Are you ready?

Having written pop fantasies set in the fall of 1979 and the spring of 1975, we now go back to this time of year in 1970. I was too busy having a functional, pleasant visit with my family to get this written in time for Thanksgiving, but I like to imagine no one will really care.

# # # # #

The mood in the three-bedroom ranch house has already been festering for months. There have been harsh words back and forth, and insults, and silent rejection, and tears.

It’s 11:30 on Thanksgiving morning — November 26, 1970, to be specific — and the teenage boy of the family still hasn’t made an appearance. His father begins to pace around the living room, an increasingly familiar anger building inside him; the relatives will be here soon.

Then, from the farthest room down the hall, a muffled, distorted din erupts … a sound that combines rolling tanks and roaring voices and mass frenzy.

Dad runs down the hall at a sprint and throws the door open, bringing the sound into point-blank trebly sharpness.

He has not heard a cacophony quite like it since he shouldered a rifle for Uncle Sam … and out of reflexive habit, he summons a voice he has not used since the last time he had to make himself heard over enemy fire.

“WHAT … IN THE FUCK … IS THAT NOISY SHIT?”

His son, slumped on the bed in a pool of long hair, doesn’t say anything. He just lets his dad get an abrasive faceful of the noise.

And it sounds …

(this is the point in the story where you turn the speakers on your computer up real, real high)

… like this.

# # # # #

Lester Bangs once described Metal Machine Music as “the all-time guaranteed lease breaker.” I believe Grand Funk’s altogether less heralded Live Album might have been — as described above — one of the all-time guaranteed Thanksgiving breakers.

Here are the ingredients that make up my theory:

The generation gap. It’s pretty well-established at this point that the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

That’s not to overstate things — not every household was a generational war zone — but there were plenty of homes where parents and kids saw life from vastly different, and difficult-to-reconcile, perspectives.

The voice of teenage America. Every Grand Funk review I’ve read from the group’s first period of success (1969 to 1971) comments on the band’s remarkable connection with a youthful audience, and its complete inability to connect with anyone older. It’s as if Mark, Don and Mel broadcast on a frequency that didn’t come through clearly unless you were somewhere between 13 and 21.

So great was the disconnect that Lenny Kaye, reviewing Live Album for Rolling Stone, devoted 95 percent of his review to verbatim quotes from Grand Funk fans explaining why they liked the band — closing with the logic, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Or, take the aforementioned Lester Bangs, reviewing the Survival album in Rolling Stone later that same year:

“Grand Funk are one of the very few groups rising recently that do reflect the aspirations and attitudes of their audience in that most basic way. And they’ve achieved that vast consensus not only through hype but because they¬†are that audience, are the rallying point for any sense of mass identity and community in Teenage America circa 1971.”

So, in a nation divided along generational lines (among others), Grand Funk carried the banner for one side about as strongly and divisively as any other American band.

Timing. After releasing three successful studio albums in a year’s time, GFR decided to commit its live show to vinyl. Two shows in Florida were recorded in June 1970, and the resultant live double album was released on Nov. 16 of that year — with no overdubs or other fancy sonic processing, according to the liner notes.

According to the RIAA’s searchable database of gold and platinum records, Live Album was certified gold on Nov. 23.

This suggests that a decent number of those American teens who’d tuned in to Grand Funk’s frequency had the record in their hands by Thanksgiving, and were primed and ready to give it a good loud spin if they wanted to.

Pure din. None of the above would have been an issue had Grand Funk gone back and neatly recut all their parts in the studio, the way major artists were already doing on their live albums in 1970. (GFR appears to have given in to the overdub temptation on its second live album, 1975’s well-manicured Caught In The Act.)

Instead, Live Album is — with a few exceptions — pretty much sheer jet takeoff from start to finish.

Grand Funk was never blessed with lyrical or melodic excellence. But they had amps enough to reach the back row of any festival, enough to make Nigel Tufnel look like Bert Jansch, and they didn’t believe in letting anyone in the same area code go home without getting the full experience.

