Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Granicus


Released 1973 on RCA
The Seth Man, January 2001ce
“In their profoundly visceral music and unpretentious lyrics, Granicus puts forward a musically cohesive, emotionally compelling vision of growing up wasted in America, searching desperately for, and occasionally glimpsing spiritual truth, in a climate foreshadowing Armageddon…“Paradise,” the album’s summary statement, dares to revivify the myth of rock music’s power to exorcise evil and become, in itself, an avenue towards political and spiritual salvation. Listening to Granicus, that power once again seems within grasp.” -Stephen Holden (from the original album liner notes)


When I first heard about Granicus, I knew instinctively that they HAD to be from the Midwest, and judging from the title of their balls-out charging of the gates of “Cleveland, Ohio,” they were. But from the high contrast photographs of the group kicking it out against a rising sun on the front cover to their anonymity of the back cover (where their faces are entirely airbrushed out for some reason) they could be from any backwater city of the USA in the early seventies. But this album is not your standard hard rock boogie: it is compelling and expertly cut hard rock of the most unique kind. And adding to its uniqueness is its year of issue (1973), the label it was issued on (RCA) as well as the back cover liner notes, the logo and everything else that screams the sort of packaging you’d expect from an album released on Columbia years later. And in those same liners Holden refers to the “hi-amp speechsong” of Woody Leffel present on just the aforementioned track “Cleveland, Ohio” alone. He is mistaken: they’re on EVERY track. And they fall short of the stock in trade definitions ‘pyrotechnics’ or ‘gymnastics’ usually tossed about when describing the unusually shrill vocalist of any typical, mediocre hard rock from this time. Because Leffel’s not shrill, and he’s by no means typical -- his skyward-raised head emits ululations beyond orgasmic that verge on the most feminine ever to issue forth from a fully clothed male. And because Granicus emerged chronologically centre of 1970 proto-metal and its descent into dull, chest-beating macho blues-boogie bollocks of the mid/late seventies, they were not an SG-wielding power trio but an equally powerful five man electrical band of dual Gibson Les Pauls with a locked in rhythm section to boot. And lead guitarist Wayne Anderson lets loose in the most controlled yet ever-swooning manner as his solos run against the crunch of Al Pinell’s simple yet evergreen rhythm guitar throughout.

Opening with “You’re In America,” Leffel rants “Wicked! Wicked! Wicked!” right before he runs headlong into the first of many near-hernia inducing wailings. He goes into the fantastically raced line about “politicians and bankers sleep on silken sheets” as the band hold a taut trampolene beneath Leffel as he intones “Let me drop my load/Let me drop my load on you, Americaaaaaaa!!!” as he outdoes Jagger’s “Parachute Woman” aerial cum shot as his vocals are the approximation of a torrential downpour of life-affirming seed flooding the whole 48 Continental States (plus Alaska and Hawaii as well) of its known corruption and evil. And even if it doesn’t, it’s good to know that Nixon DID resign the following year.

But for all their gleaming twin Les Paul attacks, Granicus were far more magnanimous in spirit, coming on far more refined and less wanton, like few up and coming post-Zeppelin bands saw even as an option. “Bad Talk” starts up with a rhythm guitar riff straight from MC5’s “Over And Over” updated with soaring mega-diddley guitar somersaults as the whole piece shifts into a hard rock X-travaganza with searing solos from Wayne Anderson are pure reckless, tight-but-loose ZOSO. “Twilight” is the ballad, and you’re expecting the first words to be “Laaaay-deee” as the gentle acoustic picking and overall feel would’ve landed the whole thing on MTV 10 years later with lotsa dry ice and the vocalist holding a sword beckoning to some damsel in gossamer threads. Luckily, it remains a completely beautiful mellotron instrumental, arranged by producer Martin Last.

The 11 minute “Prayer” is where Leffel really lets it all out, and that’s no mean feat. His testicles probably ascended into the nether reaches of his lungs after the ad-libbing, near spoken confessional that rides up into another piercing vocal: “When your insides are coming out/You don’t feel so groovy/You can’t even shout/...if I could only remember the words to the song I was singing...!” He then manages to continue, “Losing my voice/singing to YOOO-OOOOOOOU!!!” Since Woody wrote all the lyrics on the album, it gave him the liberty to free-associate them to high heaven (as he does here) getting so completely immersed he’s forgotten everything else. Meanwhile, on planet earth the band are spinning like Dervishes as Woody’s dick gets caught into the studio door again and again with caterwauling vocals, and whole thing that must have stuck the studio’s UV needles into permanent red.

Side two’s “Cleveland, Ohio” opens with jittery hi-hat and pumped up bass open up for hard rock slashes of guitar as Woody’s high-pitched “I’m getting out of Cleveland, Ohio”. They then bring it all down as Leffel scats at the speed of light every epithet he’s ever had heaved at his head from the denizens of that blighted city upon Lake Eire:

“untight...
uncool...
unheavy...
ungroovy...
unfar out...
unfunky...
un (???)...
unmetal...
unhip...
GREASE-BALLLLLL!!!”

There is no possible way to describe how Leffel modulates his voice to sing this last word, except it is a riot and a scream at the same time. But he then goes on a major tear of utmost gaga stream of consciousness as he proceeds to take it ALL downtown, all the way DOWN, down to the river to have a picnic to “roast our WEENIES (!)” as Granicus plays it all up to the hilt, following Woody down, down, down and then cutting right back in on cue for the chorus.

“Nightmare” opens with a “Dear Prudence”/”Brain Damage” acoustic intro which falls away to a gentle benediction from Leffel for his missing father and both brothers gone to war or on the lam. But by the end, everything builds when echo completely unnecessary is applied to Leffel’s already soaring, wailing vocals. “When You’re Movin’” is straight ahead, ever-escalating rock with stop’n’start churning and Leffel’s “Plant my seeds in you baby/Plant my love in you, baby” line over the ever-pleading, wailin’ “DO IT AGAIN! DO IT AGAIN!” utterly uncalled for vocal overdub that is funny as fuck. The closing epic of “Paradise” begins with a roughed-up Neil Young riff ala “Cinnamon Girl” or “When You Dance” and it’s an extended workout that sees Granicus -- and Woody Leffel in particular -- seeking to exorcise all their listeners of the devil with the line: “If you see the Devil, you jus’ tell that mean ol’, funky ol’ Devil…you gotta go, Devil! You gotta rock mah soul!!!” And with a voice like that, you gotta believe it WOULD send the Devil (as well as those who refuse to ROCK) straight back to Sheol, toot sweet. It comes back way down so Woody can extend his true hand of friendship to all his fellow rejects, until the fuse to the end of the track is lit...and they’re off! Anderson is going absolutely nuts on guitar, complete with a double bass drum assault probably picked up from “Fireball” as they go for broke and sweeping far overhead on the comet illustration from the back cover with a tremendously full head of steam.

Granicus was the name of the river where Alexander the Great won the first of four major battle victories of his career. But for the group, their only fame would be with this equally screaming and brave statement.