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Grand Funk Railroad

E Pluribus Funk

RS: 3of 5 Stars Average User Rating: 3of 5 Stars


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You cannot talk about rock in the 1970s without talking about Grand Funk Railroad. And you cannot talk about Grand Funk without talking about the hate: how critics pissed on them from an arrogant height. I saw Grand Funk very early on, playing for flies in Philadelphia in December 1969, and I heard in their panzer-trio brio what the snobs did not. Born in Flint, Michigan, of the same local, white-R&B lineage as Bob Seger and Mitch Ryder, singer-guitarist Mark Farner, drummer Don Brewer and bassist Mel Schacher were not cheap Cream but a no-frills, hippie-era garage band; factory-town peaceniks who rocked like warlords.

Original producer-manager Terry Knight fought the brickbats by hyping Grand Funk's box-office might as underground revolution. But his static obscured the band's true bared-bone mettle. Grand Funk made their reputation on tour, cutting On Time, Grand Funk and Closer to Home on the run, all between August 1969 and March 1970. The flat, hard production, then a matter of time and economy, pulls the simple pow of the music upfront: Farner's high, clear tenor; the iron-treble tone of his guitar; the elephantine fuzz of Schacher's bass; Brewer's brute, John Bonham-like drive. As the main writer, Farner avoided complexity like a pox. But "Heartbreaker" and "Into the Sun," both from On Time, and the cover of the Animals' "Inside Looking Out," on Grand Funk, are pure electric-Michigan animalism, an all-testosterone blueprint for the White Stripes. Live Album and the previously unissued Live: The 1971 Tour are not as punchy; the crowd noise gets in the way. But the 1971 tracks from the band's Shea Stadium shows that year are honest snapshots of Grand Funk mania at its peak.

Survival, E Pluribus Funk and Phoenix, all from 1971-72, creak with growing pains. It took producer Todd Rundgren, on 1973's We're an American Band, to polish the pop and Motown lurking inside the amp stacks. The title hit, the stampede "Black Licorice" (with its pumping keyboards by recent addition Craig Frost) and "Walk Like a Man," a hard-rock twist on the Four Seasons, are perfect bombs of sweat, sugar and steel. The late albums have their moments, like Farner's keening wail in "Bad Time" on 1974's All the Girls in the World Beware!!! Still, every train runs out of track someday.

For most folks, a hits disc will suffice. But the best of these reissues show that, for a time, Grand Funk were the people's choice. And the people were right.

(From RS 919, April 3, 2003)

(Posted: Mar 11, 2003) Icon Photo Add to   digg Photo DiggThis  




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