Check out the version of “Paranoid” from Live Album — in particular, the point starting at about 3:40, when Mel Schacher’s overloaded-truck bass and Mark Farner’s thousand-pound-violin guitar get moments in the spotlight:

Out of concern that computer speakers do not do Live Album justice, I step in with a first-person testimonial, as someone who owns the record on original vinyl:

This is as grungy and simplistic as a major American rock band has ever gotten on record. And when played through a half-decent stereo system — or, even better, a deficient one — this is music to make the Sinatra generation feel like they’re passing through a garbage disposal, headfirst and slo-mo.

# # # # #

Which brings us back to our aggrieved father and his passive-aggressive son, in their ranch house in Agawam or Omaha or Fresno or wherever.

What they do in the short term — at very least a pulled power cord, at most a fistfight — doesn’t really matter that much.

Nor does what they do in the long run. (I like to imagine the kid grows up and gets a job on the line at the local brewery, and years later, before lung cancer kills the old man, they share six-packs and shake their heads at the emotions that used to feel so strong.)

Instead, we’ll leave the moment unresolved on the knife’s edge, with rage surging on both sides, family ties forgotten, and the clamor of festival-level tube-driven white noise claiming sensory primacy over the scent of roasting turkey.

From the Valley: Flashback, Part 2.

A couple days ago, I wrote about the playlist for WAEB-AM, formerly the Lehigh Valley’s favorite Top 40 station, this week in 1968.

The ARSA database also happens to have WAEB’s playlist of top records for this week in 1970. It seemed like an interesting comparison to see how a region’s tastes, and the offerings of its hit-radio stations, could change in two short years.

Let’s have a look, then:

– Bubblegum and light pop still makes up the bulk of WAEB’s playlist, but it’s a heavier station that it had been in 1968. Note Free, the Who, Joe Cocker and Canned Heat on the Top 20, with Chicago, Eric Clapton and Steppenwolf bubbling under.

– As in 1968, there’s a clutch of soul records on the bottom half of the surveywhich represents an improvement, I suppose, since there are only 20 songs on the list this time around instead of 40. I would have liked to hear “I Think I Love You” and “Super Bad (Parts 1 & 2)” back to back.

– The album chart also shows a move toward heaviness, or at least seriousness: The Band, Led Zeppelin, Santana and Joe Cocker are all scoring big in the Valley.

– But the No. 1 album (assuming that the first album listed is also the most popular) is a weird one: The Artie Kornfeld Tree‘s A Time To Remember!

Kornfeld is probably best remembered as one of the guiding lights behind the Woodstock festival. He was also a musician, though the interwebs suggest that this was his only album.

A Time To Remember! shows up on only two local airplay charts in the ARSA database, with the other mention coming roughly a month earlier at a station in Denver.

I can only wonder what accounted for his brief burst of local popularity. Perhaps he played a concert here?

– Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 countdowns had been airing for four months in November 1970. Thanks to this excellent site, we can compare the hottest records in the Lehigh Valley to the hottest records nationwide.

I notice that several of the songs just arriving as “New Power Sounds” on WAEB’s airwaves (Clapton, Chicago, Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder) are already on the national 40. That suggests that WAEB took a little longer to get on them than other stations.

On the other hand, the Carpenters’ saccharine “We’ve Only Just Begun” was No. 2 nationwide but only No. 9 in the Lehigh Valley. (It was down from No. 8 the week before, suggesting it might already have peaked as a hit in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.)

For the most part, the charts are pretty similar once you get up into the Top 10.

Both charts share the same Number One, the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You,” and the same Number Three, the Jax 5ive’s “I’ll Be There.” And most of the other records don’t differ all that much in chart positions.

In this particular week, anyway, the tastes of the Lehigh Valley were pretty similar to those of the nation as a whole.

– For what it’s worth, I have at least a passing familiarity with every performer on the 1970 WAEB countdown … whereas the 1968 countdown boasts a number of acts I couldn’t tell you Fact One about. (To name a few: Unifics, Singing Ork. Circus, Pop Corn Generation, Rene & Rene, Autry Inman, Magic Lantern, Billy Harner and the Ethics.)

At first I thought that might be a sign of the growing heterogeneousness of Top 40 radio — i.e., that it was harder for a local or regional band to get airplay in 1970 than it had been two years before.

