Grand Funk Railroad as they appeared from 1969 until 1971
By Phill Marder
(No. 49 in a series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
Happy 2012 everyone!
In spite of popular demand, we’re back!! And that means offering sure-to-be-ignored suggestions to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concerning who really should be inducted.
In this episode, we’re going to pitch a band that sold millions and millions of records, sold out huge concert venues regularly and boasted countless fans around the world…and, naturally, were hated by most critics. Sorta like most of the bands not yet in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The topic of discussion is Grand Funk Railroad.
Now usually, The Hall of Fame’s rejection of certain acts is totally befuddling. But not in the case of Grand Funk. And it has nothing to do with the critics.
Sometimes, as in this case, the answer to a mystery is so obvious you can’t see it. Now, it will be revealed. Just look at the covers of their early LPs. Then compare them to the cover of the 1974 LP “All The Girls In The World Beware!!!”
For years, I missed it. You probably missed it, too. But, to its credit, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame didn’t miss it. There’s a valid reason Grand Funk Railroad is not in the Hall of Fame.
They were on steroids !!
And we all know the chances of getting into the Hall of Fame, even if just suspected of steroid use. Just ask Barry “US” Bonds.
I know, I know, this all sounds silly. It’s supposed to. It’s just a joke. But does it sound as silly as Grand Funk not being in the Rock Hall of Fame? Considering the unworldy numbers they amassed, I don’t think so.
By 1974, the evidence was obvious, Grand Funk had added body mass & a completely new body
Between 1969 and 1972, the power trio of Mark Farner, Mel Schacher and Don Brewer placed seven albums in the top 30, four reaching the top 10. And they did it without the benefit of a smash single, 1970s “Closer To Home” being the closest they came to a blockbuster, reaching #22. In 1971, they sold out London’s Royal Albert Hall without having a hit record in Britain and New York’s Shea Stadium in less than 72 hours, reportedly breaking the Beatles’ record. The Mets couldn’t sell it out in 72 games. Of course, they weren’t as good, at least not in 1971.
Keyboards became a major shaper of Grand Funk’s sound, dominating the 1972 single “Footstompin’ Music,” which helped propel the band’s 1971 “E Pluribus Funk” album to No. 5. Eventually, keyboardist Craig Frost, who had played as a sideman with the band, was made a full-time member. The next album, “Phoenix,” reached No. 7 but 1973′s “We’re An American Band,” did even better, climbing to No. 2 as the single of the same name became the group’s first No. 1.
The first, but not the last.
In 1974, their remake of Little Eva’s 1962 smash, “The Loco-Motion,” equaled the original’s No. 1 finish and helped lift the band’s “Shinin’ On” album to No. 5. The aforementioned “All of The Girls In The World Beware” was the last GFR long-player to hit the top 10, yielding two more huge singles, “Some Kind of Wonderful, which reached No. 3, and “Bad Time,” which peaked at No. 4.
The former was a cover of a somewhat obscure tune that had been released by both The Soul Brothers Six and The Fantastic Johnny C without much chart impact. It was not the same as the big Drifters’ hit. The latter, referred to as a “one-of-a-kind power ballad” by the All-Music Guide, was written by Farner, proving the group still capable of top-flight original material.
The usual impediments, contract squabbles, personal differences etc., that occur when a band is together for an extended period, eventually knocked Grand Funk Railroad off track.
But success continued for the group members because they were a lot more talented than Rock scribes gave them credit for. Farner played a raw, biting guitar, part of its appeal being the enthusiasm he conveyed through his playing. He also was a fine vocalist, going on to a successful solo career in Christian music.
The rhythm section of Schacher on bass and Brewer on drums was one of the finest in Rock history. It had to be. When you’re playing major stadiums as a three-piece, you’d better have great chops…and they did. Brewer and Frost eventually ended up with Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, while Schacher has continued to keep GRF in the mix, appearing with Farner and Brewer on occasion as well as with other GFR lineups.
Though they were constantly degraded by the press, the Rolling Stone Album Guide rates their first two LPs – consisting almost entirely of original material – four stars each. Their fifth LP also gets four stars. The All-Music Guide added their third LP, “Closer To Home,” as a four-star effort and said of their live album, released the same year, “they were the live performing act of the time, and this album is a testament to their in-concert power.”
But you can judge for yourself. The Animals were one of the great bands of the ’60s. In 1966, they released a fair-sized hit with Eric Burdon’s “Inside-Looking Out.” On their second album, “Grand Funk,” Farner, Schacher and Brewer covered it. Listen to both versions side by side. Then tell me Grand Funk wasn’t a great band.