read as: a piss and a look around) where the rest of the band cuts out for too long and with it: a large portion of the audience. Still, drums being the primal element of music since Zero Common Era (along with giving all the yahoos in the audience the chance to whistle, stomp their feet and finally be able to cut across the onstage noise with catcalls and cheers galore) and it being such an integral part of Rock Music during the Nixon Administration, I can cut it far more slack than most for its value as a cultural phenomenon and tradition alone (But with that said, it does have a shelf life equivalent to the diary section during a midsummer power outage.) Anyway, the riff returns and its “Tighten Up” vibe gets ratcheted up several notches in both speed and heaviness and gets stomped out loud as hell to conclude the first side with an unholy thrash (I only wish they’d taken Archie Bell’s advice and turned up on the bass here and for the rest of the album, although they’d quickly more than compensate for it the very near future. But for the time being, newcomer Mel hangs his bass in the background as though laying in wait for the focus and Marianas Trench-like depths it would assume on the next trio of Grand Funk albums.)

“Into The Sun” begins in brief bombast and then falls into fragments of Farner’s childhood slowly falling through chiming guitar, patiently shored up by Don’s lumbering heavy stick work and Mel’s West amplifier bass dump. Soon, the main melody takes off in a supercharged “Shotgun”-styled riff, pulled together by Don Brewer’s tightly nailed, rudimentary drumming and Mel’s bass descend. “Into the Sun” must have been a kind of abstract cosmic bull’s eye Farner has forever locked in his sights, especially as he sonorously refrained the word ‘sun’ over and over on “Anybody’s Answer” on the previous side -- and will again later a few songs later to great effect (then again, I’m constantly flummoxed by the line “I’ll be writing you a letter/Cuz I just got paid” which kinda shoots THAT theory to hell, but whatever.) Don’s regrouping stop-and-start accenting is sometimes is a tad too long and NEARLY doesn’t make it intact to the next verse but they lurch right on time (I know, but they do) and report only like the hardest hit drums can. “Heartbreaker” opens with a distinctly “Summertime” by Big Brother & The Holding Company quiet-yet-about-to-explode vibe transport. But from these baby elephant steps the song soon shifts gear into a charging elephantiasis-enraged pachyderm with the chorus flying directly into the eye of the hurricane they’ve currently conjured once Mark’s guitar squeals with feedback at just the right time to signal imminent just after the dreamlike descent of a nearly “Moonage Daydream” theme and prior to the false bottom ending where it all bursts loose with Mark’s solo running gaga with a run-on “do-de-do-de-doodle-do-do-do-de-dah-do” over exhilarating repeats of the four word chorus with further two-ply fuzz snarl rhythm until the inevitable upsurge finale. “Call Yourself A Man” is exactly the kind of wrecked powersludge that in its day set most critics’ teeth on edge -- like the rest of this album and the duration of Grand Funk’s entire 8-year, 15-album career, come to think of it. The drumming, the wavering in and out of tune guitar, the Merseybeat-era Ringo persistence of the cymbal riding that swamps the ‘drums only’ left channel...

The pre-album closer is the climactic “Can’t Be Too Long” which apocalyptically hangs ten on the seventh wave of life itself. On the intro, drums and bass sound a cautious heartbeat as the sun that Farner’s been chasing for the whole album is now setting: along with his hopes, dreams and now, his very life. For this is the ebb and flow of human consequence and fate. 180 degree mental windscreen wiper panning of Farner’s fuzz distortives during the Greek tragic chorus “Ahhhh-ahhhh-ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...” barging down the door with twin-recorded fuzz detonator stun guitar that nudges through a blind corridor like a pinball under a blanket which has gathered all moss and the static being amplified by a back line of several West amps all at once. Lapping up against the exhaustive tempo, distorted fuzz guitar churns as lead buzzsaw against the rhythm manual handsaw of guitar scraping rhythm until for the second and final time, extreme stereo panning of the guitar with vocals switches in time on every third beat from right speaker to left and then back again. Then they all let loose and drive the fucker to its wit’s end with Mark burning down the coda with massive fuzz, going for broke/haywire/the heart of the sun with frenzy soloing of the highest abandon.

Saved as the closer, “Ups And Downs” is the only true moment of optimism of the album since they first asked “Are You Ready” at the LP’s onset. But when umpteen verses of “Row, row your boat” traipse in as a harmony chorus during the breakdown, it’s completely stupefying. But like Grand Funk for at least most of the time, beneath the surface is a wisdom that remains unspoken (in this case, leaving out the all-too-familiar rejoinder, “life is but a dream”) and therein lies their genius: they are so exaggerated in their execution and despite the fact that they are so very OBVIOUS they aren’t exactly pulling double shifts in the explicitness department, either but content to drop hints the entire time. Especially with the lyrics, which are often weirdly unresolved and/or make little sense on paper (like the best rock’n’roll) but set in the context of the music’s expedited delivery makes for all the unspoken sense in the world. They kept their whole thing within the boundaries of their capabilities and just pushed it outwards to make it as extreme a statement as they could while keeping the themes universal enough for even those of the most challenged mental faculties to make immediate contact. And all the while, they pound out all the clichéd soul punctuations with a determination beyond obviousness that leave all the unfinished, hinted at business for you to fill in, figure out or even: just forget about. For this album stakes out a fertile acreage where every hook, line and sinker emitted from their hard hits, plonks, strums and wailings drop down hard to plant another seed of hope, another hardy rune of truth and feelings deeper than any intellectual notion or fanciful follies ever could. And the self-reliance and plain speak volume freakery of Grand Funk Railroad here on “On Time” constantly informs the listener to take what you need instead of wishing for what you want, use what you got, be who you are and enjoy it.