But I think the relative unfamiliarity of the acts of 1968 can be explained by two other reasons:

1) There were something like 50 acts on the ’68 survey, and only 30 two years later, so there was more room in 1968 for regional heroes and one-shot wonders.

2) I’m simply less familiar with ’60s pop than I am with ’70s and ’80s. Maybe there’s no trend at all between the acts on the two surveys; it’s just my ignorance that accounts for the difference.

Encore Performances: Nov. 28, 1970: I don’t know what I’m up against.

From the old blog, Dec. 5, 2009.

Not much to brag about this week — the best thing Casey can promote in his lead-in is a new song in the Top Ten.
Doesn’t bode well, eh?

Here we go, then, with favourites in bold:

No. 40: Flaming Ember, “I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper.” According to Casey, this was the fourth time this year Flaming Ember had had a hit.
I’m wondering how many more they had after 1970.
Hope they enjoyed it.
The lead vocal on this is a little mannered, but I liked the choked scream at the start, as well as the general sentiment. It’s sort of the opposite of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and anything that’s not that is fine with me.

No. 39: “Here’s the man again,” Casey intones. “The tiger, the Welshman, the hitmaker.”
Oh boy! John Cale?

No: Tom Jones, “Can’t Stop Loving You.”
This is one of Jonesy’s big bravura ballads — you know how those go. It’s OK but not boldworthy.
(This is not the Elvis song of the almost-same name, for anyone who doesn’t know it.)

No. 38: For the folks listening to WJTO in Bath, Maine, it’s Freda Payne with “Deeper and Deeper.”
For a moment, it is pleasant to think of Motown-style soul-pop as a ribbon of sound uniting young America, from the teenagers on potato farms in Maine to the kids cruising down Hollywood Boulevard in their new AMCs.
An illusion, no doubt, but nice to think about.

No. 37: Candi Staton, “Stand By Your Man.” This is a wretched song (old country music is dead to me, no matter how many critics tell me how Authentic it is.)
But I like the more soulful treatment of it here.

No. 36: A first-wave British Invasion band, Casey tells us, that’s still popular because it’s “willing to try different things and try new sounds.”
Over the next few years,¬† the new sounds they would try — including country and musical theatre — would fall flat on their faces with American listeners.
But this week it was all good for the Kinks and “Lola.”

No. 35: Andy Kim, “Be My Baby.” Every countdown has at least one cheesy cover, and here we fulfill the quota.
In his attempt to rock us gently, Mr. Kim makes a fatal mistake by rearranging the song’s rhythm.
This song is nothing without the baion. Without the baion, it might as well be polka.

No. 34: Neil Diamond, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”
Well, speak of the devil.
I had forgotten Neil even sang this, and was not pleased to be reminded.

No. 33: Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, “Heed the Call.”
I was afraid this was going to be another upbraid in the tradition of “Tell It All, Brother,” but instead it turns out to be an ode to the power of music.
The tambourine is the best part.
Right at the beginning, and then again right after Kenny intones “heed the call” for the first time, there’s a nice little breakbeat that would be marvelous for someone to rap over.
Seriously. Check it out at 1:23 or so.

No. 32: Neil Diamond again with “Cracklin’ Rosie.” (“There’s still a sip of cracklin’ rose left in Neil Diamond’s cup,” Casey tells us.)

No. 31: The four Canadians of Mashmakhan with “As The Years Go By.”
This sounds like Sugarloaf jamming with the Association, or somesuch other square male vocal group.

No. 30: Ray Price, “For The Good Times.” “You don’t have to be a country music fan to like this,” Casey intones reverently.
Yeah, as country goes, this is OK.
I’m hearing an arseload of strings and horns on this countdown, though: 1970 was a pretty good year to be a studio violist.

BTW, Wiki says there are four separate Kenny Rogers greatest-hits collections called “For The Good Times,” two of which were released in the same year by different labels.
Makes your holiday shopping a little more complicated, eh?

No. 29: Eric Clapton, “After Midnight.” Eric had just announced the formation of a new band, Derek and the Dominos, Casey announced.
Not a bad song; it moves along nicely.
I’m almost willing to forgive Clappers for re-cutting it for that beer commercial, back when every fortyish rock star in the world was selling their souls to Miller and Michelob.
(Edit: I have recently learned, courtesy Jim Bartlett, that Clapton’s association with beer advertising started long before the mid-1980s.)

