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.

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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.


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.

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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.

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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.

The titans of siren.

I’ve always been the kind to obsess about musical details.

It’s not my most endearing trait — especially to Bay City Rollers fans — but it’s just how I’m wired.

Something brought me today to the Wiki page dedicated to the Thunderbolt siren, a common piece of American civil defense ordnance in the second half of the 20th century.

That reminded me of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and Grand Funk Railroad’s “Paranoid,” two songs from my long-ago heavy-metal youth. I hadn’t heard either in quite a while, but I remembered that both used the chilling sound of a siren to good effect.

And that brought two questions to my mind, fired by the same synapse that sometimes makes me ask, “Hey, is that a Strat or a Telecaster he’s playing on that solo?”:

1. Wonder what model, make or type of siren is being “played” on “War Pigs” and “Paranoid”?

2. Wonder if it’s the same siren?

To answer the second question first: Yeah, I imagine so.

If you listen to “War Pigs” and “Paranoid” (and you only need to listen to the first 45 seconds or so of each), you’ll hear that both songs feature the stereotypical siren sound we all know from World War II movies.

The siren in “War Pigs” moves more quickly between tones, keeping pace with the music at times, while the siren on “Paranoid” takes more time shuttling between its two notes.

But they’re clearly the same model, and they could well be from the same sound-effects recording. I imagine that, even in the days of analog tape, a professional engineer would have had no problem doing a little snipping to make the siren move up and down faster.

Here’s what they sound like:

That question being settled enough for me, I headed to YouTube to check out videos of civil defense sirens, hoping to identify the specific kind that produces that distinctive sound.

It wasn’t a Thunderbolt. It only took one or two Thunderbolt clips to show me that Thunderbolts have a different tone — a sound with a recognizable grit or sizzle around the edges.

A brief sample of the Federal Signal Type 2, made by the same company that made the Thunderbolt, didn’t convince me.¬† An ACA Allertor 125 wasn’t the machine I was looking for, either.

Then I started getting into the British-made sirens, and it became clear to me that — like gin, toffee and Marshall stacks — nobody does it better.

A 1952 Castle Castings siren, made in Lancashire, sounded remarkably like the one(s) on the records. So, too, did a World War II-vintage siren of similar design made by Gents of Leicester.

I imagine that the young men of Grand Funk, who grew up in Michigan, were probably familiar with the sound of a Thunderbolt in action. It’s interesting to me that they turned instead to the familiar British siren sound when it came time to make a record. I guess nothing says “impending desolation” quite like those vintage sirens.

(Or, maybe the British sound just happened to be on the first sound-effects tape their engineer put his hands on, and they weren’t fussy. I can believe that too.)

Unfortunately, that’s where the trail stops.

British air-raid sirens are not as easy to differentiate as, say, Hammond and Farfisa organs. So I won’t have the satisfaction of a firm answer to this particular digression.

But I’ve gone far enough in that direction to be content, and I know more than I did when I started. I’ll take it.

I’ve also learned, somewhat to my surprise, that Grand Funk got the sound on record before Sabbath did.

GFR’s self-titled “Red Album,” with “Paranoid” on it, was released in December 1969, while Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” album (what is it with paranoia and sirens, anyway?) came out in September 1970.

That concludes tonight’s test of the emergency alarm system. I’m gonna go listen to the Jackson 5ive now — I need something light and fluffy to chase these damned sirens out of my ears.