No. 28: Four Tops, “Still Water (Love.)” Weird overdone arrangement — it is possible to make a clavinet sound unpleasant — but some pleasant enough vox going on.

No. 27: Up from No. 40, Santana with “Black Magic Woman.”
I didn’t listen long enough to hear if they played “Gypsy Queen,” which for me is what makes listening to “Black Magic Woman” worthwhile.
(OK, I overstate a little bit. “Black Magic Woman” is a pretty good song. Maybe even the best single representation of Santana’s positive qualities — the cutting guitar and the Latin rhythms. Still, I love how it catches fire when they shift into “Gypsy Queen.”)

No. 26: “Let’s Work Together,” Canned Heat. This is Alvin Lee-level stuff but I like it anyway.
I think this is Canned Heat’s only Top 40 single with Bob “The Bear” Hite singing lead.
Essay question: Did Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson have the weirdest, most non-AT40-style voice ever to sing lead on a Top 40 single?
Use both sides of the monitor if necessary.

No. 25: Fifth Dimension, “One Less Bell To Answer.”
I’m gonna go all Tom Nawrocki and take issue with some of the square, uncomfortable vocal phrasing: “each time the DOOR-BELL rings;” “THINK-ING of HIM.”
I dunno. You have to hear the song to understand what I mean; and I ain’t linking to it ’cause I’d rather just move on to better songs.
Like …

No. 24: Badfinger, “No Matter What.”
Pure pop for now people, no matter whether your “now” was 1970 or 2009, or 2039 for that matter.
(Along with this prime piece of power pop, we get Casey’s obligatory Beatles reference, when he observes, “It sounds like the Beatles.”)
Hey, that’s two Welsh artists in the Forty. Is that a record?

No. 23: “Yellow River” by I.P. Daily … no, actually, by a British group called Christie.
Undistinguished pop, really.

No. 22: Free, “All Right Now.” Before which Casey announces that the survey is based on sales figures from 100 record stores across the country.
(100 record stores? That’s two per state. Was it weighted, I wonder, so that New York got seven record stores and North Dakota got zero? Or did the North Dakotans unfairly gain the same influence as the New Yorkers? Inquiring minds gotsta know more.)

No. 21: Supremes, “Stoned Love.” Despite its title, a production strongly flavored with old-school Motown. You can just imagine them banging the snow chains against the studio floor to keep the beat, like they did back in ’65.

No. 20: For our friends at WNOX Knoxville, Chicago asking the musical question “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”
Biggest mover on the survey — up “17 points,” Casey says.
Ah, for the days when Robert Lamm sang lead and you only heard Peter Cetera on the harmony.
I don’t care about time.

No. 19: Bread, “It Don’t Matter To Me.”
Ya know, these guys had pretty good hooks, solid vocals and strong instrumental ability.
Is it just me, or could they have been a damned good Badfinger-ish pop band in some alternate universe (if they hadn’t been such wimps)?

No. 18: 100 Proof Aged in Soul, “Somebody’s Been Sleeping.” Snappy. The lyric “Cigarettes in my ashtray / And I don’t even smoke” coulda been B.B. King, or maybe even Robert Johnson in a happy moment.

No. 17: James Brown, “Super Bad (Part 1.)”
I love how the first 10 seconds of this are given over to the Godfather repeatedly hectoring his band to “WATCH me!” … and how you can hear him chiding his guitar player for missing his entrance (“HEY! I said I’m SUPER bad!”)
A lot of people would have waved the band to a halt and started again; but James knew that one mistake doesn’t stop a killer take.

AT40 Extra: From the Number One album in the country, Santana’s “Abraxas,” we hear the loungey “Oye Como Va.”
I used to love the “Abraxas” album in high school, especially the Side 1 closer “Incident at Neshabur,” which starts out all pot-boiling and gradually drops down in speed and intensity until it sort of eases out in a gentle sundown glow.

No. 16: Guess Who, “Share The Land.”
I can’t love this one as much as I usually love the GW. Maybe it’s the jarring contrast between the minor-key verses and the big happy alma-mater-style chorus.
Or maybe it’s the opening lyric about “have you done your share of coming down?,” which reeks way too much of the early ’70s.
Reminds me of “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” or that Beach Boys tune with the lyric about “I can feel the weight of coming down.”
You’d think people did nothing between 1970 and 1972 but drift from buzzkill to buzzkill.

(This analysis may, indeed, be correct.)

No. 15: The Presidents, “5-10-15-20 Years Of Love,” or whatever it’s called. Pleasant enough but the counting gimmick reminds me of “Schoolhouse Rock.”

No. 14: Wilson Pickett, “Engine Number Nine.” The Wicked Pickett finds new flavor in — you guessed it — Philadelphia, in the company of Gamble and Huff.
And it’s a train song.
Can you say “automatic boldface”?

No. 13: Joe Cocker, “Cry Me A River.” Nice version of that Aerosmith song.
No, really, this is a pretty good reinvention; I’ve just never been a huge fan of the earnest caravanserai that was the Mad Dogs and Englishmen band.
(We have two drummers, a percussionist, and five gospel-chick backup singers who wail away on EVERY SONG! Isn’t that soulful?)

No. 12: The Who, “See Me Feel Me.” As I’ve probably said before, this isn’t a patch on the Woodstock live version in terms of energy, but I don’t begrudge the ‘Oo a ride into the Top Twenty every now and again.
I actually think this works pretty well stripped of its context — just for fun, I imagined myself listening to it as if I were completely unfamiliar with “Tommy.”

No. 11: Elvis with a two-sided hit (both sides of which Casey plays), “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me/Patch It Up.”
The A-side you all know — another of those big sweeping ballads that I’d rather hear Tom Jones sing.
The B-side is cluttered country-funk in which Elvis sounds a little buried under everything else going on.
Apparently he and his producers had forgotten all about the simplicity of the Sun Sessions by 1970.

No. 10: Sugarloaf, “Green-Eyed Lady.” Another of those tunes I’m bolding b/c I liked it when I was 15. Mysterioso.
Something I never knew: Wiki tells me that Sugarloaf’s Jerry Corbetta went on to become a member of the legendary Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes.
That’s quite the resume.

No. 9: Stevie Wonder, “Heaven Help Us All.”
Why can some people write effortless topical lyrics that soar, and other people write topical lyrics that fail painfully?
In other words, how did this guy make everything seem so easy?

No. 8: Bobby Bloom, “Montego Bay.” Nice percussion. This Caribbean idyll stomps “Kokomo” like a grape — not as though that’s difficult, of course.

No. 7: RD Taylor, “Indiana Wants Me.” That must be, like, a real comedown, man.

No. 6: Brian Hyland, “Gypsy Woman.” A pretty good song, given that it’s performed by a guy who made literally one of the worst 45s of the rock era.
Wonder whether his producers could have redeemed Los Del Rio, or Right Said Fred?

No. 5: James Taylor, “Fire and Rain.” Nice piece of writing. Is this really the same guy who was recording sodden Motown covers just four or five years later?

No. 4: Carpenters, “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
Contrary to popular belief, it was not repeated exposure to this song that drove Yukio Mishima to plunge a sword into his guts earlier in the week.

No. 3: Jax 5ive, “I’ll Be There.” Part of the holy trinity of Jackson Five singles … actually, it might be a four-part trilogy, Douglas Adams-style, if you include “The Love You Save.”
Great song, beautifully arranged and superbly sung; there’s not much else you can ask for, except maybe some connection to Philadelphia.
Also, maybe the best pop record ever with a harpsichord on it.

No. 2: “Tears of a Clown,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Hey, y’know, all of a sudden this is a pretty sweet run of records.
Really, any song Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson both worked on would pretty much have to be killer.
It just wonders me why nobody pegged this as a single in 1967, when it was first released as an album track.

And at Number One for the second straight week:

“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family.
Yes, I think “I’ll Be There” is the best pop record with harpsichord on it.
I enjoy David Cassidy’s artlessly harried vocals — he does sound like a 15-year-old kid who’s madly in love and doesn’t understand it — but the whole concept and arrangement is just too cheesy for me to endorse.

That’s it for this week. Keep reaching for the stars, and like that.